Mino Ware

Ceramics fired in and around Tajimi, Toki, Mizunami, and Kani in southeast Gifu prefecture

By Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

By: Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University in collaboration with Kyoto Women's University

Mino wares todayOriginal Source: Ceramic Park MINO

Mino is a region where a wide range of products are made — from daily Japanese and Western dishware to industrial wares. Mino also boasts the highest volume of ceramics production in Japan. Many potters have established their workshops here in Mino, where they are involved in a wide range of activities. Some produce traditional Mino ceramics, while others are active as artists promoting the future of Mino ceramics through innovative expression and creative forms.

Kizeto dish with plum tree and cypress pattern, Mino ware (桃山時代(16世紀))Original Source: Kani Local Museum

Momoyama Period

Mino has been the site of ceramic production for centuries. Around the seventh century, it was making high-fired Sue ware. Between the twelfth and the fifteenth century it mass produced unglazed yamajawan wares for daily use. By the Momoyama period during the latter half of the sixteenth century, many famous pieces were being produced in Mino. It was during this period that Momoyama pottery was born. The various styles of Momoyama pottery included Ki-Seto (Yellow Seto), which appears yellow due to the ocher or feldspar added to the ash glaze; Shino, made from local white mogusa clay that contains little iron with iron underglaze decoration coated in feldspathic glaze; and Seto-guro (Seto Black) where the color black is produced by removing the fired vessel from the kiln once the iron glaze begins to melt and rapidly cooling it outside the kiln.

Shino-style tea bowl "Miyako-dori", Mino ware (桃山時代(16世紀))Original Source: Toki City Historical Museum of Mino Ceramics

Many of the famous pieces made during this period were tea bowls, tea containers, flower vases, bowls, and other types of tea ceremony implements. They were passed on to people of taste from feudal lords and tea masters, before finally ending up in private and museum collections all over Japan. 

An kiln cite of Motoyashiki multi-chambered climbing kiln, Mino ware (17世紀初頭)Original Source: Toki City Ayabe no sato Park

Motoyashiki multi-chambered climbing kiln

At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the multi-chambered climbing kiln was introduced to Kyushu from Korea replacing the conventional aboveground single-chamber kiln called ōgama. The revolution in kiln technology allowed production volume to grow. With the popularity of Momoyama-style wares, Mino ceramics were distributed widely across Japan.

Five square dishes of Narumi Oribe style, Mino ware (桃山時代(17世紀))Original Source: Toki City Historical Museum of Mino Ceramics

Oribe Ware

One of the most popular types of Mino ceramics in the early 1600s was Oribe. Particularly sought after were dishes of this style, which were typically made with asymmetrical forms and various glazes (green, black, red, and white). Oribe vessels for food and drink using many motifs associated with the capital Kyoto, such as umebachi-mon (“plum bowl” design), kanoko-mon (fawn-spotted pattern), and kikkō-mon (hexagonal pattern).

Flower vase with pine trees (excavated from the Motoyashiki kiln site, Mino ware), an Important Cultural Property (17世紀初頭)Original Source: Toki City Historical Museum of Mino Ceramics

Innovative designs

The avant-garde designs of Mino ware became popular not only in the Kyoto/Osaka region, but also across Japan. 

Mino ware shards excavated from Momoyama period sites (桃山時代~江戸時代初期)Original Source: Toki City Historical Museum of Mino Ceramics

Archaeological excavations at the Motoyashiki site in Toki have revealed a wide variety of ceramic shards, which originally came from everything from tea implements to candle stands and tobacco pipes. These remains reveal the numerous kinds of ceramics that were produced in Mino in the Momoyama period (1573–1615) and early Edo period (1615–1868) .

Five leaf-shape dishes with "ofukei" glaze, Mino ware (江戸時代前期)Original Source: Toki City Historical Museum of Mino Ceramics

Ofukei ware

In time, the popularity of Oribe ceramics went into sharp decline as a result of broader trends and the changing tastes of those in power. By the second half of the 1600s, pale green Ofukei ware with gentle shapes had come into vogue. Representative examples are small plates in shapes such as oak leaves, chrysanthemum flowers, rhombuses, etc.; mukōzuke individual dishes; and square sangide-style vases, modeled after ancient Chinese cong jades.

