Koishiwara Ware Guide: Japanese Ceramics (Pottery)

Koishiwara Ware

A traditional Japanese craft designated so by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. A pottery style that was created over 300 years ago in Fukuoka Prefecture in northern Kyushu. It is known for its geometric pattern, which is a result of it being made on a “rokuro” (potter’s wheel), and its rustic, earthy texture. Even today, new kinds of Koishiwara wares are being made to meet the needs of the current generation.

The History of Koishiwara Ware

©Fukuoka Prefecture Tourism Association

Koishiwara ware (“Koishiwara-Yaki”) refers to earthenware from the Koishiwara district of Toho Village, Asakura-gun, Fukuoka Prefecture. Its history dates all the way back to the Edo Period (1603 – 1868).

In 1699, Hachinojo Takatori opened up a kiln in Nakano, an area within the Koishiwara district. He was the grandson of Hachizo Takatori, the founder of “Takatori ware,” another kind of earthenware developed in Sawara, Fukuoka City. A Korean potter, Hachizo was tasked by Nagamasa Kuroda, the lord of the Fukuoka Domain at the time, to open kilns across the region.

In 1682, the third-generation lord of the Fukuoka Domain, Mitsuyuki Kuroda, invited over potters from Imari, Hizen (present-day Saga Prefecture) to Nakano. They started working together with Hachinojo, eventually creating Koishiwara ware. Initially, they tried making porcelain, but the region’s soil wasn’t suitable for it, so they switched over to pottery. Since it was created in Nakano, it was originally called “Nakano ware.” However, it began to be called “Koishiwara ware” from sometime in the 18th century.

Koishiwara wares were heavily used by the commoners at the time, especially as Japanese sake cups, flower vases, and teapots.

Sparked by art critic Soetsu Yanagi and potters Kanjiro Kawai and Shoji Hamada, the “mingei” (folk art and crafts) movement spread across the nation in 1926. It continued for many years, leading to the establishment of the Kyushu Mingei Cooperative in 1948. In 1958, Koishiwara ware even won the Grand Prix award at the world fair in Brussels, Belgium. That was the start to its international fame, and it gained recognition for showing the “beauty of functionality.” Eventually, it was recognized as a Traditional Japanese Craft by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in 1975.

The Characteristics of Koishiwara Ware

©Fukuoka Prefecture Tourism Association

The most defining characteristic of Koishiwara ware is its geometric pattern created by using planes and brushes while sculpting it on a potter’s wheel. The rustic texture brings out the full potential of the clay, and the design showcases the traditional techniques used to make it. Some of the most common techniques used to make Koishiwara ware include tobi-kanna, hakeme, nagaki-kake, and uchi-kake.

“Tobi-kanna” involves creating an even pattern by shaving away bits of clay using the sharp end of a plane while rotating the piece on a potter’s wheel. “Hakeme” is when white engobe (a liquid solution used for final decoration) is applied on the work and brushed in as it is being spun on a potter’s wheel. “Nagashi-kake” is when glaze is evenly applied while the work is rotated on a potter’s wheel. “Uchi-kake” is similar to “nagashi-kake,” but the glaze is only applied to specific, small areas using a ladle or small cup.

Koishiwara Ware Today

©Fukuoka Prefecture Tourism Association

Even now, over 50 kilns in Toho Village are still creating Koishiwara ware that show individuality yet carry on tradition. In 2017, Fukushima Senzo, the 16th-generation owner of Chigaiwa Kiln, became a Living National Treasure at the relatively young age of 57. Even now, they make their pieces using soil from the mountains of Koishiwara.

Due to COVID-19, pottery fairs nationwide have been canceled. However, Koishiwara artisans are still finding ways to promote the industry, such as by crowdfunding to host an online pottery market.

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

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