Kyoto Ware

Ceramics from the ancient capital of Kyoto

By Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

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

Kyoto Ware (2015) by Takayama Koshun Kiln, Irie Yuki Kiln and Takagi Ganka Kiln are filmed in this movie.Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Black tea bowl (17世紀) by Raku Donyu (1599-1656)Original Source: Tokyo National Museum

The history of Kyoto ware

Kyoto ware (Kyō-yaki) is a term for the type of ceramics fired in Kyoto. The first time this word appeared in documentary records was in the year 1605, when it was used in in the tea diary of Kamiya Sōtan (1551–1635), a merchant from Hakata in Kyushu. Sōtan's entry lists one of the utensils used in a tea gathering as "katatsuki: Kyō-yaki." Scholars believe that this refers to a Raku ware ceramic tea container (chaire). The tradition of Raku tea wares was continued by Hon’ami Kōetsu (1558–1637) and by generations of potters of the Raku family into the present day.

Tea jar with plum blossoms and the moon (17世紀後半) by Nonomura NinseiOriginal Source: Tokyo National Museum

Nonomura Ninsei

It is said that in 1624 a climbing kiln was built at Awataguchi to the east of Sanjō Bridge by a potter from Seto. The stoneware production using a climbing kiln may have begun around this time. Around 1647 Nonomura Ninsei—known for his elegant overglaze designs—established the Omuro kiln to fire tea wares in front of Nin’na-ji Temple.

Water pot with plum blossoms (18世紀前半) by Ogata Kenzan (1663-1743)Original Source: University Art Museum, Kyoto City University of Arts

Ogata Kenzan

One of Ninsei's disciple was Ogata Kenzan (1663–1743, also known as Shinsei) who in 1699 went up to Narutaki in the north of Kyoto to build a kiln/ He later relocated to Chōjiya-cho in Nijō district in 1712, where he created dishes with pictorial or Rinpa style designs in collaboration with his older brother Ogata Kōrin (1658–1716).

Brazier with Shippo Design, Kyoto City University of Arts University Art Museum Collection (18世紀前半)Original Source: University Art Museum, Kyoto City University of Arts

Ko-Kiyomizu ware

During Kenzan's time, the tri-colored (blue, green and gold) decorative ceramics known as Ko-Kiyomizu ware were established. Three areas (Awataguchi, Kiyomizu, and Otowa, which would later be renamed as Gojōzaka) became the kiln centers of Kyoto. At Awataguchi, influential potteries produced traditional ceramics mostly in the Ko-Kiyomizu style on commission from shoguns, the imperial court and daimyo families.

Sencha tea set, Kyoto ware (19世紀前半) by Aoki Mokubei (1767-1833) and othersOriginal Source: Tokyo National Museum

Gojōzaka ware

In the latter half of the 18th century Okuda Eisen (1753–1811) successfully produced porcelain ware for the first time in Kyoto. Eisen tried to revive porcelains with cobalt underglaze with overglaze enamels and Cochin wares, which were originally made at the end of the Ming dynasty and the beginning of the Qing dynasty in China. His techniques was passed on to Gojōzaka kilns, and potters in the area turned to the reviving of traditional Chinese and Japanese ceramics.

A workshop of Awata ware (明治後期)Original Source: Maezaki Shinya Lab, Kyoto Women's University

Awata ware for foreign markets

In the early Meiji period, potteries began turning to foreign countries to promote Awata ware for new markets.

Sweet bowl with dragon flying over the ocean (1844/1857) by Seifu Yohei I (1803-1863)Original Source: Archival Research Center, Kyoto City University of Arts

Kiyomizu ware

The kilns at Kiyomizu which had been within the grounds of Kiyomizu Temple during the Edo period became unified with Gojōzaka kilns after the Meiji Restoration. Ceramics produced here would become known as Kiyomizu ware. Kiyomizu ware continued to thrive, especially through the production of sencha tea ceramics, whose popularity remained strong even after the Edo period.

Tea bowl street in Kiyomizu, Kyoto ware (明治時代後期)Original Source: Maezaki Shinya Lab, Kyoto Women's University

Vase with coral red glaze (1893/1912) by Seifu Yohei III (1851-1914)Original Source: Archival Research Center, Kyoto City University of Arts

Imperial household artists

In 1893 Seifū Yohei III (1851–1914) became the first potter to be designated as an Imperial Household Artist. This position was a great honor, similar to being a Member of the Japan Art Academy or a Holder of Important Intangible Cultural Property (Living National Treasure) today. After Seifū, Itō Tōzan I (1846–1920) and Suwa Sozan I (1852–1922) were also appointed to the same position.

Fan-shape plate with cranes (明治後期~大正期) by Ito Tozan I (1846-1920)Original Source: Archival Research Center, Kyoto City University of Arts

Celadon vase with phoenix handles (1914-12) by Suwa Sozan I (1852-1922)Original Source: Tokyo National Museum

Staffs of the Kyoto City Ceramic Research Center (1916/1917)Original Source: Kawai Kanjiro Memorial Museum

The modernization of Kyoto ware

In 1896, the Kyoto City Ceramic Research Center was established for the purpose of increasing the competitive edge of Kyoto ware in and outside Japan. Elite ceramic engineers who graduated from industrial colleges in Tokyo and Osak,a such as Kawai Kanjirō (1890–1966), turned to researching on the latest ceramic technology of the day, from raw materials and glazes to high-pressure electric insulators and dental porcelain.

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

Cups, Kyoto ware (2015) by Photo by Takayama Kengo, A-PROJECTSArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Postwar reconstruction

During World War II the ceramic industry was reorganized to produce large amounts of products to cater to the military industrial demand, thereby limiting the production of artistic works. However, as soon as the war ended artistic production resumed and various types of works were produced.

A workshop of the Irie Yuki Kiln, Kyoto ware (2015-09-16) by Photo by Takayama Kengo, A-PROJECTSArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Kyoto ware today

While countless numbers of individual artists have hitherto become active in presenting their artistic works at Japan Fine Arts Exhibition and Japan Kōgei Association, potteries have also continued producing high-grade eating and drinking vessels using traditional techniques.

Creating a bowl on a potter's wheel, Kyoto ware (2015) by Photo by Takayama Kengo, A-PROJECTSArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Overglaze painting, Kyoto ware (2015) by Photo by Takayama Kengo, A-PROJECTSArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Made in Kyoto

Despite the mainstream trend of the global, machine-made mass production of ceramics, Kyoto ware is still made by hand, and Kyoto continues to be a representative production site for Japanese ceramics.

Kyoto Ceramic Center

Currently, there are some 210 individual and corporate members in and outside of Japan involved in activities related to Kyoto ceramics. A selected range of works created by ceramic artists working in Kyoto are on display at the Kyoto Ceramic Art Association Official Shop and Gallery in the Kyoto Ceramic Center, located at Higashiyama Gojō, Kyoto.

Credits: Story

Information & images provided by Kyoto Ceramic Art Association, University Art Museum, Kyoto City University of Arts, Tokyo National Museum, Kawai Kanjiro Memorial Museum, Maezaki Shinya Lab, Kyoto Women's University

Supported by Takashima Koshun Kiln, Irie Yuki Kiln, Takagi Ganka Kiln

Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, Fureaikan

Photos by Takayama Kengo, A-PROJECTS, Maezaki Shinya

Movie by Takayama Kengo, A-PROJECTS

Text written by Oka Yoshiko, Otemae University & Maezaki Shinya, Kyoto Women's University

English translation by Eddy Y. L. Chang

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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