Senbon kinetsuki waterwheels, Mino ware (江戸時代後期)Original Source: Mizunami Ceramic Museum

From about the beginning of the nineteenth century and lasting through the Meiji period (1868–1912)Mino potters also produced porcelain. Most of what was made was sometsuke—porcelain with hand-painted designs in underglaze cobalt blue —but they also produced blue and white porcelain made with stencils (inban) in an effort to promote mass production.

Porcelain vase with Under-glaze polychrome hydrangeas, Mino ware (19世紀末~20世紀初頭) by Nishiura Enji V (1856-1914)Original Source: Mino Ceramic Art Museum,Tajimi

Masters of the Meiji period

Fifth generation Nishiura ware potter Nishiura Enji (1856–1914) established a system to mass produce sometsuke and overglaze mainly in Tajimi. He successfully created an underglaze decorating technique using overglaze enamel beneath a transparent glaze, bringing into the world of Mino ceramics the trends from the West of Art Nouveau and its glamorously colorful tastes. For his achievements he was awarded a bronze prize at the Paris World Exposition in 1899, and also a gold award at the Saint Louis World Exposition in 1904.

Seto black tea bowl with a golden leaf, Mino ware (1965) by Arakawa Toyozō (1894-1985)Original Source: Arakawa Toyozo Museum

Arakawa Toyozō

During the Shōwa period, Arakawa Toyozō—who was born in Tajimi in 1894 and died in Kaji in 1985—revived the Momoyama tradition in Mino, which had until then been mostly producing functional ceramics for daily use. In 1930 Arakawa Toyozō discovered Shino pottery fragments from the Momoyama period in the mountains of Ōgaya in the Kukuri area of the city of Kani. This discovery turned the spotlight back onto the region's long-lost Momoyama pottery wares: Shino, Seto-guro, Ki-Seto and Oribe. It was then that he determined to revive these pottery traditions.

An excavation scene of the Mutabora old kiln site, Mino ware by Arakawa Toyozō (1894-1985)Original Source: Arakawa Toyozo Museum

The discovery by Arakawa Toyozō caused a rush to excavate old kiln sites in Mino, with numerous researchers making efforts to retrace the techniques of Ki-Seto, Shino, Seto-guro, and Oribe wares. As the leader of this trend, Arakawa Toyozō became in 1955 the very first person to be designated a National Living Treasure for his Shino and Seto-guro pottery techniques, when Japan’s Important Intangible Cultural Property system was established.

White porcelain plate with waterfowls, Mino ware (1978) by Tsukamoto Kaiji (1912-1990)Original Source: Toki City Historical Museum of Mino Ceramics

Tsukamoto Kaiji 

Mino would go on to facilitate the creating of stoneware and porcelains made using different techniques. In the Shōwa period, Mino helped to cultivate outstanding potters who created Chinese, Korea, and even Persian-style wares. Tsukamoto Kaiji (1912–1990), a ceramic artist from Toki, revered Song Chinese white porcelains and celadons. For his work reproducing the techniques of these ancient ceramics he was designated a Living National Treasure in 1983. Some of his finest works are porcelains that were carved with a spatula before the porcelain bisque was completely dry to create intricate motifs such as water birds.

Sancai flower vessel "Sōyō", Mino ware by Katō Takuo (1917-2005)Original Source: Kōbei-gama

Katō Takuo

At the Kōbei kiln in in Tajimi's Ichinokura area, production of high-quality Japanese tableware began in the Meiji period (1868–1912). While fifth-generation Katō Kōbei left us with excellent Chinese and Korean inspired stoneware and porcelains, the sixth-generation Katō Takuo (1917–2005) was fascinated by Persian pottery and focused on using blue glaze and creating Lusterware. He was designated a Living National Treasure in 1995 for his dedicated work on the sansai (three-colored glazing) technique after he was assigned by the Imperial Household Agency to reproduce sansai pieces in the Sōshō-in collection. 

Shino tea bowl, Mino ware (2002) by Suzuki Osamu (1934- )Original Source: Museum of Modern Ceramic Art, Gifu

Suzuki Osamu 

After the passing of Arakawa Toyozō, who single-mindedly pursued the techniques of Momoyama period, Suzuki Osamu (born in Toki in 1934 and currently residing in Tajimi), who, through pre-modern technical revolution successfully created Shino ware using a gas-fired kiln, was designated a living National Treasure in 1994 for his work on the Shino technique.

