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The origin of Japanese ceramic art is generally regarded to date back to the beginning of the 13th century when Chinese ceramic techniques were introduced by an artisan named Kato Shirozaemon (1169–1249).

After returning from China, he established a kiln at Seto in Owari Province (today, Aichi Prefecture) where he produced the first Chinese-style pottery in Japan. The term “setomono” (Seto ware), which is now generally used as a synonym for pot- tery, derives from this first production.

The development of the art was stimulated in the 16th centu- ry because of the widespread popularity of the tea ceremony, and new kilns were opened in various parts of the country. The one in Arita Saga pref., established in 1598 by Lee Sam Pyong, a Korean Potter who came from Korea that year, deserves spe- cial mention.

During the 264 years of the Edo Period (1603–1867), many Daimyo (feudal lords) encouraged potters in their own feudal clans to produce fine ceramic articles. As a result, the art devel- oped to a very high level, independent of Chinese influence.

It is regarded that the decoration of Japanese ceramic articles is generally “calm,” refined and subtle rather than strong. Irregular shapes, which imbue a sense of naturalism to what is man-made, are also cherished as one of the main characteristics of Japanese ceramic art.

There are a large number of kilns in Japan, each with its own unique type of products. All of the Japanese traditional pottery styles reflect local conditions and history. 

 

 

Kutani Ware (Kutani porcelain)

Tradition has it that Kutani-yaki ware was first produced by order of Maeda Toshiharu, who governed this region in the mid-17th century. When minerals used in porcelain were discovered in this region, craftsmen were dispatched to present-day Arita-cho in Saga Prefecture, known as a production center for porcelain, to learn porcelain-making techniques. Products made during this period are known as Ko-kutani. Production of Kutani ware ceased at the end of the 17th century, but commenced again in the 19th century. Kutani ware is distinguished by designs using five colors: green, yellow, red, purple and navy, which are used to paint over dynamic line drawings. The slightly bluish foundation unique to Kutani ware highlights the design even further. Even now many different products are made here, including vases, tableware, tea sets and ornaments. Kutani ware was designated a traditional craft in 1975.

 

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Arita Ware (Arita Porcelain)

Imari-yaki is a type of porcelain produced in the city of Arita, Saga Prefecture. The name comes from the port of Imari, from which the porcelain was shipped. Imari ware is also known as Arita ware, referring to the district where it is made. Tradition has it that Imari pottery was first made when a potter who came over from the Korean Peninsula in the latter half of the 16th century discovered minerals suitable for porcelain production in Arita, and began firing porcelain. Imari ware was even exported to faraway Europe to decorate the homes of monarchs and aristocrats. Imari ware is broadly classified into the colorful and ornate Ko-Imari, Kakiemon featuring vermilion over white porcelain, and Nabeshima with delicately painted fine lines. Imari-yaki was designated a traditional craft in 1977.

Arita porcelain is classified into three styles; the first is called the “Ko-Imari” style.  During feudal times Arita porcelain was exported from the Imari Port which was approximately 6 miles from Arita.  “Ko” means old in Japanese so the style is called “Ko-Imari”.  Most of the pieces of Ko-Imari are decorated with picture patterns on the entire surface.  Gold and Silver are used generously.  Dragon, chrysanthemums, peonies, pine trees, bamboo and plus blossoms are often seen in brilliant and dazzling patterns.  We can find influences from China in this style.  The second style is called “Kakiemon”.  The picture patterns on the milk-white background color are intentionannly unbalanced on the right and left.  The third style is called “Nabeshima”.  Nabeshima was specially produced only for the emplorors and feaudal lords as well as Nabeshima and his family who ruled the area during feudalism. 

 

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Aizu Lacquerware

 

Aizu-nuri lacquerware boasts a 500-year history, and is distinguished by its colorful decoration using a special technique. In the mid-15th century, the feudal lord who governed this region encouraged the development of lacquerware, inviting craftsmen engaged in making soup bowls to the region to spread the technique. Successive rulers continued to promote lacquerware, with the introduction of a technique of gold-relief decoration using gold and silver pigments from Kyoto also contributing to the steady development of Aizu-nuri. Products include shallow dinner trays, bowls, trays, and tiered boxes. Aizu-nuri was designated a traditional craft in 1975.  Aizu is in Fukushima prerecture.

The neat thing about the Aizu lacquerware industry is that it has always been totally self-reliant--from growing lacquer trees for their sap, up to the final decoration.  Local lacquer used in Aizu-nuri, which is a natural material, leads to environmental issues and thinking about how people interact with nature.  Aizu lacquerware is trying to survive difficult circumstances that have been brought on by changing life styles and the impacts from the earthquakes in 2011, among other factors. Aizu lacuquerware glass in our catalogue is one of the collaboration effort bringing two different traditions (Hagi glassware and Aizu lacquerware) together for collaboration pieces.

 

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Hagi Ware (ceramics)

 

Hagi and its surrounding (Yamaguchi Prefecture) have been the home of Hagi yaki (ware), a high-fired glazed stoneware, for 400 years.  It is popular among tea ceremony practitioners to the extent that it is said that its cups are among the top two varieties. The most prized qualities of Hagi Yaki are its softness, causing limited contraction when fired, and its high water absorbency. Because of this property, after long years of use the tea or alcohol it has held stains it and its color changes. This change is enjoyed and referred to as "The Seven Changes of Hagi" by tea ceremony enthusiasts.  Another feature is the simplicity of its shapes and ornamentation. Most pieces feature no designs.  

 

Today, about 100 potters work in Hagi, most of them in the traditional style; along with vases and sake set, they mainly make tea ceramics.

 

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References : Japan National Tourism Organization (http://www.jnto.go.jp)

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