Traditional Japanese Crafts: The Complete Guide to Japanese Ceramics

Japanese Ceramics

Modern art is something to behold, but there’s also something to be said for traditional crafts. Traditional Japanese crafts can take on all kinds of shapes, but our focus for this article will be on Japanese ceramics. A surprising amount have come out of Japan, most of them classified as “Imari ware” or “Bizen ware” when in truth, they’re just two styles within the even larger categories of “toki” (Japanese pottery) and “jiki” (Japanese porcelain), each with their own characteristics. Furthermore, different areas across Japan produce their own versions of Japanese pottery and/or porcelain, including Kutani ware, Satsuma ware, Hagi ware, Mino ware, Shigaraki ware, and Mashiko ware, all of them gaining popularity both within Japan and overseas. This article will introduce the various kinds of Japanese pottery and porcelain, including their charms, history, and characteristics.

The History of Japanese Ceramics

It is said that the Japanese ceramics we recognize today came into existence around 1,300 years ago, seeing particular development in the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573-1603).
Though we use the phrase “Japanese ceramics,” in truth, this is a general term encompassing toki (Japanese pottery) and jiki (Japanese porcelain). Toki is made with clay, while jiki is made using crushed pottery stone.
Toki is said to have been created over 10,000 years ago, with Jomon pottery made from fired and hardened clay such as the picture above being a famous example.
Jiki, on the other hand, has a relatively short history that is said to have begun in the early 17th century with Imari-Arita wares from Saga Prefecture on the island of Kyushu.

More info: ▶ The History of Japanese Ceramics (Pottery): Japanese Traditional Crafts

The Difference Between Toki (Japanese Pottery) and Jiki (Japanese Porcelain)

Toki (Japanese Pottery)

Toki is made predominantly of clay and is fired at 700℃ – 1,300℃. After the final shape has been set, it may be painted with a glaze called “yuyaku,” which creates a glossy, multicolored finish on the surface of the clay. After firing, the glaze turns glass-like, and has waterproofing properties. There are also many toki pieces that are fired without the yuyaku glaze being applied.

Toki that have been fired after being glazed with yuyaku include Kasama ware (Kasama-Yaki) and Hagi ware (Hagi-Yaki), and toki that have been fired without yuyaku include Bizen ware (Bizen-Yaki) and Echizen ware (Echizen-Yaki).

It is important to remember that not just any clay can be used. For example, Kasama ware uses clay taken from the area spanning Mt. Tsukuba to the Kasama region (Ibaraki Prefecture), as its plasticity is perfect for molding. Similarly, Bizen ware uses clay that has been mined near the Katakami area of Bizen City in Okayama Prefecture. This iron-rich clay becomes a reddish-brown color when fired, and the texture and appearance can vary greatly depending on the properties and composition.

Jiki (Japanese Porcelain)

Izumiyama Quarry

Unlike toki, jiki is made up of crushed pottery stone such as that pictured above (picture: Izumiyama Quarry, the site of a mine where pottery stone used for Imari-Arita-Yaki was excavated). It is fired at an extremely high temperature of 1,250℃ – 1,300℃. Compared to toki, jiki is rather light and hard, and is often painted with vibrant patterns atop a white base, as seen on Imari-Arita ware (Imari-Arita-Yaki) and Kutani ware (Kutani-Yaki). However, similar to toki, the area of origin and properties of the pottery stones used changes based on the product being made.

Both toki and jiki use clay that is full of minerals such as feldspar and silica, but the clay for jiki has a higher percentage of these minerals. Because of this, firing at high temperatures allows it to crystallize and harden.

There are many famous types of jiki, including Imari-Arita ware (the first jiki in Japan), Kutani ware, Mino ware (Mino-Yaki), and Satsuma ware (Satsuma-Yaki).

*Note
This article distinguishes toki and jiki based on the materials used to make them, but in reality, there are several more factors that separate them, such as the temperatures they’re fired at. Also, there are several cases where clay is incorporated when making jiki and vice versa, so it isn’t as clear-cut as we make it out to be. We made this clear distinction to prevent any confusion.

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Types of Toki (Japanese Pottery)

Mashiko Ware

A traditional Japanese craft that is said to have been created in Mashiko, a town in Tochigi Prefecture, in 1853 (the late Edo Period). Tochigi is in the northern part of the Kanto region, which is also home to Japan’s capital, Tokyo. Since it’s made with coarse clay, it has a rather rough texture and gives off a certain warmth.

