Pottery is one of the oldest traditional arts in Japan, and a uniquely valued attribute of Japanese culture. Japanese earthenware has been in continuous production for thousands of years, and upheld by the aesthetic art of tea ceremony. Each region of Japan has its own style renowned across the country with kilns and workshops to visit and make your very own ceramic art.
There are scores of styles to choose from. The most noteworthy are from The Six Ancient Kilns: Bizen-yaki in Okayama, one of the first to be used in tea ceremony; Seto-yaki in Aichi, the most produced Japanese pottery in Japan; Tokoname-yaki in Aichi; Echizen-yaki in Fukui; Shigaraki-yaki in Shiga; and Tamba-yaki in Hyogo.
Some styles are more ornate, like Kiyomizu-yaki from Kyoto, beautiful and befitting the ancient home of the emperor. Satsuma-yaki in Kagoshima includes highly decorative Korean-influenced porcelain. There are also small, authentic pottery communities to visit, like Tokoname in Aichi, Imbe in Okayama, or Onta in Oita, a protected soundscape of Japan, where earth and water are sourced from the mountains and each piece of Onta-yaki is hand made without electricity, and signed not by an individual, but with the insignia of the whole village community. The most widely practised style in Japan is Raku-yaki, made by hand, without a wheel, and fired at low temperatures for a rougher texture.
What is so fascinating and beautiful about Japanese earthenware? It is the earthen quality, simple, humble, austere by design, it’s stone-like character splashed with a glaze as poetic as a haiku.
When visiting Japan, you can plan a whole trip around the countless opportunities to shop for local pottery, but also visit local kilns and make your own. The largest ceramics fair in Japan is the spring Arita Ceramics Fair in Arita, Saga, where hundreds of stalls line the streets to showcase the variety of local styles at bargain prices. Japanese pottery can be admired from local tea shops to temples. Galleries and museums across Japan are devoted solely to ceramics.
On your next visit, be amazed by the intricate craftsmanship of this ancient living tradition at the Aichi Prefectural Ceramic Museum, Arita Porcelain Park, Bizen Ceramics Museum, Kyushu Ceramics Museum, the Museum of Oriental Ceramics in Osaka, and the National Museums in Kyushu, Kyoto, Nara and Tokyo, among others.
Truly, Japanese pottery is an artful piece of Japan to admire, experience, craft and bring home.
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Publisher of DINE and Destinations magazine.