Kyoto Ware

Kyo-yaki, the Pottery of the Cultural Capital of Japan

By Kyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Kyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Bowl with willow tree and bridge, Kyoto Ware (1917/1920) by Ito TozanⅠ(1846-1920)Kyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

What Is Kyoto Ware?

Kyoto ware (Kyo-yaki) refers broadly to pottery made in Kyoto. In the past, when Kyoto was the capital of the country, the highest quality in all cultural products was sought. Kyoto ware was one such product. In response to demand, it continues today to change and respond in terms of design and variety.

Shunzan-gama, Kyoto Ware (2019) by Shunzan-gamaKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Glazing, Kyoto Ware (2019) by Shunzan-gamaKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

The Process

Kyoto ware covers a wide variety of processes depending on the craftsmen. In all of them, a great many craftsmen work at kilns in a division of labor, manufacturing high-quality products with great efficiency. Here one example of a manufacturing process will be shown, from beginning to end.

Kneading the Clay, Kyoto Ware (2019) by Manabe GenkiKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Kneading the Clay

The kaolin clay used in making Kyoto ware is imported from various areas. By thoroughly kneading the clay, air is removed and a uniform composition is achieved.

Forming a shape on a potter's wheel, Kyoto Ware (2019) by Manabe GenkiKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Forming the Shape

In Kyoto ware, a potter's wheel is generally used in forming the shape. In this method of producing the desired object from a lump of clay, it is not only the sensitive fingertips that are important but also the most subtle of sounds. After drying the object for a half day or a day, trimming is done to the foot and elsewhere to produced the desired shape. To do this, some craftsmen use tools of their making.

Firing in a kiln, Kyoto Ware (2019) by Shunzan-gamaKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Firing the Object

After the shaped object has been dried, the next step is to fire it in its unglazed form, which is called suyaki. The firing temperature for suyaki varies considerably, but it is generally raised to about 800°C. Suyaki makes it much easier to decorate the surface of the object. After decoration the temperature is raised even higher to about 1250°C) to complete the final firing.

Glazing, Kyoto Ware (2019) by Shunzan-gamaKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Glazing

After the object has been fired unglazed (suyaki) and the first layer of decoration has been applied to the surface, the object is then covered with a glaze. In the final firing the glaze changes to a vitreous substance that that makes the object largely impervious to fluid and increases its strength.

Overglaze decoration, Kyoto Ware (2019) by Shunzan-gamaKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Decoration

The colors used in decoration change according to the temperature at the time of firing. The complete pattern or design is not done at one time, but divided into a number of steps. The decoration and firing are repeated until the coloring and design are what one has been striving for.

Set of sencha tea ware, Kyoto Ware (1800/1833) by Aoki Mokubei (1767-1833)Original Source: Tokyo National Museum

History of Kyoto Ware

The beginning of Kyoto Ware can be traced back to the making of chawan (tea bowl) - a utensil for the enjoyment of matcha (powdered green tea) drinking. In the first half of the Edo period matcha tea utensils created by the famous Kyoto potter, Nonomura Ninsei, became popular among people with prominent social standings. In the latter half of the Edo period when sencha (a type of green tea) served in kyūsu or Chinese-style small teapot became a trend, Kyoto potters also started to make small teapots and teacups.

Views of Tokyo (Relocation of the Capital to Tokyo), Kyoto Ware (1868) by Utagawa KuniteruⅡ (1830-1874)Kyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Relocation of the capital to Tokyo

With Kyoto being the capital city, Kyoto Ware served to satisfy demands from people who appreciated fashionable and refined tastes. The Edo period transitioned to the Meiji period in 1868, resulting in the relocation of the capital to Tokyo together with the Meiji Emperor and many aristocrats, thus depleting Kyoto of powerful people. As a result, not only the ceramic industry, but many other industries also suffered due to the loss of their patrons.

Lidded jar with dragons, Kyoto Ware (1850/1886) by Tanzan Seikai (1813-1886)Kyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

A New Era

In an attempt to compensate for the loss of local clients, the market shifted to the West. There were various reforms, such as the establishment of art schools that pursued European styles and the launch of ceramic research institutions to improve quality.

