Iga ware

Iga ware Iga yaki

Simple charm baked at high temperatures
Pottery loved by many tea ceremony masters


What is Iga ware ?

Iga ware (called iga yaki in Japanese) is a form of porcelain produced in the area around the city of Iga, Mie prefecture. The main production areas of this craft are the sites of Makiyama and Marubashira in the Ayama district of Iga and the excellent, heat-resistant clay from this area is used. Thanks to its high level of fire resistance, this type of porcelain is famous for being well suited as earthenware pots and heat-resistant tableware. A notable feature is its reddened, tightened skin that is plain and strong. The other notable feature of Iga is its glassy, greenish quality known as vidro* glaze which is produced by baking at a high temperature. The vidro glazing happens when ash falls onto and sticks to the ceramics baked at a high temperature, producing a glassy quality. Rather than just allowing the ash to bake where it has stuck, the appearance of the pieces is carefully considered and the ash placement is changed by the artisan.
Iga ware is said to be quite similar to Shigaraki ware, which is from the neighboring Shiga prefecture, but there are differences. Iga ware tends to be harder and heavier than Shigaraki ware and has handles or as the saying says “Iga has ears, Shigaraki has none” with "ears" referring to handles. These ears are a feature from a type of Iga ware known as Tsutsui iga, which was born during the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568-1600). Iga ware from this time period is referred to as old Iga and renowned for having a wide variety of unique pieces.

*Vidro is Portuguese for glass.


Iga ware is said to have been created during the Nara period (710-794), but the main items baked at the time were mortars and pots. It is said that back then, there was not a significant difference between Iga ware and Shigaraki ware. The main point of divergence from Iga ware came during the Azuchi-Momoyama period, when wabi-sabi* and tea ceremony culture was flourishing. Many distinctive pieces of Iga ware were produced at this time, including pieces with wave-like patterns that were created using spatulas or a technique of deliberately breaking the piece by hand to generate an “out-of-tune beauty”. This style of Iga ware was backed by Sadatsugu TSUTSUI, feudal lord of what was then Iga province, and Takatora TODO, also a feudal lord. These kinds of pieces were particularly prized in tea ceremonies for the sense of wabi-sabi they evoked. Thus, starting with Sen no Rikyu (influential master of the tea ceremony, 1522-1591), Iga ware came to be loved by many masters of the tea ceremony.
Today, Iga ware mainly consists of tableware for daily use, but at that time in the Azuchi-Momoyama era, Iga ware water jugs and vases were frequently produced. This craft was discontinued all together after the demise of the Azuchi-Momoyama period in 1600. However, during the middle of the 1700s Iga ware started production again of daily necessities, which continues to this day.

*Wabi-sabi are two key aesthetic concepts of wabi or rustic beauty, both manmade and in nature, and sabi or change making things more valuable.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Mining of raw clay The raw clay used for Iga ware is mined in Mie prefecture: the areas of Marubashira and Makiyama and in the area surrounding the city of Ueno.
  2. 2. Clay production For the step where mined soil is used to produce clay, the production method varies depending on the piece being produced. In order to produce tableware, a method called elutriation is used, where soil particle groups are divided according to the size of the soil grains. On the other hand, when producing vases, clay is produced by a method known as the drying process, in which soil is first dried and turned into powder before water is added.
  3. 3. Casting In order to remove air bubbles, clay is kneaded by means of a method known as “chrysanthemum kneading”. Chrysanthemum kneading, also known as chrysanthemum wedging, gets its name from the fact that after kneading, the clay resembles a chrysanthemum flower. Once the air has been removed, the next step is casting. There are four main types of casting methods. These include lathe casting, forming by hand, and slab casting where pieces are cast using a block known as a slab. There is also a method where the clay is piled into a coil shape.
  4. 4. Finishing the form This step involves finishing the form of the pottery by adding the handles and decorations that are characteristic of old Iga. Methods of pattern application include slip trailing, where patterns are applied with clay and dissolved in water, line engraving, where only lines are engraved, and flower prints where patterns are produced by pressing flowers or grass into the clay.
  5. 5. Drying The pieces are left in a drying room or under sunlight in order for moisture to be completely removed.
  6. 6. Firing This process involves baking inside a kiln at around 700-800℃ (about 1292-1472℉). This is when Iga ware's characteristic vidro glaze is produced with ash covering, painting, and glazing that will prevent dirt/water corrosion. Gas kilns and climbing kilns* are often used, and in the case of gas kilns, baking is carried out continuously 15-30 hours at a time over four to seven days, while in climbing kilns the process takes around four to ten days.
    When painting, the paint that is used is a medium blue colorant called asbolite, which is often used to draw patterns as well as as well as dye ceramics. If not painting, decoration is carried out by means of ash covering through the use of climbing kilns, and the vidro glaze that is produced here has a large bearing on giving the piece its essence of Iga ware. For the glazing, plant based ash glaze or calcareous glaze containing lime stone is often used.

    *A climbing kiln is an ancient, wood-burning pottery kiln brought to Japan from China and Korea notable because it is built on a slope.
  7. 7. Removal of pots from the kiln This is the process of removing pieces from the kiln. If these are taken out too quickly, there is a risk of breakage due to sudden temperature change, so the pieces must first be adequately cooled before they are removed.

Where to Buy & More Information

Igayaki Dento Sangyo Kaikan

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