Tokoname, a town with a flourishing ceramics tradition dating back to the late Heian period

Ceramics transported from Ise Bay
The earliest examples of Tokoname ware date to the late Heian period (794–1185), approximately 900 years ago. Black smoke rising up from the estimated two to three thousand tunnel kilns (anagama) across the hillocks of the Chita peninsula would have been a common site during the medieval period. The products of these kilns comprised large fired storage jars and other vessels that were transported across the country by ship. From the medieval period to the present day, Tokoname’s ceramics industry area has boasted a scale of production unparalleled in most parts of the world.
Jar with three transverse lines and natural ash glaze, late Heian period
This jar bears three levels of transverse parallel lines enclosing the form from the shoulder to the trunk, for which reason it is categorized as a sankinko ("jar with three lines"). Jars of this type were fired frequently in the late Heian period. They have been found in many Esoteric Buddhist temples and sutra mounds, suggesting their deep significance for religious activities during the Heian period. At the beginning of the Kamakura period (1185–1333), however, production of sankinko quickly ceased.
Large jar with natural ash glaze, Kamakura period
The pots of the Kamakura period made in Tokoname tend to have smooth-lined silhouettes, with broad, curved shoulders. Another characteristic of jars from the medieval period is a folded clay “sash” encircling the rim. This type of rim decreases the likelihood of cracks during firing, and adds a stately quality to the form. With a fired surface of deep brown clay and a yellow-green natural ash glaze, this jar epitomizes the beauty of medieval Tokoname Japanese ceramics.
Fushiki water jar (mizusashi), Edo period
Once owned by the great tea master Sen no Rikyu (1522–1591), the Fushiki water jar occupies an extremely significant place in the history of Tokoname tea ceramics. Rikyu wrote about it in his Rikyu Hyakukaiki (Record of Rikyu's Hundred Tea Gatherings), a text illuminating the tea ceremony in his age, and he titled this water jar “bakemono” (phantom). It is said that Sen Sōtan (1578-1658), a successor of Rikyu, later named it “fushiki” (the unknown), thinking it resembled the image of Daruma, the founder of Zen Buddhism. For the anonymous potter who created the jar, would have been unimaginable that such renowned tea masters had revered it.
Tōei-yō noborigama, 1887
This noborigama (climbing kiln) called Tōei-yō was built in 1887. An eight-chamber renbōshiki noborigama (multi-chambered climbing kiln), its overall length is 22m and its greatest width is 9.6m. According to documentation of 1912, Tokonome’s noborigama at that time numbered approximately sixty, but today this is the only noborigama of its time that remains in its entirety. Not only is the kiln’s main section preserved, but its adjoining ceramics workshop is as well, making it a venerated historic site.
The Landscape of Tokoname
Over the course of its 900 long years of history, the main products of Tokoname’s ceramics industry—from storage pots and pipes to architectural ceramics—varied along with the times. During the Meiji and Showa eras, Tokoname was called the “ceramic pipe city.” Walking through the city, one can see ceramic pipes and shochu bottles used as retaining walls. The prosperity of previous eras is thus discernable today.
Tokoname Tounomori Ceramic Art Institute, a center for preserving the traditions of Tokoname ware
The founder of the Ina Seitō corporation(today’s LIXIL), Ina Chōzaburō(1890–1980), sought to support the Tokoname ceramics industry and donated funds establishing the Tokoname Tounomori Ceramic Art Institute in 1961. Horiguchi Sutemi(1895–1984), the celebrated modernist architect also known for his teahouse research, designed its building. Since the time the institute began training young students, many of them have become independent ceramists, and today some are quite active internationally.
Tokoname shudei kyūsu
It is said that the first kyūsu (small teapots with side handles) were made in Tokoname during the latter part of the Edo period, specifically the Bunka-Bunsei period (approx. 1804-1830). In the Bakamatsu period, Sugie Jumon(1827-1897) became a popular producer of shudei kyūsu, teapots with unglazed burnished red clay surfaces. It is widely thought that all Tokoname kyūsu are shudei kyūsu, but this is actually a postwar notion. Living National Treasure Yamada Jōzan III(1924-2005)faithfully inherited the traditions of previous generations while incorporating a modern, individualistic style. Yamada’s work inspired a rapid increase in the contemporary appreciation of Tokoname kyūsu throughout Japan.
Inherited tradition and skill
Shimizu Genji(1945-)of the workshop Hōjō Tōbō is a craftsman of teapots (kyūsu). He preserves traditional techniques of teapot forming on the potter’s wheel according to the motto “craftsmanship from the heart of the maker to the heart of the user.” Tokoname officials have recognized his traditional craftsmanship by designating him a Holder of Intangible Cultural Property.
In addition to creating teapots, Shimizu has devoted himself to educating the next generation of Tokoname potters. He is known for passionately speaking of the distinctive characteristics of a Tokoname teapot, which he says are “a lightness when held,” “good pouring quality of the spout” and “a surface sheen when used for a long time.”
By: Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University in collaboration with Kyoto Women's University
Credits: Story

Information provided by Tokoname Tounomori

Text written by Oguri Yasuhiro,Tokoname Tounomori

English Translation by Meghen Jones

Supported by Hojo Tobo, Sato Kazunobu, Aichi Prefectural Ceramic Museum

Exhibition created by Yamamoto Masako (Research Fellow of Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS)) and Shimizu Ayano, Kyoto Women's University Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Edited by Melissa M. Rinne, Kyoto National Museum

Directed by Maezaki Shinya, Kyoto Women's University


Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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