The History of Kyo-yaki (Kyoto ware)

The History of Kyo-yaki (Kyoto ware)

Ceramics fired in Kyoto is known as Kyo-yaki (Kyoto ware). The first time this word was recorded was in the year 1605. It appeared in the journal of Sotan Kamiya (1551-1635), a merchant from Hakata in Kyushu, where he noted "Katatsuki: Kyo-yaki" as being used at a tea ceremony. This is considered to have highly likely been a raku ware tea container. Hon’ami Koetsu (1558-1637) and generations of potters of the Raku Family have continued firing raku tea wares.

Meanwhile, it is said that in 1624 a climbing kiln was built at Awataguchi to the east of Sanjo Bridge by a potter from Seto. The stoneware production using a climbing kiln may have begun around this time. Around 1647 Nonomura Ninsei—known for his elegant overglaze designs—established the Omuro kiln to fire tea wares in front of Nin’na-ji Temple. Around that time climbing kilns, particularly those in properties owned by temples located to the north and east of Kyoto, began firing Awataguchi ware. Several kilns were established to fire stonewares including Yasaka, Kiyomizu, Mizorogaike, Shugakuin, Otowa, and Seikanji, and ceramic wares with delicate designs were fired in these kilns.

One of Ninsei's disciple was Ogata Kenzan (1663-1743) who in 1699 went up to Narutaki in the north of Kyoto to build a kiln and later relocated to Chojiya-cho in Nijo district in 1712, where he created dish wares with Rimpa style designs and decorative dishes with his older brother Ogata Korin (1658-1716). From records kept by the Kyoto Machibugyosho (town magistrate) we know that most kilns around this time were built along the eastern mountains of Kyoto, with 13 climbing kilns at Awataguchi and 3 at Otowa and Kiyomizu. During Kenzan's time, the so-called Kokiyomizu tri-colored (blue, green and gold) decorative ware was established.

In this way these three areas (Awataguchi, Kiyomizu and Otowa which would later be renamed as Gojozaka) became the kiln centers of Kyoto. At Awataguchi influential potteries such as Kinkozan, Iwakura and Hozan produced traditional ceramic ware that was mostly Kokiyomizu style to orders from Shoguns, the Imperial Court and Daimyofamilies. This would later be known as Awata ware. In the case of the Kiyomizu production, it was located within the grounds owned by Kiyomizu Temple and there were 3 climbing kilns at the end of the Tokugawa shogunate. In the latter half of the 18th century Okuda Eisen (1753-1811) successfully produced porcelain ware for the first time in Kyoto. The technique was passed on to Gojozaka kilns, where production gradually increased and there were 9 climbing kilns at the end of the Tokugawa shogunate.

Kiyomizu Rokubei I (1738-1799), Kinkodo Kamesuke (1765-1837), Aoki Mokubei(1767-1833), Nin'ami Dohachi (1783-1855), Eiraku Hozen (1795-1854) and many other skillful potters appeared one after another. Just like Eisen who tried to revive Gosuaka-e and Kochi wares from the end of the Ming Dynasty and the beginning of the Qing Dynasty in China, these potters turned to the reviving of traditional Chinese and Japanese ceramic wares. By adding their own unique creativity, they would go on to also produce tea wares for both maccha (whisked tea) and sencha (steeped tea), food dishes and other purposes. These masters provided guidance to local kilns producing wares such as the Sanda ware, Minpei ware and Tozan ware in Hyogo Prefecture; the Kasugayama ware and Kutani ware in Ishikawa Prefecture; and Kairakuen ware in Wakayama Prefecture, spreading the advanced techniques of Kyoto ware to various parts of Japan.

In the early Meiji period, most court nobles had left Kyoto due to the relocating of the capital to Tokyo, and the haibutsu-kishaku anti-Buddhist movement that forced temples and shrines to fall into decline. Potteries began turning to foreign countries to promote Awata ware for new markets. Many works by Tanzan Seikai (1813-1836), Hozan Bunzo X (1820-1889), Kinkozan Sobei VI (1824-1884), Taizan Yohei VIII (?-1878), Taizan Yohei IX (1856-1922) and others can still be found in foreign collections.

Meanwhile, the kilns at Kiyomizu which had been within the grounds of Kiyomizu Temple during the Edo period became unified with Gojozaka kilns after Meiji Restoration and ceramic wares produced here would become known as Kiyomizu ware.Development of Kiyomizu ware continued through the production of sencha tea ware popular during the Edo period. In 1893 Seifu Yohei III (1851-1914) became the first assigned Imperial Household Artist as a potter. This position was the predecessor of positions such as "Member of the Japan Art Academy" and "Holder of Important Intangible Cultural Property (Living National Treasure)” of today. After Seifu, Ito Tozan I (1846-1920) and Suwa Sozan I (1852-1922) were also appointed the same position. If we include Miyagawa Kozan I (1842-1916) who relocated from Kyoto to Yokohama during early Meiji period, then there were 4 potters from Kyoto out of the total of 5 Imperial Household Artists (the other being Itaya Hazan); this demonstrates that Kyoto was indeed the center of Japanese ceramic art.

In 1896 Shofu Kajo (1870-1928) and Kikozan Sobei VII (1868-1927) led the establishment of the Kyoto City Ceramic Research Center with the purpose of increasing the competitive edge of Kyoto ware in and outside Japan. Elite ceramic engineers such as Kawai Kanjiro (1890-1966) who graduated from industrial colleges in Tokyo and Osaka turned to researching on the latest ceramic techniques at the time which included from raw materials, glazes to high-pressure electric insulators and dental porcelain. Many of the production techniques that have survived to this day are possible thanks to the research made during this period. In addition, a training school attached to the Kyoto City Ceramic Research Center set up for nurturing potters alsowent on to produce many potters who would become famous for their ceramic works. As a result of such achievements, the Ceramic Research Center was moved from undermunicipal administration to national administration in 1919, continuing its research and cultivation of new generations potters.

During World War II the ceramic industry was reorganized to produce large amounts of products to cater to the military industrial demand, thereby limiting the production of artistic works. However, as soon as the war ended artistic production resumed and various types of works were produced. Among the post-war artists was Yagi Kazuo (1918-1979) who, as a member of Sodeisha, presented the very first pottery work as a piece of non-functional art object. While countless numbers of individual artists have hitherto become active in presenting their artistic works at Japan Fine Arts Exhibition and Japan Kogei Association, potteries have also continued producing high-grade dishware using traditional techniques.

Despite global mechanic mass productions of ceramic wares having become the mainstream, Kyoto ware is still being made by hand and Kyoto continues to be a representative production site for Japanese ceramics.