Tokoname ware

Tokoname ware Tokoname yaki

Simplicity and stability that have come to be loved throughout Japan over 1,000 years,
with charming color expression using clay textures.


What is Tokoname ware ?

Tokoname Ware is a form of pottery that is produced in the area around Tokoname City in Aichi Prefecture. This traditional handicraft comes from one of Japan’s Six Ancient Kilns and was created in the latter part of the Heian Period, being renowned as a form of porcelain produced over a long period of time ever since the Middle Ages. The characteristic of Tokoname Ware is its use of potter’s clay containing a large amount of iron collected on the Chita Peninsula. Iron that is made to appear red, making the most of its properties, is known as shudei (unglazed red-brown pottery) and this has become the characteristic color of Tokoname Ware. Various articles such as teacups and flowerpots are produced, and small iron teapots are favored even 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 with traditional skills have worked here. These artisans, who produce high-quality articles, have inherited their skills down through a 1,000-year history, continuing techniques such as “hand-twisting casting”. Within hand-twisting casting used from the Heian Period, the yoriko-tsukuri technique is used when producing large items such as large jars. Other techniques include pressing when producing bonsai pots and lathe casting with electric lathes.


Tokoname ware - History

The origin of Tokoname Ware goes back to the end of the Heian Period. It is said that at that time there were 3,000 anagama kilns (kilns formed from holes in the hillside), and Tokoname was the largest pottery-producing area even among the Six Ancient Kilns of Japan. The old Tokoname Ware produced in this period is the prototype of Tokoname Ware, and the form of Tokoname Ware products has changed over the course of Japan’s history.
The main products were large containers such as large bottles and pots, but in the Edo Period there appeared in addition to large containers small items such as containers used in tea ceremonies and flower arrangement as well as daily necessities. Shudei (unglazed red-brown pottery) also appeared at about this time, with shudei tea utensils starting to be produced from the end of the Edo Period through to the early part of the Meiji Period. The highly popular Tokoname Ware small teapots were also first produced in or after the Edo Period. Moving into the Meiji Period, modernization progressed and the lives of Japanese people started to change, bringing about new variations. As railroads started running, strong raw materials were in demand for waterway construction work between lines, and the demand for tightly packed Tokoname Ware earthen pipes increased accordingly.
In the Taisho Period, there was increased use of tiles in buildings, and architectural ceramics were the star of a generation. The techniques of Tokoname Ware were adopted as nationally-designated traditional handicrafts, and even today a great diversity of Tokoname Ware is used in various settings.

General Production Process

Tokoname ware - General Production Process

  1. 1. Kneading of soil Since there are various Tokoname Ware products, this explanation covers only the work processes of shudei small teapots. The first process is to extract finer clay from the clay that has been collected. The finest selected clay is kneaded thoroughly until it reaches a muddy liquid state.
  2. 2. Pulling on the lathe Small teapots are cast one part at a time - the trunk, the lid, the handle and the mouth. First, the trunk is placed on the lathe and rotated. Little by little, using a spatula or similar implement, an oval form is smoothened. Once the trunk is finished, the other parts are produced. In the same way, these are finished on the lathe. Once they have become smooth, the pieces are dried, but care must be taken to ensure that each piece is dried to the same extent.
  3. 3. Finishing of each part As drying progresses and the pieces become hard, unnecessary parts are removed to make them neat. Minor adjustments are made in order to ensure the trunk and lid perfectly match. The key point for high-quality products is the matter of how fine the finishing of pieces is at this stage, when they are not yet completely dried.
  4. 4. Assembly This is the process of assembly by attaching the mouth and handle to the trunk. Circular openings are made in the trunk using a special tool, and the other parts are then joined. The finished state will be adversely affected if these parts are not fit together carefully – this is a test of the artisan’s ability. The state of drying and hardness must also be carefully checked at the time of assembly.
  5. 5. Drying At the drying stage, cracks or deformations may occur if care is not taken. This is an important process before moving on to the final process. The pieces are dried slowly over time. The state of drying will change with even slight changes to temperature or humidity, etc., so the pieces must be dried uniformly while making adjustments.
  6. 6. Polishing of unglazed pottery Polishing of unglazed pottery is a work process that involves polishing with a cloth, etc. until gloss is produced. A beautiful gloss is ultimately produced by repeatedly polishing many times over.
  7. 7. Engraving This process involves patterning before inserting pieces into the kiln. This is where the skill of the artisan shines, as various engravings are made using a seal-engraving knife.
  8. 8. Firing Small teapots that have been dried and engraved are loaded inside the kiln. Once piled up, the lid is closed and the pieces are fired for around 12 to 18 hours at a temperature of approximately 1,100 degrees. In old times, it was necessary to manually adjust the kiln temperature in order to maintain a stable temperature, but today it has become possible to adjust the temperature by means of computer control. The fire color changes drastically depending on this temperature adjustment. After firing, the pieces are removed from the kiln after about one day has passed. The small teapots shrink to about 80% of their pre-firing size.
  9. 9. Placing inside the kiln, and washing with water Here, the small teapots are given one last polish. After that, the outlines of the patterns engraved on the small teapots are clearly expressed by applying ink to the engraved parts. Once the ink has been washed away, the pattern comes to the fore and looks beautiful.
  10. 10. Finishing The final process is precision surface finishing. One of Tokoname Ware’s selling points is its excellent airtight quality, so the lid and trunk are carefully given precision surface finishing. By producing one piece at a time, the lids and trunks fit together perfectly, so slight gaps can be seen when paired with different lids. The shudei small teapot is now complete.

Where to Buy & More Information

Aichi Prefectural Ceramic Museum

Aichi Prefectural Ceramic Museum

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