More info: ▶ Mashiko Ware Guide: Japanese Ceramics (Pottery)

Echizen Ware

These wares are made mainly in Echizen, Fukui Prefecture, in central Japan by the Sea of Japan, and are another craft that has been nationally designated as a traditional Japanese craft*. It has a long history, having been created since before the Kamakura period (1185 – 1333). The base is made with red clay infused with a large amount of iron, and by not using any yuyaku glaze, the natural beauty of the red clay shines through.
*To be more precise, it is further classified as “sekki” (stoneware).

More info: ▶ Echizen Ware Guide: Japanese Ceramics (Pottery)

Shigaraki Ware

These wares are made mainly around the Shigaraki area of Koga, Gifu Prefecture in central Japan, and are another craft that has been nationally designated as a traditional Japanese craft. It is believed that its origins date back to the 8th century, but the Shigaraki ware that continues to this day was created during the Kamakura period during the 13th century, and the style was established during the Muromachi period in the 14th century. Coarse grains of iron are mixed into the clay to make these wares, resulting in them taking on several different appearances throughout the production process, from the initial red color to the black color created from the ash of burnt kindling during firing.

More info: ▶ Shigaraki Ware Guide: Japanese Ceramics (Pottery)

Hagi Ware

A nationally-designated traditional Japanese craft mainly produced in Yamaguchi, Japan’s westernmost prefecture, Hagi pottery has been used to make tea sets for a long time now. It‘s most known for its tiny “kannyu” cracks, the result of the difference in the rate of shrinkage between the “yuyaku” glass coating and coarse clay after baking. The longer you use these wares, the more liquid seeps into these cracks and changes each piece’s appearance over time. This quality has won this craft many fans throughout Japan.

More info: ▶ Hagi Ware Guide: Japanese Ceramics (Pottery)

Sanshu Onigawara

A nationally-designated traditional Japanese craft, Sanshu Onigawara are made in Nagoya through a process of smoking without any prior yuyaku glaze being applied to the pieces, which coats them in carbon, resulting in a deep coloring and high durability. Sanshu Onigawara roof tiles were once used to ward off evil but nowadays they are far less common, and the craft has instead been more popular as interior decorations.

More info: ▶ Sanshu Onigawara Guide: Japanese Ceramics (Pottery)

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[Gargoyle (Gargoyle Statue)] Onigawara To Decorate The Room: Shinsuke Kamiya
Source: BECOS

Now you can decorate your home with an Onigawara roof tile, once used to protect Japanese homes against evil. This piece has a brilliant luster that you will only see in Sanshu Onigawara tiles thanks to their sophisticated and gorgeous “ibushi-gin” coloring. The expression of the “oni” (demon) is quite something, and it is sure to make a great talisman as well as part of your interior decoration. You can have it stand on its own or hang it on the wall.

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▶ Click here to browse more popular Sanshu Onigawara items!

Kasama Ware

A nationally-designated traditional Japanese craft, Kasama is a type of pottery mainly produced in Ibaraki, a prefecture in the northeastern part of Kanto. It’s a relatively new pottery style, having been created roughly 220 years ago. Fine, high-quality clay is used to make it so it’s easy to shape, allowing artisans to get really creative with it. As a result, its most unique characteristic has become the fact that it doesn’t really have any unique characteristics.

More info: ▶ Kasama Ware Guide: Japanese Ceramics (Pottery)

Tokoname Ware

A nationally-designated traditional Japanese craft, Tokoname wares are produced in Aichi Prefecture, home to Nagoya, a large Japanese city located in the central part of the Japanese mainland, between Tokyo and Osaka. Boasting a history over 900 years old, Tokoname pottery is unglazed and uncoated, and known for its durability due to the high iron content in the clay it’s made out of. For this reason, it’s often used to make bigger pieces like large pots and jars. In recent years, glazed Tokoname wares have also emerged and proven to be quite popular.

More info: ▶ Tokoname Ware Guide: Japanese Ceramics (Pottery)

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[Mug (Cup)] Large Mug And Saucer
Source: BECOS

There is a technique used to bring out a more vermilion color in Tokoname wares. It’s called “hiiro-yaki” and it consists of laying dried seaweed on white clay and then firing the final product. This singular mug by the young artist Mariko Suzuki is a combination of that method and her own research into glistening glazing techniques. The result is a new kind of modern, beautiful tableware that retains the classic durability of Tokoname.

