Tokoname ware Tokoname yaki
One of Japan's Six Ancient Kilns
Loved throughout Japan for over 1000 years
What is Tokoname ware ?
Tokoname ware (tokoname yaki in Japanese) is a form of ceramic pottery that is produced in the area around the city of Tokoname in Aichi prefecture. This traditional handicraft comes from one of the Six Ancient Kilns of Japan which along with Bizen, Tamba, Echizen, Seto, and Shigaraki, are the most outstanding Japanese kilns with traditions that remain even today. Tokoname ware was created in the latter part of the Heian period (794-1185), making it an incredibly ancient form of porcelain.
It uses potter's clay collected from the Chita peninsula, where Tokoname is located, which contains a large amount of iron. Its unique color is caused by the iron which makes the clay turn red after baking in a process called shudei (the unglazed reddish brown pottery). Various types of products like teacups and flowerpots have been produced, but small iron teapots are favored today because the iron is said to smoothen the bitterness and astringency of tea.
There are many kilns on the hills of the Chita Peninsula in Aichi Prefecture, and since ancient times artisans have been working in them with traditional techniques. These artisans, who produce high quality products, have inherited their skills from a 1,000 year old history. They are still using traditional techniques such as hand twisted casting which has been used since the Heian period. Other techniques are yoriko tsukuri which is used when producing large items such as wide jars, pressing which is used when producing bonsai pots, and casting with an electric potter's wheel.
The origin of Tokoname ware goes back to the end of the Heian period (794-1185). It is said that at that time Tokoname had approximately 3,000 ascending kilns called anagama, formed by digging holes in the hillside. Tokoname was the biggest pottery producing area even among the Six Ancient Kilns of Japan. Tokoname ware products have changed quite a bit over the course of history as the products made during the Heian period are just a prototype of today's Tokoname ware.
The main products were large containers like bottles and pots, but also small items such as containers for tea ceremonies and flower arrangement as well as daily necessities of the Edo period (1603-1868).
Tea utensils called shudei were produced from the end of the Edo period to the early Meiji period (1868-1912). The most popular small teapots of Tokoname ware were also first produced during the Edo period.
During the Meiji period, modernization changed the lives of Japanese people and brought influences from other countries. As railroads started running, strong raw materials were in demand for waterway construction work between the lines, and the demand for tightly packed Tokoname ware clay pipes increased accordingly. During the Taisho period (1912-1926), architectural Tokoname ceramics were in high demand and Tokoname ware building tiles became widespread.
The techniques of Tokoname ware have been preserved over the generations and are nationally registered as traditional handcrafts.
General Production Process
- 1. Kneading the clay
Since there are various Tokoname ware products, this explanation covers only the production process of shudei small teapots.
The first step is to extract the finer bits of clay from the collected clay. The selected clay is kneaded thoroughly until it reaches a muddy liquid state.
- 2. Work on a potter's wheel
Small teapots are cast one part at a time: the trunk, the lid, the handle and the spout.
First, the trunk is placed on the potter's wheel and rotated. Little by little, using a spatula or a similar implement, an oval form is smoothed. Once the trunk is finished, the artisan moves onto other parts which will be rotated on the potter's wheel as well. The pieces are dried and smoothed with care to ensure that each piece is dried to the same extent.
- 3. Completing each part
As the drying progresses and the pieces become hard, unnecessary parts are shaved down to make the piece neat.
Minor adjustments are made in order to ensure the body and lid perfectly match.
The way to produce a high quality product is to complete the pieces during this step, before the product has completely dried, with as much care and detail as possible.
- 4. Assembly
The spout and handle are attached to the body. Circular openings are made in the body using a special tool, and the other parts are then joined.
The finished state will be affected if these parts do not fit together perfectly so this process requires high skills.
The state of drying and hardness must also be carefully checked during this step.
- 5. Drying
Cracks or deformations may occur during this step if the artisan is not careful. This is an important process to complete before the final step.
The pieces are dried slowly over time. The state of drying will be altered with even slight changes of temperature or humidity, etc., so the pieces have adjustments made in order to dry uniformly.
- 6. Polishing of unglazed pottery
The polishing of unglazed pottery is a step that involves polishing with a cloth or other implements until a gloss appears on the surface.
After polishing the piece many times, a beautiful gloss is produced.
- 7. Engraving
This process involves patterning the pieces before placing them into the kiln.
This is when the craftsmanship of the artisan stands out the most, as various engravings are done by hand with a seal carving knife.
- 8. Firing
Small teapots that have been dried and engraved are loaded inside the kiln. Once piled up, the kiln door is closed and the pieces are fired for around 12 to 18 hours at a temperature of approximately 1100℃ (2012℉).
In the past, it was necessary to manually adjust the kiln temperature in order to maintain a stable temperature, but today it is controlled by computer technology. The fire color changes drastically depending on this temperature adjustment.
After the firing, the pieces are removed from the kiln after about a day. The small teapots shrink to about 80% of their pre-firing size.
- 9. Inking and rising
In this process the small teapots are given a polishing.
Then, the outlines of the patterns engraved on the small teapots are boldly emphasized by having ink applied to the engraved parts.
Once the ink has been washed away, the pattern stands out and looks beautiful.
- 10. Finishing
One of Tokoname ware's selling points is its excellent airtight quality, so the lid and body are carefully checked for any gaps, reshaped and polished in order to be made to fit together perfectly.
By producing one piece at a time, the lids and body fit together so perfectly that slight gaps will be seen when paired with different lids. The shudei small teapot is now complete.
Where to Buy & More Information
Aichi Prefectural Ceramic Museum
ClosedMondays (open if holiday and closed on Tuesday) December 29 to 31
Business Hours9:30am to 4:30pm
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