Japanese Ceramic Towns

Do you enjoy all things ceramic? It is a work of art that everyone should admire. If you can relate to this, this article is for you!

10 Ceramic Towns You Must Visit in Japan

Connoisseurs regard Japanese ceramics as among the best in the world. The almost unfathomable assortment of styles and forms can be perplexing before you realize that they all independently evolved in various parts of Japan.

There is no better way to learn about Japanese pottery or to see some of the most outstanding pieces than to travel to one of those ceramic towns scattered around the country.

We have created this list of 10 of the top ceramic towns in Japan where you can witness the traditional craft in action, purchase one-of-a-kind ceramic artwork, or even put on your work gloves and try it yourself. So, keep reading for some must-read information!

1. Mashiko

Mashiko, perhaps one of the country’s most renowned pottery hubs, is located in Tochigi Prefecture, north of Tokyo for about two and a half hours by train. Ceramics are the biggest attraction in this place, even though the region’s artistic accomplishments go far beyond pottery and also include painting and other traditional local crafts.

The attraction of the local pottery, also known as Mashiko-ware or Mashiko-yaki, is in its genuine, rustic feel. This thick-faced, straightforward design looks and feels like it was made to withstand the test of time.

Although pottery from as far back as the Jomon Period (14,000–600 BCE) has been discovered in the region, the modern history of Mashiko handicrafts can be traced to the middle of the 19th century, when it is believed that a man named Keizaburo Otsuka got ahold of the town’s healthy red clay and established a local kiln.

In response to the surge in demand for ceramics for daily use in nearby Tokyo in the early 1900s, the renowned potter Shoji Hamada established a workshop in 1924.

By exploring the Mashiko Museum of Ceramic Art, the Shoji Hamada Memorial Mashiko Sankokan Museum, as well as the Mashiko Pottery Cooperative Selling Center, you may discover everything there is to know about the city’s affinity with pottery.

2. Arita and Imari

The name of the town most associated with top-notch Japanese pottery is probably Arita. The oldest porcelain was made in Japan around 400 years ago in Arita, which is located in western Saga Prefecture. The terms “Arita-ware,” “Imari-ware,” or “Imari-yaki” refer to the regional pottery design. Its connection to pottery started when kaolin, a mineral clay that is necessary for producing porcelain, was discovered deposited on the nearby mountainside.

When artisans from Korea were sent to the region to share their expertise in ceramics, the local pottery industry flourished. As a result, many of the items from this region have design aesthetics that are Chinese or Korean-inspired. This local variety of porcelain developed into an enormously valued source of wealth and pride for Arita because it was significantly more durable compared to the region’s more brittle pottery.

3. Shigaraki

The Shigaraki region, which is notable for its primitive bronze and earth-toned pottery, is situated in the serene Shiga Prefecture. When heated in the kiln, the clay used in this locality takes on a warm, reddish shade with hints of green. It has been one of the oldest pottery villages in the nation, housing one of Japan’s Six Ancient Kilns. Craftsmen in the region started manufacturing jars and mortars during the medieval era and firing them in an anagama kiln. The Shigarakiware ceramics that are still produced today developed their distinctive look during this time.

Even today, the district still makes earthenware like flower vases and dinnerware, but some of its more distinctive works include garden furniture and ornaments like the recognizable tanuki or raccoon dogs you can commonly find outside neighborhood eateries and shops.

4. Kanazawa

Kanazawa, located in Ishikawa Prefecture, is quickly rising to the top of the list of destinations for those seeking a taste of traditional culture and breathtaking city vistas. It also has a remarkable pottery history.

Kutani porcelain, which features heavily applied green, purple, red, yellow, and dark blue paint and is embellished with a gold finish, is an embodiment of the unofficial reputation Kanazawa has for being a city that loves gold. The delicately patterned Kutani porcelain would have to be the one item that you could better relate to the city’s ceramic heritage. Since the 17th century, this style of porcelain has been produced in the Kutani Village.

