Japanese pottery is known around the world for being unique and beautiful. The pots are usually made of clay and kaolinite-made porcelain that provides a high degree of hardness and density despite the fine look. You can learn more about the different types of Japanese pottery styles as well as the most popular ceramic towns in Japan right here.
Japanese ceramics styles are named after their origins from the Karatsu, Mino, and Imari items. Let’s take a look at the 9 most popular styles of pottery right here.
The Arita ware porcelain designs emerged during the 16th century, and are known globally for their high level of quality. The ware style emerged in the birthplace of ceramic clay within the Arita city of Japan. It is also sometimes known as the Imari ware because it was made in Arita and shipped through the Imari port. The Suyama Shrine worships ceramic gods with its torii built with Arita porcelain.
It is deeply inspired by the white and blue pottery designs that are made in Jingdezhen, China. In the early days, Arita wares had a white background that had blue designs painted on them. It is deeply admired by the Japanese people because of the pure, light white body that the ware has.
The Seto ware emerged around 1,000 years back, even further than the Arita ware counterpart. It is part of the 6 ancient kilns available in Japan. While most regions were still making unglazed items, Seto ceramists had already started the process of glazing to create sturdier earthenware. Local ceramists started adopting the white and blue pottery designs of the Arita during the Meiji era. This style became dominant for Seto ware.
Mino ware was created around 700 years ago and now around 60% of ceramic dinnerware is made using the Mino style. The Mino ware is found in the Gifu prefecture close to regions where Seto like Toki and Tajiki. This means that it is right in the area where most of Japan’s ceramics are produced. The area is known for the huge reserves of clay and a lot of talented Seto ceramists escaped to the Mino area from the raging wars in other Japanese areas. Both these factors led to ceramic craftsmanship becoming really popular. It became quite the cultural icon during the Momoyama era.
The mino ware features a lot of the Seto style branches like the Shino, Oribe, Kiseto, and Setoguro styles. The dark black Setoguro style was made by taking the iron-glazed pots out of the kiln while it is still red hot. This causes a sudden drop in the temperature that makes the surface turn black. The local type of Mino clay is used to make this Shino ware with a thick layer of glaze on top. With the innovative slow fire and cool process, you will notice that small pinholes start to appear in the white pottery. This style is found in the early white ceramics of Japan.
The Tokoname ware is among the 6 ancient kiln styles of Japan. It is positioned near the coast, so it spread across to other regions very easily. There are plenty of local clay reserves with a high content of iron that makes the pottery come out in a vivid red color when fired at a high 1,100°C. It looks perfect and is the best ware for brewing tea.
The Shigaraki ware is another type of ancient kiln style of Japan. It is known for its high quality that comes from firing different clay types that have a coarse surface with a natural beauty flare. It is recognized for the white dots and red-colored burn marks on the Japanese pottery. In ancient times, the Japanese emperor used tiles made with the Shigaraki style for his personal residency. Now, it is usually found on water containers, vases, and dinnerware.
The Bizen ware has the same unpolished texture as most Shigaraki ware does. It is unglazed that makes it look quite rustic and raw. The clay used for the Bizen ware is usually dug from deep within the ground. The clay has to be stored for one year or two before you can use it to make pots. The pots are fired at 1,300°C, which is high enough to create quite stunning patterns across the pot.
The Karatsu ware is truly the epitome of Japanese pottery in the Western regions. It was bought from the Korean peninsula by talented ceramists who moved to Japan during the 16th century. This is why you will find the elegant and modest Joseon Dynasty work in Korea in the Karatsu ware. The top half of the pots are white that blends into the black-colored bottom. The unique colors are done by layering the white glaze that is fired with straw protecting the black glaze.
The Kutani ware is known for its opulent hues on the pottery. It is made with a stone known for being iron-rich that is found in the Ishikawa prefecture area. It is painted with patterns and images in vivid colors of blue, purple, yellow, green, and red. The final work usually has a blue-colored undertone that accentuates the painted colors.