Seto black tea bowl, Mino ware (2013) by Katō Kōzō (1935- )Original Source: Mizunami Ceramic Museum

Katō Kōzō

Katō Kōzō was born in 1935 in Mizunami and currently has a workshop at his home in Tajimi city and another in Kaji city. He was designated a Living National Treasure in 2010 for his work on the Seto-guro technique. He followed in the footsteps of  Arakawa Toyozō to create a tunnel kiln (anagama) and established his own way of creating Seto-guro and Ki-Seto wares, making efforts to pass the techniques on to future generations.

Composition 1994 No.1, Mino ware (1995) by Itō Keiji (1935- ) and Photo by Saiki TakuOriginal Source: Museum of Modern Ceramic Art, Gifu

Itō Keiji 

Another characteristic of Mino is how many of its potters are active as contemporary artists who forge creative sculptural forms out of the ceramic medium. Itō Keiji (born in Toki in 1935), who studied painting at the Musashino Art School (today's Musashino Art University), was originally involved in the designing of stoneware and porcelains at the Gifu Prefecture Ceramics and Porcelain Goods Testing Center. In the 1960s he began creating ceramic sculptures, becoming a leader in the contemporary Mino ceramic art scene. His works often carry strong messages—anti-war, anti-nuclear, knowing one’s own limits. His work Composition is part of the Soku (Feet) series based on the concept of “Buddha’s feet.”

"Struggling forms", Mino ware (1995) by Nakajima Harumi (1950- )Original Source: Museum of Modern Ceramic Art, Gifu

Nakashima Harumi 

Nakashima Harumi (born in Ena in 1950), who studied ceramic art at Osaka University of Arts, has been teaching at the Tajimi City Pottery Design and Technical Center and Aichi University of Education for many years. As a contemporary artist, he has  influenced many young potters. His kutō-suru keitai (“struggling forms”) is a theme he has been working on for many long years, through which he questions the relationship between the organic form born from the plasticity of the clay and its inner/outer layers.

Museum of Modern Ceramic Art, Gifu in the Ceramic Park MinoArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Museum of Modern Ceramic Art, Gifu, within Ceramic Park MINO

Mino has an environment to support anyone involved in the pottery industry. It is full of facilities including educational institutions, research institutes, archival collections, as well as art galleries and modern art museums where works can be showcased. Mino is also a place that facilitates the sale of materials and kilns, pottery making and retailing. 

The 1st floor gallery of the Museum of Modern Ceramic Art, GifuOriginal Source: © Museum of Modern Ceramic Art, Gifu

The acceptance of various techniques and modes of artistic expression in Mino has allowed a wide variety of Mino ceramics to continue to thrive today—from tea ceremony implements made with traditional techniques, to functional objects made to enrich and enhance daily life, to figurative contemporary ceramic artworks seeking innovative expression.

Arakawa Toyozō MuseumArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Arakawa Toyozō Museum

Kani Local MuseumArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Kani Local History Museum

Kōbei Kiln, Mino wareArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Kobei Kiln 

Mino Ceramic Art Museum,TajimiArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Mino Ceramic Art Museum

Toki City Historical Museum of Mino CeramicsArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Toki City Historical Museum of Mino Ceramics

Mizunami Ceramic MuseumArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Mizunami Ceramic Museum

Credits: Story

Information & images provided by Museum of Modern Ceramic Art, Gifu, Toki City Historical Museum of Mino CeramicsToki City Oribe no sato Park, Mino Ceramic Art Museum, Tajimi, Arakawa Toyozo Museum, Kani Local Museum, Kobei-gama, Mizunami Ceramic Museum

Text written by Shōmura Misato, Mino Ceramic Art Museum, Tajimi

Exhibition created by Maezaki Shinya and Sakashita Riho Kyoto Women's University

English translation by Eddy Y. L. Chang

Edited by Melissa M. Rinne, Kyoto National Museum

Supported by Morino Akito, Geishiken, Kyoto City University of Arts

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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