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[Large Plate (Platter)] Plate Size
Source: BECOS

Like the product before, this is another piece by Mariko Suzuki. Recognized as Tokoname pottery by the vermilion coloring brought on by the high iron content in the clay, the red of the plate stands in daring contrast to the glaze, creating a beautiful gradation effect. Please note, however, that since every plate is fired individually, no two are identical, but that just makes each one all the more beautiful.

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▶ Click here to browse more beautiful items made by Mariko Suzuki

Karatsu Ware

A nationally-designated traditional Japanese craft with a 400-year-long history, Karatsu pottery is produced in Saga Prefecture, which lies in northern Kyushu. One of the most popular wares for use in Japanese tea ceremony, Karatsu pieces are beloved for their simplicity and earthy texture. However, the style is well known for its many decorations and yuyaku (glazing) techniques, and the brilliantly colorful “akae” and “uwae” Karatsu pieces are also popular.

More info: ▶ Karatsu Ware Guide: Japanese Ceramics (Pottery)

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[Japanese Tea Cup] Akamaki Pot
Source: BECOS

This pot has been fired at the Kouun Kiln, which produces some of the more colorful Karatsu wares out there. It features wire netting on the inside, which can be removed. Even then, the presence of small holes on the inside of the piece makes it possible to use the teapot for both black tea and Japanese green tea. Not only is this teapot very versatile, but the clear border between its red and indigo coloring is quite beautiful. Kouun Kiln teapots are very popular and many of them sell out quickly, so make sure to get yours while you can.

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▶ Click here to browse more beautiful items made by KOUUN KILN!

▶ Click here to browse more popular Karatsu Ware items!

Koishiwara Ware

A nationally-designated traditional Japanese craft. A pottery style that was created over 300 years ago in Fukuoka Prefecture in northern Kyushu. It is known for its geometric pattern and rustic, earthy texture. Even today, soil from the mountains of the Koishiwara region is used to make Koishiwara wares.

More info: ▶ Koishiwara Ware Guide: Japanese Ceramics (Pottery)

Yokkaichi Banko Ware

Beginning as a humble set of tea utensils, Yokkaichi Banko ware was originally fashioned by a craftsman in central Japan’s Mie Prefecture over 300 years ago. The ceramics’ heat-resistant properties allow direct use on flame, a much sought-after feature which has earned them a whopping 80% market share. Yokkaichi Banko ware also enjoys popularity as traditional Japanese “kyusu” teapots thanks to its iron-rich clay, which yields a mild flavor from the tea. Despite the lack of ceramic glaze, paintings, or other decorations, each piece will slowly gain a unique natural luster the more it is used. The extensive range of tableware and household items made in this style can be incorporated into almost all facets of life, adding a dash of beauty and craftsmanship to everyday routines. Yokkaichi Banko is registered as a traditional Japanese craft by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

More info: ▶ Yokkaichi Banko Ware Guide: Japanese Ceramics (Pottery)

Otani ware

Otani ware can be found in the town of Osacho in Naruto City, a part of Tokushima Prefecture on the eastern side of Japan’s Shikoku Island. With a history spanning 240 years, these iconic Tokushima ceramics boast a simple, textured character with a faint gleam created by reflecting light. When making the larger ceramics, a famous and unique molding technique known as “nerokuro” is used, with Japan’s largest climbing kilns used for heating. Complementing the larger counterparts are small bowls, tea cups, and other daily essentials alongside a range of ornaments, allowing a homely, nurturing warmth to enter your everyday life. In November every year, the “Otani Ware Kiln Festival” is held*, attracting leagues of fans from across the country. Otani ware is a designated traditional Japanese craft.

*Due to COVID-19, the 2020 festival was held at each kiln. The 2021 festival is currently undecided.

More info: ▶ Japanese Pottery: A Guide to Otani Ware

Iga Ware

Iga ware (Iga-Yaki) is a type of pottery designated as a traditional Japanese craft by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. It is made primarily in the cities of Iga and Nabari in Mie Prefecture, which straddles the southwestern border of Aichi Prefecture, home to the great metropolis of Nagoya. Japanese pottery has a long history spanning more than 1,300 years, and Iga ware is among the oldest types, with production said to have started as far back as the Nara Period (710 – 794).

The typical characteristics of Iga ware are the unique coloration created from scorching and the beautiful “bidoro glaze” that is formed during firing. Tea bowls were the traditional items made by Iga ware potters, but nowadays pots, rice bowls, handleless tea cups, and other items used in everyday life are most popular. In particular, Iga ware “donabe” cooking pots are a favorite of professional chefs for their superior durability and heat retaining properties, which enables excellent heat transfer to food being cooked and prevents excessive heat loss even after being removed from the heat source.

