One of Kyoto’s Traditional Crafts – Kyo Ware/Kiyomizu Ware

Pottery flourished in the city where the best of materials and craftsmen met

Kyo ware refers to the style of ceramics that spread from the Higashiyama area of Kyoto during the early Edo Period, the time when the art of the tea ceremony became popular. By contrast, the pottery produced along Gojo-zaka, a street leading to Kiyomizu Temple, was called, Kiyomizu ware. Nowadays, all pottery produced in Kyoto is referred to as Kyo ware/Kiyomizu ware.

A Multitude of Shapes and Pictures. A Fusion of All Techniques.

There are no set patterns or techniques for Kyo ware/Kiyomizu ware. It is a fusion of all techniques. Kyo ware/Kiyomizu ware was born in the ancient palace city, where the best of materials and skilled artists from throughout Japan gathered and were blessed with the patronage of monks and priests, the Imperial Family and the aristocracy.

Ninsei and Kenzan, the Fathers of Kyo Ware

Source:MOA museum

Ninsei(Potter)In the early Edo Period, Ninsei (Seisuke Nonomura, years of birth and death unknown, later called Seiemon) who was from the village of Nono in Kuwata Province in Tango (present day Northern Kyoto), an area that was renowned for the production of tea leaf jars, went to Kyoto and received permission to establish a pottery workshop in front of the Ninna-ji temple complex at Omuro. His talent matured under the guidance of renowned tea ceremony master Sowa Kanamori and with the patronage of the prince of Ninna-ji. He had a steady lathing technique like no other potter, as well as the ability to draw clean, yet lustrous pictures. The beauty of his colorful and elegantly shaped ceramics was cherished by many of the feudal lords and court nobles.

Ninsei’s Brilliant Sense of Art Influenced Kyo Ware

When Kyo ware first started to be recognized in Japan, ceramics were produced in places such as Awataguchi using patterns that had been “copied” off tea cups and jars produced in Korea, China, and the Seto tea jars produced in Mino (now Gifu). Among the early works of Ninsei – Omuro ware that was produced during the mid-1600s – there also appear to be such “copies.” It is said that after Ninsei perfected his painting technique, his exquisite pottery with its graceful style had a major impact on the many Kyo ware kilns in Kyoto (Awataguchi, Yasaka, Otowa, Mizoro, Kiyomizu and Shugakuin).

Source:MOA museum

Kenzan(Potter)Kenzan was born as Shinsei, the third son of the Ogata Family, which ran a high-class clothing shop in Kariganeya, Kyoto. His elder brother was the genius painter Korin, who preferred spectacular creations. Kenzan, on the other hand, built himself a house at the foot of Omuronarabigaoka in his younger days and called it Shuseido (hall of quiet learning). There he led a secluded life, learning Japanese and Chinese poetry, practicing writing and familiarizing himself with Zen Buddhism. From there, he often visited the kiln at Omuro, got inspired by Ninsei and learned the art of pottery from him. In 1699, at the age of 37, he started a kiln in Narutaki, Rakusei, which is when he named himself “Kenzan” (northwest mountain), because, it is said, that his kiln was in the northwest of Kyoto.

Apprentice of Ninsei, Yet Creator of His Own Unique Style

Although Kenzan learned the art of pottery from Ninsei, he tried to create his own style of pottery, rather than imitating his master, and from the beginning used the painting technique of his brother Korin. His unique and groundbreaking style is represented in decorative plates, in which he emphasized uniqueness and decorative features using pictures and design, rather than practicality or convenience. The brothers collaborated in producing many square plates, in which Korin’s painting and Kenzan’s poems are seen together.

Kyo Satsuma, Phantom Pottery

The history of Satsuma ware is said to have begun with the 17th feudal lord of Satsuma, Yoshihiro Shimazu, who went to Korea at the command of Hideyoshi Toyotomi to wage war against China and Korea (Bunroku-Keicho War, 1529–1598) and returned with 80 or more potters. The ceramics produced in Satsuma (Kagoshima Prefecture) are called Hon Satsuma, while the ceramics produced in Kyoto by the potters who were sent from Satsuma as part of a cultural exchange are called Kyo Satsuma.

Kyo Satsuma ware has intricate and elegant patterns in multiple colors with abundant use of gold over a distinctive creamy beige crackled glaze. Satsuma ware was exhibited at the World Fair held in Paris (Exposition Universelle 1867) and the 1873 World Exposition in Vienna and charmed the people of Europe, and it was from that time that the name “Satsuma” came to be well-known.

Although many Kyo Satsuma ware products were exported to Europe during the Meiji Period (1868–1912), the wars in Europe and poorly made products caused a decline in demand in the European market, resulting in a decrease in Kyo Satsuma ware production to the point that eventually the fires in the kilns in Awataguchi, the center of Kyo Satsuma ware, were finally extinguished.

Kyo Satsuma Revival

Aspiring ceramics painters have taken up the challenge of reviving the magnificent Kyo Satsuma ware by trial and error. They are aiming to reproduce the intricate painting techniques that flourished in Meiji period and produce items that can be used today in day-to-day life.
We hope you can come and see this revived Kyo Satsuma ware as well as the true masterpieces created at the pinnacle of that golden age.

Changing with the Times, The Evolving Face of Ceramics

Once Kenzan was gone, the many kilns that were scattered at the foot of Higashiyama slowly disappeared, but there were still some renowned potters in Kyoto. Eisen Okuda was the first potter to produce porcelain-like items in Kyoto and started a new trend, and Mokubei Aoki, who took up where Eisen left off, broadened the range of Kyo ware by producing genuine porcelain. And then there were Kamesuke Kinkodo, Dohachi Ninnami/Shuhei Ogata (brothers) and Hozen/Wazen Eiraku (father and son), and so on.
The common thread among these potters is that while they used the Chinese, Korean and Japanese techniques and styles gained over many generations, they also tried to add their own personal touch, which led to the birth of many different styles and shapes of Kyo ware and Kiyomizu ware.

※ Reference material: Taiyo Yakimono Series Ninsei/Kenzan※ Reference material: Google Arts & Culture (prepared by Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University)