The changes in Tokoname Ceramics

The origins of Japanese pottery go back to Sueki in the 5th century AD and the influences which have had an impact on Japanese Pottery have come from Buddhism culture and the Ancient Chinese civilization. These influences in their turn were instrumental in the development of green glazed pottery, "sansai" or three colored glaze and ash glazed pottery.
In the 12th century Japanese society changed from the Ancient Period and moved into the Middle Ages. It was around that time that pottery first made its appearance in Tokoname. Ash glazed pottery was the typical type of pottery produced at the time as a direct consequence of contact with the Sanage Kiln near Nagoya, a main center for ash glazed pottery. In the hills of the Chita Peninsula many kilns began to operate at the same time. These kilns which were the forerunners of the "anagama" worked from the 12th to the 14th century. The pieces produced at this time have been denominated "Ko Tokoname" or Old Tokoname ware. These pieces were free from superfluous decoration and were noted for their simplicity and robust execution and are today highly prized for the naturalness of form. The pieces were characterized by a light brown color and a natural green ash glaze on the shoulder of the pots which were a breakthrough compared to the production typical of the time.

In the 15th century the kilns in the Chita peninsula area began to be concentrated in Tokoname and to be fired near villages. The size of the kilns began to experience a rapid change in terms of size. As a consequence large pots began to be produced. These pots were mainly very large storage jars. In the 16th century the main thrust of production pottery in such centers as Seto, Mino, Bizen, Shigaraki and Tamba were wares for the Tea Ceremony but Tokoname was the exception in that it continued producing the usual pieces as before.

From the 17th to the early 19th century (The Edo era) ceramic production changed considerably and was essentially concentrated on teawares, flower vases and pottery related to the production of sake in Tokoname. During this time the name of the potters first made its appearance on the pieces. At the end of the Edo era the "Ogama" was the typical type of kiln in use and in addition to this the "Noborigama" or climbing kiln began to operate as well. It was also at this time the production of the "Shudei" teapot went into operation. This type of pottery is still standard to this day. Before that the teapot was imported from China because the production technology was unavailable to the potters of Tokoname.

Towards the end of the 19th century, Japan went through a period of rapid industrialization and this greatly influenced the production of pottery in Tokoname. This led to the introduction of mass production which was used in the manufacture of ceramic pipes, building materials such as roof and floor tiles and material for cladding buildings, sanitary ware and vessels for the storage of "shochu" (Distilled rice wine). The ceramic tradition made a dramatic change from small scale domestic production to an industrial scale of manufacturing for a mass market. The traditional pieces being produced at this time (unglazed teawares and flower vases) also the shudei and sencha pieces (made exclusively for green tea) went into full scale production. In Tokoname glazed ware (as opposed to the natural ash glazes before) began to appear at this time. Carving as a popular decorative technique began to have a strong influence and had its origins in the popular traditions of the West at that time. Coal fired kilns began to replace the traditional wood fired kilns at the beginning of the 20th century. At the end of the 19th century more and more ceramic production was directed towards export for the first time. For a while the large vases made of shudei clay with the dragon motif formed the bulk of the export wares but this soon went out of fashion. The next item to be of major importance was biscuit fired pieces with Japanese lacquer together with ceramic toys and ornaments. These innovations set the pattern of production which prevailed until the Second World War.

Further improvements in industrial production soon after the War meant that gas,electricity and oil became the major source of power in the production of pottery in Tokoname. In the ceramic field the potters active at the time were influenced by the traditions of the Arts and Crafts Movement and European avant-garde and as a result a new movement surfaced. In the traditional field there was a revival in traditional techniques which saw the appearance of Old Tokoname style pottery and the revival of traditional firing techniques.

Towards the end of the 20th century the production of pottery on Tokoname shows a great diversity due to the great variety of influences and the 900 year history of ceramics in Tokoname.

Chronological table of Tokoname ceramic history