5. Inbe

You may discover Inbe, a little village that gave rise to the incredibly distinctive kind of pottery known as Bizen-ware or Bizen-yaki, in the artistic region of Okayama Prefecture. Named after the province where it was first formed, this highly coveted ceramic type is often constructed from either a particularly rough, earthy, iron-rich clay or a blend of several clays with varying densities, producing a much more textured product.

It’s very amazing that Bizen-yaki is claimed to have a history that goes back over a thousand years. But what makes this particular form of pottery more interesting is that it is said to have supernatural powers. Since ancient times, locals have held the opinion that food served on Bizen dinnerware and sake sipped from Bizen mugs taste better.

Bizen vases are thought to preserve flowers better. These claims were put to the test by a scientist, and it was discovered that Bizen pottery effectively blocks 90% of far-infrared waves, keeping natural materials fresh. This suggests that the claims might be accurate.

6. Tobe

You can get a much more delicate type of pottery known as Tobe-ware or Tobe-yaki if you head over to the island of Shikoku. The creation of Tobe pottery, which is not far from the bigger city of Ehime, began when the villagers discovered that the nearby mountainside was a good source of clay for making pottery. With a nearly 250-year heritage, it is somewhat less well-known and widespread than most of its other ceramic predecessors, but it is still a highly fascinating kind of craft.

Tobe-greatest yaki’s distinguishing feature is its decoration. Some consider the style to be more “feminine” than other rustic variations of common Japanese pottery since it is usually colored with indigo and sometimes red and green paint. Sanuki udon noodle bowls and ornamental vases are the two most common uses for Tobe ceramics. Twice a year, in the spring and fall, the town has a Tobe-Yaki Ware Festival to display its ceramic artists’ skills.

7. Seto

Aichi Prefecture’s Seto City is a region renowned for its abundance of natural resources and is perfect for producing high-quality ceramics with distinctive qualities. Setomono is the name for objects that originate in Seto City (Seto ware).

The Heian Period in the 8th to 12th century witnessed the birth of its form, which has since been regarded as a pivotal period for ceramicists both domestically and internationally. From the late 1800s to the early 1900s, artistic achievements such as seto-sometsuke, or blue-and-white porcelain, influenced Europe’s art nouveau movement.

8. Kyoto

You may expect that Kyoto, as the unofficial cultural center of Japan, would have some connections with ceramics. Well then, you got it right. The pottery made in Kyoto is known as kyo-yaki.

The magnificence of kyo-yaki is its hybrid nature, in contrast to other regions, which frequently boast a style distinctive to their location.

Beginning in the Azuchi-Momoyama period, artisans from all over Japan would bring their distinctive styles to the city, which was the nation’s capital at the time. The city’s artisans then produced intricate designs, utilizing a variety of techniques to produce the kyo-yaki we know and love today.

9. Tokoname

Tokoname ware is a type of pottery that originated in the Aichi prefecture. It is distinguished by its dark red color and distinctive patterns. This town is one of the Six Ancient Kilns of Japan, along with Bizen, Tamba, Echizen, Seto, and Shigaraki, and this kind of Japanese pottery dates back to at least the 12th century.

The majority of the clay for this technique comes from the Chita peninsula, on which Tokoname is situated. This region’s clay is iron-rich, giving it the distinctive deep earthy red color. 

10. Hagi

Hagi ware, a kind of ceramic from Yamaguchi prefecture, is described as being unpolished and full of character while still managing to be delicately lovely.

The thickly glassed cups of Hagi pottery, which are most frequently used in tea ceremonies, are perfect for serving cups of finely whisked matcha tea.

After Japan’s war of aggression on the Korean peninsula in the late 16th century, Korean potters traveled over the Japan Sea to Yamaguchi Prefecture, where the design first evolved. During this time, many of Korea’s best skilled artisans were sent to Japan, where they helped build some of the nation’s most important kilns.

Appreciating Japanese Ceramics

The use of Japanese pottery in daily life is now rather prevalent, and valuable ceramics are regarded as priceless silver and are only displayed on special occasions. Ceramic dishes are frequently chosen with care while dining at high-end restaurants or ryokans to represent the seasons and mood.

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