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MUGWORT GLAZE MEDIUM BOWL 210
Source: BECOS

This medium-sized bowl is quintessential Iga ware, featuring a deep green glaze. Although originally intended to be paired with a “kenzan” (a metal bed of needles used to hold flowers upright) and used to display ikebana (Japanese flower arrangements), it also makes for a wonderful dish for food. Its generous size (roughly 9 inches in diameter and 2 inches high) makes it quite versatile for a variety of purposes. Whatever you choose to serve in it will look great! The variety of shapes, colors, and textures found in Japanese ceramics is what makes it so fun to imagine the different types of food you might want to serve in it.

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HYDRANGEA GLAZE MUG
Source: BECOS

This mug features a beautiful gradation of pale blue hydrangea glaze. Each exquisite piece is individually handmade, giving them a personal warmth not found in machine-made pottery.

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▶ Click here to browse more beautiful Iga Ware items!

Types of Jiki (Japanese Porcelain)

Kutani Ware

Copyright: Ishikawa Prefectural Tourism League

A nationally-designated traditional Japanese craft. Kutani ware is over 350 years old and is made in Ishikawa Prefecture in the Hokuriku region, which is in the northern part of central Honshu (main island of Japan). This craft is known for its colorful design that can take on many forms, such as “mori,” where thick layers of paint are added on to give three-dimensionality to the item. Today, new styles of Kutani wares are being made using long-established, traditional crafting techniques.

More info: ▶ Kutani Ware Guide: Japanese Ceramics (Porcelain)

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Free Cup Christmas Rose
Source: BECOS

A glass that you can use for all kinds of occasions. The vivid and detailed Christmas rose design is lovely and shows off a depth that can only be achieved with Kutani ware.

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Cup & Saucer Strawberry
Source: BECOS

A cup and saucer set with tiny red strawberries and white strawberry flowers painted on it. It has a “gosai” design with reds, yellows, greens, purples, and blues used to paint it in an artistic, lovely way.

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▶ Click here to browse more beautiful Kutani Ware items!

Mino Ware

A nationally-designated traditional Japanese craft and one of the country’s most popular crafts. A 1,300-year-old craft that’s mainly produced in Gifu Prefecture, which lies in central Honshu. It takes on all kinds of shapes and sizes, with new, innovative designs being made even today.

More info: ▶ Mino Ware Guide: Japanese Ceramics (Pottery / Porcelain)

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[Glass] Shun Japan Four Seasons Magic 4 Pieces
Source: BECOS

Recently, this series of MARUMO TAKAGI Reikan (cold) glasses that can change color depending on the temperature of the liquid poured in them have been gaining lots of attention. The designs for this set of glasses showcase the seasons of Japan, with sakura for spring, fireworks for summer, foliage for autumn, and snowflakes for winter. When you pour cold water into them, they’ll slowly start to take on a bright, vivid color.

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[Tea Cup ] Shun Japan SAKURA Magic Yunomi
Source: BECOS

These cups belong to the Onkan (warm) series of MARUMO TAKAGI. Pour a hot drink into them and the black on the white cup will slowly turn into sakura in bloom. There are other designs available, so please have a look!

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Related article: ▶ Traditional Japanese Crafts: The Vivid, Changing Colors of Mino Ware Glasses

▶ Click here to browse more beautiful Mino Ware items!

Imari-Arita Ware

Imari-Arita ware

The first ever porcelain to be crafted in Japan comes from Saga Prefecture in northern Kyushu. Boasting a 400-year history, the intricate patterns and vibrant colors of this registered traditional Japanese craft continues to wow people to this very day. Despite being made in the Arita region, it became known as “Imari ware” due to being shipped out from Imari Port. The lavishly-designed large plates and pots became particularly popular in Europe during the late 17th century, where they were showcased under the name “IMARI.” Even today, they can be found exhibited in museums or lining the halls of castles.

More info: ▶ Imari-Arita Ware Guide: Japanese Ceramics (Porcelain)

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Running Water Cherry Plate 150
Source: BECOS

This stunning plate features an indigo blue painting on a piece of white Imari-Arita porcelain. The highly-detailed artwork depicts a gentle swirl of floating cherry blossom petals being pulled into a whirlpool of water. The faint gradation of the indigo blue forms a striking backdrop, highlighting the food it serves. Its handy size is suited towards use as an individual serving plate.

