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A Brief History of Japanese Ceramics
Oct 02, 2018

A Brief History of Japanese Ceramics

The history of Japanese ceramics began with Jomon earthenware, followed by Yayoi earthenware and later in the Kofun period (third-seventh centuries) the technique was succeeded by Haji ware and haniwa terracotta figures. In the fifth century, importation of new pottery techniques from the Korean Peninsula led to the birth of Sue ware, early stoneware fired in high temperature in reduced atmosphere. Natural ash glaze was found around this period. During the Asuka and Nara periods (538-794), colorful green glazed ware and Nara sancai (three-colored glazed ware) developed under the influence of low-fired lead glazed ware of China and the Korean Peninsula. As time moves in to the Heian period (794-1185), Sanage kiln in Aichi Prefecture began to produce ash glaze ware in which the glaze was applied deliberately.

From around the end of the Heian period through the mid-sixteenth century, yakishime or unglazed, high-fired ware known for its hard, impervious body was mass produced for practical use in different regions such as Tokoname, Atsumi, Echizen, Shigaraki, Tanba and Bizen.

During the Kamakura and Muromachi periods (1185-1568), people valued Chinese products calling them “karamono” and a large number of imitations of Chinese ceramics were produced especially in the Seto and Mino regions. From the latter-half of the Muromachi period, however, new original aesthetic taste derived from chanoyu or tea ceremony gradually dominated the minds of the people of this time, resulting in a dramatic improvement in the status of domestic wares. Consequently, in the Momoyama period (1568-1615) tea bowls and tea utensils became the prior items for production in many regions, including the Raku ware produced by the potter Chojiro under the supervision of Sen-no Rikyu (1522-91), Kiseto, Setoguro, Shino and Oribe wares of the Mino region as well as Bizen, Shigaraki, Iga, Tanba and Karatsu wares. In the Edo period (1615-1868), the elegant Kyo-yaki (Kyoto ware), a type of stoneware born in Kyoto developed by Nonomura Ninsei (dates unknown) and Ogata Kenzan (1663-1743) decorated in overglaze polychrome enamel, held sway over the whole nation.

During the 1610s, porcelain was made in Japan for the first time in the Arita region, utilizing the techniques of the potters from the Korean Peninsula. These wares were known as Imari ware, named after the port from which they were shipped to other regions. Arita initially emulated the blue-and-white porcelain of Jingdezhen in China, but later developed dramatically by acquiring the overglaze enameling technique from China, and from the latter half of the seventeenth century through the first half of the eighteenth century. Imari ware was exported to European countries by the Dutch East India Company, which brought the ware straight into the spotlight. An array of magnificent styles of ware was produced in Arita throughout its history of development, from Early Imari ware to Ko-Kutani, Kakiemon and Ko-Imari (including kinrande or gilt design) styles, all of which were distributed to various regions of Japan. Nabeshima ware, known as the paramount of Japanese porcelain produced exclusively for the Shogun family at the official kiln of the Nabeshima clan in present-day Saga prefecture, is renowned for its fine, delicate body and refined motifs.

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