Mino Ware Guide: Japanese Ceramics (Pottery / Porcelain)

A traditional Japanese craft designated so by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. A 1,300-year-old craft that’s mainly produced in Gifu Prefecture, which lies in central Honshu. Though it initially was a type of pottery called “Sue,” eventually, ceramic versions started being made. Mino wares were historically commonly used in Japanese tea ceremony, but they are actually known for taking on all shapes and sizes to suit any purpose, with 15 different kinds of Mino ware existing today, all of which are designated traditional Japanese crafts. So, not only will you see Mino wares with a variety of designs and that were made in many different ways, but even today, new kinds of Mino wares are being made.

The History of Mino Ware

Mino ware (Mino-yaki) is a kind of Japanese pottery made in the cities of Tajimi, Toki, and Kani in southeastern Gifu Prefecture, which is situated in the Chubu Region at the center of mainland Japan. The craft began in the 5th century, when the potter’s wheel and “ana-gama” (an old type of kiln made by digging a hole into the side of a hill) were introduced to Japan from the Korean Peninsula.

There are records of Mino ware with a color as white as the white ceramics of China being gifted to the Emperor of Japan during the Heian Period (10th century).

In the 1500s during the late Muromachi Period, a large kiln was built in a village within Mino (a former province in southern Gifu Prefecture), leading to innovations being made for adding color to the pottery. Subsequently, Mino ware saw its golden age during the 16th to the 17th centuries, or the Azuchi-Momoyama Period to the Edo Period.

Shino

After Mino was placed under the governance of the Japanese feudal lord Nobunaga Oda in 1567, Mino ware artists made great leaps and bounds in their work. Furthermore, Mino ware gained the favor of tea ceremony masters such as Sen no Rikyu and Oribe Furuta, boosting its popularity.

The tea bowls and tools used for tea ceremonies at the time were Mino ware, and many of the most iconic styles of Mino ware, such as Haishino, Shino, Oribe, Kizeto, and Setoburo were born during this period.

1603, the beginning of the Edo Period, was when Mino ware artists started making everyday tools and utensils such as bowls, plates, and sake bottles. White porcelain and items similar to China’s celadon porcelain started to be produced in this time as well.

From 1868 onwards, potters were able to give color to Mino ware using imported coloring pigments. New techniques for painting Mino ware such as transfer printing and screen printing were born, and production grew in scope.

The culmination of all this progress resulted in Mino ware being designated as a traditional japanese craft in 1978. Today, Mino ware is the most produced type of pottery in Japan, accounting for over 60% of all traditional Japanese tableware.

The Characteristics of Mino Ware

Oribe

One of the most unique features of Mino ware is just how many varieties there are. The term “Mino ware” refers to not just one style of ceramics, but rather 15 different types, all of which are designated a traditional Japanese craft.

The most representative style is Oribe, made following the aesthetic sense of Oribe Furuta, a disciple of the tea ceremony master Sen no Rikyu. It made an appearance during the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (16-17th centuries), showcasing innovation yet unseen at the time, and was novel for its distorted appearance and dark green geometrical design.

While Mino ware is widely appreciated all over the world for decoration purposes, it also gives a rustic beauty when used to serve food, and many famous chefs love to use it.

Shino

Another style of Mino ware born in the same period, Shino, was a revolutionary kind of pottery as it marked the first time that potters tried adding designs to the pottery before adding the overall glaze for color. Shino is characterized by tinges of fiery red color that appear over a milky white base, as well as its tiny bubble-like holes formed via adding glaze called “Chosekiyuu” to bring color to the piece. When combined, these two features give the pottery a beautiful natural appearance. Depending on the temperature used to fire it, the piece can take on different colors, including dark brown, red, or slate. Apart from tea ware and tools, Shino ware is popular as vases, pots, sake bottles, large sake cups, and incense holders.

Kizeto

Kizeto, another style of Mino ware that’s fired after being painted with an iron-based glaze, has a subtle and simple appearance and is known for its warm yellow color. Its dark green design is painted using a copper-based glaze. Kizeto ware can appear in many forms, including tea ceremony tools and ware, plates, pots, bowls, and vases.

Mino Ware Today

The cities of Tajimi, Toki, and Mizunami in Gifu Prefecture protect the culture surrounding Mino ware today. However, even though Gifu is Japan’s largest ceramics producing area today, there are several problems facing the craft. Not only is there a lack of craftsmen to carry on the work, but they are running out of clay due to over 1,000 years of pottery production.

The great features of Mino ware are the innovativeness and freedom of expression it grants. Many potters over the years have developed the craft in the most groundbreaking ways.

In the present day, there are several young potters specializing in Mino ware who have even created a group in order to spread the love for the craft in ways never tried before, by doing things such as holding workshops with demonstrations using the potter’s wheel.

The local Tono Shinkin Bank Ltd. has also been supporting these potters’ efforts by working together with different kilns and the Mino Ware Branding Council, as well as planning and holding the Minoyakisai (Mino Ware Festival) every mid-October around Tajimi Station*.

These collaborations with local organizations and young Mino ware artists are spreading the word about Mino ware in a way that we can more easily relate to.

*The Minoyakisai will not take place in 2020 due to the coronavirus.

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

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