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2016/ Kirstie van Noort Deep Plate 220 (Spray Color)
Source: BECOS

This versatile deep plate is the work of Dutch designer Kirstie van Noort. The thin, carefully crafted texture yields a light, sophisticated touch. The simple design pairs well with most foods, adding a whisper of warmth and elegance to the dinner table. Dishwasher and microwave safe.

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▶ Click here to browse more beautiful Imari-Arita Ware items!

Satsuma Ware

Satsuma porcelain received worldwide acclaim in 1867 under the name “SATSUMA” during the 2nd International Exposition in Paris. Boasting a 400-year-old history, it is crafted in mainland Japan’s most southern prefecture of Kagoshima. It can be broadly split between the styles of White Satsuma and Black Satsuma, with the former featuring extravagant designs and prices intended for the upper classes, while the latter was lovingly used by ordinary citizens. It is a traditional Japanese craft registered by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

More info: ▶ Satsuma Ware Guide: Japanese Ceramics (Porcelain)

Kyo Ware/Kiyomizu Ware

Kyo ware/Kiyomizu ware refers to pottery produced around Kyoto’s Higashiyama and Yamashina areas, as well as the city of Uji. Boasting a history 400 years old, this pottery style is different from all the other designated traditional Japanese crafts, as there are no rules limiting what materials or techniques artisans can use to make them. That’s why a lot of these pieces come in so many different shapes and sizes, as well as show off the expressions of the artisans behind them so clearly. That said, one common trait that they have is their Kyoto-like grand elegance and extraordinarily ornate design. Today, the pottery style is a designated traditional Japanese craft.

More info: ▶ Kyo Ware/Kiyomizu Ware Guide: Japanese Ceramics (Pottery / Porcelain)

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[Rice Bowl] Flower Crystal (White Background Blue Red) Bowl (2-Piece Set)
Source: BECOS

This pair of rice bowls features beautiful patterns reminiscent of blooming flowers known as “hanakessho” (flower crystals). No two are ever alike, and with the blue and red gradation effect, the bowls become exquisitely elegant pieces that exemplify the Kyo ware/Kiyomizu ware style.

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Beak Bowl Bowl (5-Piece Set)
Source: BECOS
Source: BECOS

These pieces are the work of Takayoshi Kumagai, famous for his K+ “Beak Bowl” line of pottery. As the name suggests, the bowls feature beak-like elements on opposite sides of the rim, resulting in truly beautiful pieces of pottery. In the first picture above, the bowl on the far right is made from a combination of red clay and white slip and features an oil-spot tenmoku pattern on the inside and outside, plus gold wire rim ornaments. But as we move left, the bowls become more and more pure red clay, creating a unique, fun, and modern bowl set that you simply must have.

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▶ Click here to browse Kyo/Kiyomizu Ware items!

Hasami Ware

These ceramics originated in the town of Hasami, Nagasaki Prefecture, in northwestern Kyushu. Hasasami originally produced pottery, but after finding deposits of pottery stones in the area, they switched focus to blue porcelain and white porcelain painted blue. Hasami ware has helped make Nagasaki the third most prolific maker of everyday Japanese tableware in the country thanks to a uniquely specialized production process that makes it possible to produce these high-quality pieces on a mass scale. Modern Hasami wares come in all shapes and sizes and are made with a variety of techniques. Most recently, the colorful “HASAMI” brand mugs have become very popular with young people. Hasami ware is designated as a traditional Japanese craft.

More info: ▶ Hasami Ware Guide: Japanese Ceramics (Pottery / Porcelain)

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Hasami Ware 13303 Round Indigo Pattern, Lightweight Rice Bowls, Set of 5
Source: Amazon.co.jp

Thanks to a specialized production process, Hasami ware can be produced on a mass scale while retaining its quality as well as being sold at reasonable prices. That’s one of the biggest characteristics of the Hasami style, to which these rice bowls are a good introduction. Consisting of white porcelain adorned with indigo polka dot designs, the bowls are both cute and elegant enough to be served to guests.

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HASAMI Scissors Block Mug [Yellow] Hasami Ware
Source: Amazon.co.jp

These colorful mugs are part of the new “HASAMI” brand which was started in 2010 by the third head of Maruhiro, a regional specialty wholesaler. Covered in yuzu-hada, a glass coating, the mugs are a little rough on the outside, reminiscent of the skin of the yuzu citrus fruit. The mugs come in many colors, so you can mix and match color combinations as you please.

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*These products may not be able to be shipped to certain countries. Please see the retailer’s website for more information.

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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