The history of pottery in Japan dates back over 10,000 years. There is an almost endless variety of forms and styles of pottery, each of which have developed in different areas of Japan.
Generally, Japanese pottery (known in Japan as tojiki or yakimono) is classified into “ceramic ware” made from soil, and “porcelain ware” made from stone. There are 32 major pottery production areas in Japan.
Food is an essential element of Japanese culture, and Japan’s traditional food culture was registered as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage in 2013.
Japanese people often say that they “eat with their eyes.” Basically, it means that tableware plays an important role in Japan, in adding extra flavour to the food served on it.
Western tableware and Japanese tableware
The major differences between these two types of tableware are how you use them, and the materials they’re made from.
Unlike Western dishes that are often served on a platter and shared among people, Japanese dishes are served in individual bowls and plates for each person. Japanese tableware is designed to be held by people while eating from them; this makes Japanese tableware lighter and smaller than Western tableware.
Japanese tableware mostly comprises ceramic ware, although some items are also made from local wood. In contrast, Western tableware is often made of porcelain.
Ceramic ware is made from clay, and porcelain ware is made from porcelain stone powder. As Japanese tableware is mostly held while being used, many pieces of ceramic ware made from local clay; this allows the user to feel the distinctive warmth and texture of clay from a particular region.
Porcelain ware can also withstand any scratches from metal cutlery, which is why it’s mostly used for serving Western dishes.
Development of Japanese pottery
It is said that Japanese pottery originated in the Jomon era (circa 10,500 B.C.), and this pottery is referred to as Jomon doki (Jomon-style earthenware).
Ceramic ware production techniques were introduced from Korea in the 5th century, and this was followed by the introduction of glazing techniques from ancient China in the 7th century.
Japan’s unique pottery culture flourished from the Muromachi to the Azuchi-Momoyama period, with the popularization of the Japanese tea ceremony, chanoyu.
Many pottery masterpieces for the tea ceremony were produced during this period, and they have been handed down through generations to the present day. Ceramic ware has been fundamental in shaping elements of Japanese culture, such as the chanoyu tea ceremony and ikebana flower arrangement.
Potters from the Korean Peninsula came to Japan at the end of the 16th century, and pottery production improved dramatically as a result.
Pottery became a leading export industry in Japan, and elegant and colourful porcelain ware was exported to Europe. The mid-17th century European aristocracy were captivated by the beauty and attention to detail of Japanese porcelain ware.
Japanese ceramic ware at Simply Native
Each style of Japanese pottery has its own unique history and evolution. Listed below are some of the Japanese ceramic ware stocked by Simple Native, which we proudly present to our customers with confidence in their high quality, based on our knowledge of the artisans who created them.
Pottery has evolved in Japan from more than just a practical tool for daily use; it has also become an expression of artistry and spirituality.
So let’s learn more about four traditional types of ceramic ware in Japan; maybe you can find your favourite one!
Produced in Aichi Prefecture, Mino-ware is one of the most commonly-used ceramic ware in Japanese households. It has a long history dating back over 1,300 years.
The techniques for producing Mino-ware were initially introduced from the Korean Peninsula, with pottery featuring an ash glaze being produced in the Heian period (10th Century). As the tea ceremony came into fashion in Japan, craftsmen began producing many prominent pieces of ceramic ware for the tea ceremony, with each piece reflecting the individual taste of a particular tea master.
A large quantity of ceramic ware is produced for daily use, and those mass produced using molds are still of a high standard.
Bizen-ware is hand-crafted ceramic ware made in Okayama Prefecture. It is popular for its versatile colouring that “goes with anything”, and simple yet elegant form.
Bizen-ware is made from 1.5 million years old clay, which comes from when the earliest humans walked on the earth. Scientific experiments have shown that Bizen-ware blocks 90% of far infrared rays, which helps maintain the freshness of the water it contains.
Since olden times, those who perform the tea ceremony have loved Bizen-ware for its earthy wabi-sabi textures, and many tea bowls and flower vases have been commissioned by tea masters.
The established techniques for producing Bizen-ware have been passed down in five prominent families, who are honoured as human national treasures of Japan. As Bizen-ware is not glazed, it shouldn’t be used with metal cutlery.
The unique features of Ohori Soma-ware are intricately connected with samurai warriors. This type of ceramic ware started being produce in Fukushima Prefecture in the early Edo period (1690).
Back then, the Soma domain was ruled by renown samurai at the time, and pottery as a profession was encouraged in order to earn an income from outside of the domain. The largest Ohori Soma-ware production centre of more than 100 kilns was later established in the Tohoku region.
During the Meiji era (1862-1912), the number of Ohori Soma-ware producers gradually decreased as they switched to other professions; now, there are only 24 Ohori Soma-ware potters who are still making this type of ceramic ware in the domain where it originated.
These potters are committed to creating new Ohori Soma-ware products for the 21st century, while adhering to its 300 years-old traditional techniques.
Kyoto-ware dates back to the Heian period (794-1185) with the establishment of the Heian-kyo (Central government in Kyoto), and its development was aligned with the aristocracy there. Since then, Kyoto has successively produced exceptional potters and masterpieces of Kyoto-ware.
The German craftsman Gottfried Wagener was invited to Japan during the Meiji period, and Kyoto-ware continued to develop and flourish with his introduction of pottery techniques from other countries.