Onta ware doesn’t have hundreds of years of history like other Japanese pottery styles do. It also has a tradition where river water is used to power the mill that grinds the claystone that hasn’t changed in the past 300 years. It started to gain a lot of popularity during the 1930s after Yanagi Sōetsu, founder of the Folk Art movement, launched a campaign. There are a lot of old techniques such as the brush slip which are used to blend in the old with the new aesthetics.
Japanese pottery is definitely loved by pottery connoisseurs from all over the world. It comes in so many styles and forms that there is always something that someone will love. If you want to really understand Japanese pottery, you should look closely at the ceramic towns of Japan.
The Mashiko town is present in the Tochigi prefecture that is the most famous hub for pottery in the nation. The modern style of pottery in the area was founded by Keizaburo Otsuka during the 1800s who noticed the high quality of red clay and built a local kiln. There are currently around 300 potters that are still working on the distinct Mashiko style such as Darice Veri and Miyajima Masayuki. You can learn more about the style in the Shoji Hamada Memorial Sankokan Museum that showcases the legacy left by Shoji Hamada and his contemporaries. There are also many galleries and shops that give you a glimpse of the ceramic style of the town.
The Arita and Imari town is known for the world-class level of Japanese pottery. This is the area where the first white porcelain was produced 400 years ago. The Okawachiyama Village has many pottery workshops hidden away in the narrow lanes of the village but still has the iconic tall chimneys to this day.
There is also the Imari-Arita Ware Traditional Crafts Center near the Nabeshima Clan Kiln Bridge where you can find some local ceramics on display. You can also shop for some pots at the Imari Nabeshima Ware Exhibition Hall and grab something to eat as well. There is also an old graveyard near the river that has a pyramid-style monument paying homage to the Korean potters that came to Japan. The Nabeshima Hanyo Park contains the ruins of steeped kilns where you can see modern ceramic work too.
The Shigaraki area is known for earthy tones and rustic bronze ceramics. The clay comes from the local area that is known to turn into a warm red color that offers a flash of green color. It is one of the oldest towns for pottery with one of the 6 ancient kilns of Japan too. The medieval period started this trend of pottery by creating mortars and jars in the anagama kilns.
There are several places that you can visit in Shigaraki where you can learn about the history and art of the pottery in the region like the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park and the Shigaraki Ceramic Research Institute. The Shigaraki Pottery Industrial Cooperative Union is also designed to safeguard 150 manufacturers in the area that work closely with the Shigaraki Art and Craft Ceramists Association too.
The Kanazawa area has become quite popular since it is seeping in tradition and culture. It has a fascinating history of ceramics with the Kutani porcelain that is decorated quite delicately. The ceramic style of the town was formed in the 17th century, inspired by the city that loves gold. The ceramics usually have a gold finish where dark blue, purple, green, yellow, and red paint is applied thickly.
The Okayama prefecture is known for loving art with a unique style of pottery. The region is known for using different combinations of clays or an iron-rich, earthy clay type. They have a 1,000 year-old history of pottery that is quite amazing when you get down to it. Locals believe that sake out of Bizen cups and food on Bizen plates tastes the best. Even flowers are known to last longer in Bizen vases.
There are plenty of guilds and kilns in the local area that you can visit. The Imbe hills are full of ruins of the ancient kilns and shrines where potters used to pray from the 16th century. The annual Bizen Pottery Festival in October offers serious discounts too. The Bizen Pottery Traditional and Contemporary Art Museum offers a masterclass in the rich history and modern landscape of the town’s pottery. There are also workshops for beginners at the Bizen-yaki Pottery Workshop Mugen-an in the mountains.
The Tobe area on Shikoku Island has a quite delicate pottery style. Pottery in Tobe started when locals found clay in the neighboring mountains around 250 years. It has quite a low-key reputation but is still quite fascinating to learn about. They usually have an indigo color with some occasional green and red paints too.
