Designated as a traditional Japanese craft by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Kasama is a type of pottery mainly produced in Ibaraki, a prefecture in the northeastern part of Kanto, a region that’s also home to Tokyo. It’s a relatively new pottery style, having been created in the mid-Edo Period, 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. Kasama pieces are great not just as tableware but also as interior decorations.
The History of Kasama Ware
Kasama ware (also known as Kasama-Yaki) is a type of pottery that developed mainly around Kasama City in Ibaraki Prefecture, which is located in the northwestern part of the Kanto region that is home to Tokyo. Kasama ware is predominantly made of Kasama clay, a very fine-grained and sticky type of clay that can be found in the region. Kasama ware can also be made using “gairome” clay, which contains a large amount of iron and is made from weathered granite.
Kasama ware was first produced in the middle of the Edo Period (1772 – 1781), when Hanuemon Michinobu Kuno, head of Hakoda Village (currently Kasama City), established a kiln under the guidance of Chouemon, an artisan from Omi Shigaraki (currently Koka City, Shiga Prefecture). Back in the day, Kasama ware was called “Hakoda-Yaki” as it was produced in Hakoda Village. Some of these kilns eventually became designated as “shihoyo,” a general term that referred to kilns that were protected by the Kasama Domain. These kilns were able to make pottery in a privileged environment. In addition, because Kasama was located close to Edo (currently Tokyo), the number of skilled artisans and workers in the area increased rapidly. This combined with the durability of Kasama ware, thanks to the high-quality clay, resulted in Kasama ware kilns churning out more goods for daily use.
Towards the end of the Edo Period (around 1850), artisans who trained in Kasama spread the techniques of Kasama ware to neighboring areas. The most famous result of this is Mashiko ware. Mashiko ware is said to have started when Kasama ware artisans constructed a kiln in Mashiko (Mashiko Town in Tochigi Prefecture).
Subsequently, in the Meiji Era (1868 – 1912), the protection from the Kasama Domain was lost, and Kasama ware faced a temporary slump. However, in 1869, Tomosaburo Tanaka—a peddler in Mino (currently Mino City in Gifu Prefecture)—bought one of the Kasama ware kilns and succeeded in promoting Kasama ware and expanding sales. The name “Kasama ware” is said to have been given by Tanaka. Among the products sold by Tanaka, mortars and tea jars were highly regarded for their durability. The name “Kasama ware” eventually became known throughout the country.
In the Taisho Era (1912 – 1926), the demand for pottery and porcelain decreased due to the spread of metal and plastic products and changes in lifestyle. Also, unlike other areas, there was no wholesaler dedicated to Kasama ware, which was another major factor in its decline.
In response to this situation, both the government and the people of Kasama got together to revive the industry. In 1950, a ceramics training center was established to focus efforts into training artisans. In 1956, The Cooperative of Kasamayaki was established, and in 1972, a dedicated district for pottery and ceramics was constructed. Through such efforts, many artisans from outside the prefecture came together and began creating works that expressed their individual styles.
The Characteristics of Kasama Ware
The most unique feature of Kasama ware is that each artisan conveys his or her own style through each piece, so much so that some say Kasama ware’s characteristic is that it has no characteristic at all.
Back when the production of Kasama ware had just begun, decorating techniques such as “nagashikake,“ in which the glaze was poured onto the clay using a ladle, were used. However, current Kasama ware artisans are not tied down to conventional methods. They create freely and by using a myriad of decorating techniques and methods. From pots and vases to plates and other goods for the home, Kasama ware can come in a wide variety of styles.
Kasama Ware Today
Kasama ware, which has repeatedly gone through periods of decline and resurgence, was designated as a traditional Japanese craft in 1992. Since then, Kasama ware continues to not be bound by traditional methods, but instead incorporate new technologies and ideas.
Every year since 1982, the Hi Matsuri (Pottery Festival; pictured above) takes place during the Golden Week holidays, from late April to early May. More than 200 potters participate to sell their work, and approximately 500,000 visitors gather from all over the country. In 2009, Kasama-Kaki (Kasama ware that can withstand direct heat) was developed. In 2013, Jun Kasama-Yaki—Kasama pieces that are 100% made of clay from the Kasama region—was developed. In the same year, Kasama City enacted the “Cheers Regulation” to encourage people to enjoy Kasama’s local sake with Kasama ware.
*In 2020, the festival was postponed to October, however it was canceled in the end.
The popularity of Kasama ware has spread nationwide thanks to the freedom of expression that it offers as well as the various unique efforts to revive the industry. As explained in this article, Kasama ware is not confined to traditional methods or techniques. It has responded flexibly to changes over time, allowing artists from all over the country to express their own styles through their Kasama ware works.
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.