Ceramic Decoration Room, Kyoto City Ceramic Research CenterOriginal Source: Kawai Kanjiro Memorial Museum

The arrival of the new eras of Taishō and Shōwa saw Japan’s electrical industry venturing into the world market. The technology employed to make Kyo-yaki (or Kyoto ceramic ware) were also applied to make components such as insulators necessary for power supply and fineceramic condensers vital to precision devices. It was also in Kyoto where art movements were instigated by ceramic artists born during these eras and whose works were labeled “avant-garde art” or “object wares”. Kyoto Ware has transformed along the years without being bound by any restrictions.

Vase and cup, Kyoto Ware (2019) by Tanabe KatsuraKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Kyoto Ware Today

There are ceramic artists working at established kilnswho also create their own work as individual artists. Kei Katsura Tanabe who works for Shunzan-gama as a ceramic painter is one of such artists. He She give gives great importance to his her unique artistic expression in his her creation.

Ceramic accessories, Kyoto Ware (2019) by Dona ceramic studioKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Kyoto Ware Today: Wearability

Most people will probably imagine tableware such as plates and tea drinking implements when they hear the word “ceramic”. Yuko Irie who represents Dona ceramic studio creates objects and accessories besides vases.

Marbling technique, Kyoto Ware (2019) by Dona ceramic studioKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

This marbled work reflecting the concept of ichigo-ichie (once-in-a-lifetime encounter that should be cherished) is an example of the accessories she makes from being inspired and fascinated by the beauty of nature. She proposes the new wearable form of ceramic ware by adapting Kyoto Ware that has transitioned through the centuries to modern sensibilities.

Dona Ceramic Studio, Kyoto Ware (2019) by Irie YukoKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Ceramic works with blue glaze, Kyoto Ware (2019) by Manabe GenkiKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Kyoto Ware Today: Expressing through glaze

In Kyoto Ware the unique colors produced by the glaze plays an equally important role as the glazed ceramic ware itself. This work by Genki Manabe features colors that appear as if being absorbed into the ceramic. He encountered this color that reflects the mysterious blue of the sky after many years of research on glazes. The blue of the great sky that connects the world is also imbued with his wish for a peaceful world.

Genki Manabe, Kyoto Ware (2019) by Manabe GenkiKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Works by Manabe Genki, Kyoto Ware (2019) by Manabe GenkiKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

There are a myriad of styles and techniques used by Kyo-yaki ceramic artists. One thing that has remained constant since ancient times is the attitude of the ceramic artists in always seeking out new designs and more sophisticated technical skills. With young artists also creating Kyoto Ware today, we can expect to see more works with new artistic expressions.

Kyoto Ceramic Center, Kyoto Ware (2019) by Kyoto Ceramic Art AssociationOriginal Source: Kyoto Ceramic Art Association

Where to Find Kyoto Ware

The Kyoto Ceramic Center at Gojō in Higashiyama near Kiyomizu Temple is a place where you will find carefully selected Kyoto Ware on display and for sale. There are also frequent demonstrations given by Kyoto Ware artists. The Center is operated by the Kyoto Ceramic Art Association with some 210 individual and enterprise members involved with Kyoto’s ceramic industry, including ceramic artists working in and outside of Japan, kilns, the electromagnetics industry, raw materials producers, among others.

Credits: Story

Information provided & Supported by:
Kyoto Ceramic Art Association
Shunzan-gama
Katsura Tanabe
Dona ceramic studio
Genki Manabe
Tokyo National Museum
Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum
Kawai Kanjiro Memorial Museum

Movie by: Kengo Takayama

Photography by: Kaoru Kuwajima

Text by:
Nao Hosogi, Kyoto Women's University
Akino Kitayama, Kyoto Women's University
Nambu Momoka, Kyoto Women's University
Riko Inazumi, Kyoto Women's University

English translation:
Eddy Y.L. Chang

Project Directors:
Dr Maezaki Shinya, Associate Professor,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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