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True porcelain
contains a mixture
of kaolin (pure white
clay), silica, and
feldspar. Porcelain
is worked as a clay,
but when fired,
it becomes similar
to glass.

Other unique
qualities of porcelain
include translucency
and whiteness.


Iro-e Porcelain (overglaze enamel) by Imaiizumi Iimaemon XIII
            Iro-e Porcelain (overglaze enamel) by Imaiizumi Iimaemon XIII

Porcelain Styles & Techniques

   - Arita
   - Hakuji
   - Hizen
   - Imari
   - Iro-e Jiki
   - Kakiemon
   - Kinrande
   - Koto-yaki
   - Kutani
   - Ko Kutani (old kutani)
Markings/Trademarks on Export Ware (outside site)
   - Nabeshima
   - Seihakuji
   - Sometsuke

Porcelain (called "jiki" in Japanese) was introduced to Japan in the 17th century by Korean potters, and was influenced greatly by Chinese Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) porcelain techniques. In the next two centuries in Japan, the growing popularity of porcelain -- plus the widespread introduction of mass-produced ceramic ware -- caused the traditional single-chamber anagama to be largely abandoned in favor of porcelain kilns and the multi-chambered noborigama (the latter is better suited for large-scale ceramic production than is the anagama; see Kilns for more).

In Japan, porcelain is produced in many different varieties. Below we present a few of the major styles and techniques. Please click the small images to see larger higher-resolution photos.

Arita. Center of Japan's porcelain industry.
Arita is located in Saga Prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu.
First porcelain deposits in Japan were discovered here. Porcelain techniques introduced by Korean potters in 17th century; see "Nabeshima" below. Arita ware was made primarily for export, and often use overglaze enamel pigments.

Hakuji (White) Porcelain by Inoue ManjiHakuji.
White porcelain (hakuji).
See "Nabeshima" below for more on hakuji.
PHOTO: Hakuji (White) Porcelain by Inoue Manji

Hizen. Generic term. Porcelains made in Hizen area (Kyushu, Nagasaki and Saga Prefectures) during the Tokugawa Period (1603-1868).

Imari. Porcelain produced in Arita was typically shipped to other Japanese cities and elsewhere in Asia and Europe from the port city of Imari. Arita porcelain is thus also called "Imari" ware. Naming conventions for porcelain are sometimes difficult to grasp. For example, the first porcelain made in Japan is called "Old Imari Porcelain - Arita Ware." See Arita above.

Iro-e Porcelain (overglaze enamel) by Kato HajimeIro-e Jiki. Overglazed enamel decorative porcelain. One of the most popular styles of porcelain in Japan. Please visit the
Living National Treasures (LNT) page to see numerous examples. The piece shown at the top of this page, by LNT Imaiizumi Iimaemon XIII, is iro-e jiki. The photo shown at right is also an iro-e piece (by LNT Kato Hajime). One of the most famous iro-e jiki masters is Fujimoto Yoshimichi (deceased).

Iro-e Porcelain (overglaze enamel) by Sakaida Kakiemon XIVKakiemon. A colorful decorative style of porcelain named after the illustrious family that makes it. Kakiemon porcelain is treasured the world over and the technique itself, nigoshi-te (milk-white porcelain) was designated as an Intangible Cultural Property in 1955. The current heir is 14th-generation Sakaida Kakiemon XIV, who was named a Living National Treasure in 2001 for his overglazed enamel decorative porcelain. The Kakiemon kilns are located in Nangawara. PHOTO: Iro-e Porcelain by Sakaida Kakiemon XIV

Kakiemon Sakaeda, The First Kakiemon. Around 1647, not long after porcelain was first introduced in Japan, Sakaeda Kakiemon perfected a technique for multi-color overglaze enamel. Living in Nangawara (near Arita), he studied pottery with his father and Takahara Goroshichi, who is said to have taught Kakiemon to make a crackle-glaze ware. Family records say Kakiemon made Japan's first overglaze colored enamel porcelain shortly after 1640. Then, in 1659, the East India Company of Holland orders a huge number of Kakiemon's pieces for the nobility of Western Europe, and the style is thereafter referred to as Kakiemon porcelain. The Kakiemon technique draws heavily on Chinese Ming Dynasty porcelains.
Kinrande piece by Ono JiroKinrande. Gold enameled porcelain. Gold is fired onto ceramics at lower enamel-ware temperatures. This decorative style is often seen on Arita, Imari, Kutani, and Nabeshima wares. The golden age of these delicately decorated porcelain wares was in the Genroku period (1688 - 1703), or the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Merchants, feudal lords, as well as the Imperial family, used to collect and trade these wares. Ono Jiro, whose work is shown here, is one of only a handful of contemporary ceramists to master the kinrande style. The piece shown above under "Iro-e Jiki" (by Kato Hajime) also employs a kinrande technique.
Koto-yaki porcelainKoto-yaki. Koto wares were ceramic products made in and around Hikone Castle of Ominokuni (Shiga Prefecture). The first kiln is said to have been the Kinuya kiln (in the castle town of Hikone), which started operation around 1829. In 1842 it fell under the protection of the Hikone clan as a clan-operated kiln and its size was expanded and techniques were improved. The aim was to produce high-class ceramic products. It was Ii Naosuke, the 13th lord of the Hikone clan, who was the most eager to produce ceramics. He invited potters from all over Japan and summoned painters such as Kosai and Meiho from Kyoto, thus trying to improve the wares. However, Ii was killed by assassins outside of the Sakurada Gate in 1860, and thereafter Koto wares lost the protection of the clan. It then turned into a privately owned kiln, known as the Yamaguchi kiln, and continued in operation until 1895. Many superior works were made, such as Aka-e kinsai, blue and white porcelain and a wide variety of other wares such as celadon, and copies of Ko-Kutani, Oribe, and Ninsei.