You can visit the Tobe-yaki Togeikan that has classes, pottery exhibitions, and amazing ceramics for purchase. Just the ground floor has around 30,000 pieces of artwork that are sourced from 32 potteries in the region. The upper floors have classes where you can learn wheel throwing, twisting, and painting.
Seto has rich natural resources that can create really high-quality ceramics. There are several festivals throughout the year that celebrate the pottery style including the Seto Toso Festival, the Setomono Festival, the Maneki Neko Festival, and the Seto Pottery Studio Fair and Market. You can even find ceramic walls and decorations walking through the area, especially on the bridges like the Minami Bridge and Koen Bridge. We also recommend visiting the Seto Ceramics & Glass Art Center and Seto City Art Museum if you want to see some interesting exhibitions of ceramics, glass art, and paintings.
Kyoto is unofficially a cultural capital that has really elevated the ceramic art form. Kyo-yaki ceramic style formed when craftspeople started to bring their own unique styles to the forefront. The Asahido Honten shop features pottery from one of the oldest kilns in the area. You can also take lessons, many in English, at Asahiyaki; they provide 20 different glazes, high-quality clay, and fire the pot for you (with shipping included!). For folks who want to take back the Kyo-yaki pottery, try the Unrakugama area where you can also get guided tours who want to learn more about the art style.
Tokoname ceramics have unique designs and deep, beautiful red color. The Japanese pottery started in the 12th century with one of the 6 ancient kilns in Japan. You will find unique paths and walls in Dokanzaka that are made with old ceramic shochu bottles, clay rings, and pipes. The street even features old brick chimneys that were crucial to the pottery scene from the Meiji Period. The Climbing Kiln Square is the largest and one of the oldest kilns where you can learn more about the history of Tokoname pottery.
Hagi pottery is so full of character and looks super rustic with delicate beauty. Hagi ware is often used for tea ceremonies, known for the thick white glasses that are quite perfect for matcha whisked tea. The Yoshika Taibi Memorial Museum has a huge collection of valuable pottery, ceramic pieces, and paintings by Yoshika Taibi. They also have a workshop where you can closely watch Hagiyaki pottery being made.
The Yomitan Pottery Village is in the Okinawa tropical islands that have a very unique style of pottery. At first, the Korean potters were in Okinawa city but moved further back into the Yomitan peninsula when the locals started getting sick of the smoke coming out of the kilns. There are influences of Korea and China combined with the Ryukyu Kingdom lavish aesthetic and intricate details in the pottery.
The small village has tons of pottery houses and kilns that have produced amazing pottery pieces. There are three kilns that you can visit in the Yachimun no Sato area where a lot of craftsmen also have workshops. The Yuntanza Gama nine-step kiln has been turned into a symbol for the Yomitan Village. The Kinjo Kiln and Kita Kiln are used by many younger craftsmen. While you can observe them working, just make sure not to disturb them while they are working.
The Tono region started in the 7th century where Mino ceramics were launched. There are 4 main branches of the Mino ceramics in the area: Kizeto, Oribe, Shino, and Setoguro. The huge variety of ceramics available in the area offers unique appeals and features that a lot of people will love.
Yokkaichi town has a unique Yokkaichi Banko style of ceramics that dates back to the mid-1700s. It was created by Rozan Nunami who was quite passionate about tea who also opened a kiln in the area. Up to 90% of earthy pots produced in the nation are made in the Yokkaichi area. They are quite heat-resistant and strong that creates durable pots and teapots that can be exposed to heat without worry. The Mie Prefecture features the Komo Gaku event with workshops where you can learn about Yokkaichi Banko style and techniques.
The Izushi town comes in a perfect milky white color that can look super fascinating. The ware is fired with the Kakitani stone that gives it its pure white color. The area has quite a culture and history that has definitely inspired its pottery style.
Japanese pottery is quite fascinating since the styles are steeped in culture, tradition, and history. There are so many unique styles that are inspired by the local areas. We hope you have learned a little bit more about the Japanese pottery scene.