The former province of Tanba extends across present day central Kyoto prefecture and into the eastern part of Hyogo prefecture. Tanba ware seems to have originated in the Kondachō Kamitachikui area of Sasayama (Hyogo), following the introduction of kiln firing techniques from the Tōkai region at the end of the Heian period (late 1100s). In Tōkai, these firing techniques were used for ceramics such as Tokoname ware (made in present day Aichi prefecture).
From the early days until the Muromachi period (1392–1573), ceramics made in Tanba, as well as in other parts of Japan, consisted mostly of functional vessels such as jars, urns, and mortars. In the latter half of the Muromachi period and early Edo period (1500s–1600s), sake bottles and tea ceramics (as a result of the popularization of chanoyu, the Way of Tea) were added to this repertoire. From the early to mid Edo period (1600s–1700s), a type of slip called akadobe began being applied to Tanba ware to give it a vibrant reddish brown color. During the late Edo period (1800s), Tanba kilns started using "chestnut husk glaze" (kurikawa yū), a slip made from further-refined akadobe, and white slip. Throughout the Edo period (1615–1868), Tanba ware comprised mainly functional vessels for daily life, such as sake bottles, jars, and urns, which incorporated decorative techniques.
After the start of the modern period, Tanba's functional wares caught the approving eye of Yanagi Sōetsu (also known as Yanagi Muneyoshi, 1889–1961) who founded the Folk Art or Mingei movement. The forms and decorative techniques of Tanba ware also inspired other Mingei-influenced potters such as Kawai Kanjirō (1890–1966), Hamada Shōji (1894–1978), and Bernard Leach (1887–1979). Today there are about 60 kilns producing Tamba ware. In addition to contemporary ceramic artists who make creative ceramic sculptures, there are also potters who focus on producing functional vessels for daily use.