For more details on Koto-Yaki, plus 21 photos,

Kutani Porcelain by Tokuda Yasokichi III
Ko-Kutani (Old Kutani) at Suntory Museum of Art

Kutani (Saiyu-jiki) and Ko-Kutani ("Ko" means old). Colorful overglazed enamel decorative porcelain. Porcelain produced in the Kaga area (Ishikawa Prefecture), beginning sometime in 17th century. In Kutani pottery, the five colors (go-sai) reign supreme: red, blue, yellow, purple and green. The origin of these pigments is in Ming Dynasty Chinese porcelains. Yet Kutani retains its own identity and is purely Japanese in the usage of the pigments. One of today's best Kutani masters is Tokuda Yasokichi III. Tokuda's grandfather, the first Yasokichi (1873-1957), is credited with rediscovering many of Kutani's lost traditional glazes. For that he was made an Intangible Cultural Property by the government. Granddad's work was so skillful that his pieces were hard to distinguish from the Ko-Kutani (Old Kutani) and Yoshidaya styles, the epitome of Kutani up to that point. For two of the most widely known Kutani artists, please see Takuda Yasokichi and Yoshita Yukio. PHOTOS: Top - Kutani by Tokuda Yasokichi III; Bottom - Ko-Kutani (Old Kutani) Piece at Suntory Museum of Art (Courtesy Suntory Museum of Art)

Nabeshima Ware, Underglazed Cobalt, Edo Period, Suntory Museum of Art
Nabeshima. In the early 1600s, Nabeshima Naoshige, the feudal lord of the Sage Clan, brought a group of Korean potters to Japan, including the potter Risampei, who in 1616 discovered a superior white-stoned clay at Izumiyama (Izumi Mountain, Arita). Wares fired with this earth are called "hakuji" (white porcelain; see "Hakuji" above). Some say this was the beginning of Arita Ware.

Iro Nabeshima Ware (Arita Ware) by Imaemon Imaizumi-XIIAs porcelain grew in popularity, the Nabeshima Clan took steps to keep their production and decorating techniques a closely guarded secret. They were aided in this effort by the Tokugawa Shogunate and other feudal lords, who commissioned the Nabeshima Clan to make porcelain for only the elite classes -- the sale of Nabeshima ware to commoners was actually forbidden, and the number of kilns and wheels was strictily limited by law.

PHOTOS: Nabeshima Ware, Underglazed Cobalt, Edo Period, Courtesy of
Suntory Museum of Art; Iro Nabeshima Ware (Arita Ware) by Imaemon Imaizumi-XII; photo courtesy of JGC Corporation.
Seihakuji (Bluish White Porcelain) by LNT Tsukamoto KaijiSeihakuji.
Bluish white porcelain.
Seihakuji by Tsukamoto Kaiji

Sometsuke Seto by Kondo Yuzo
Sometsuke (cobalt decorated). Porcelain came to Seto (Aichi Prefecture) rather late. It first appeared in the beginning of the 19th century when Kato Tamikichi returned to Seto from Kyushu and successfully fired cobalt-decorated porcelain. This is called Seto-Sometsuke. Tamikichi is regarded as "the father of porcelain" in the Seto region. Seto Sometsuke played an important role is Seto's ceramic history from then on until a few decades ago when it lost it's vitality. These days a group of Seto potters is trying to revive the style. PHOTO: Sometsuke Vase by Kondo Yuzo


or Search Our eStore (see left column above)

Fujimoto Yoshimichi (Porcelain, LNT)
Imari's Heritage
Koto-yaki - Rare Porcelain, Edo/Meiji Era (21 pics)
Kutani - Sake Vessels
Kutani - Artist Yoshita Yukio
Kutani Master - Tokuda Yasokichi III
Living National Treasures - Photo Tour
Seto Sometsuke Markings - Kamajirushi
White Porcelain - Kato Tsubusa

Markings on Export Porcelain (outside link)
Nabeshima Exhibition at Toguri


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