by Ichiro Akahane

The Origins of Tokoname Ware

Among the six ancient kilns of Japan, Tokoname ware was produced and fired in the kilns located along the ridge of hills running through the Chita peninsula, centering around Tokoname city and is called Ko Tokoname (old Tokoname ware). Production of Tokoname ware has flourished since the late Heian period and it is probably the oldest of the six ancient kilns.
As in all countries of the world,the main stream of fine arts was patronized by religious institutions, royal familiesand the aristocracy. Since old Tokoname ware was produced for religious purpose of that time, the remains of old Tokoname ware have been discovered in religious sites all over the country, but mainly in sutra mounds. Old Tokoname ware was made as the vase to contain Buddhist sutras. As inscribed plaques are often found at sutra mounds with the name of the person for whom the sutra mound was established and the date, some of the old Tokoname excavated pieces can be dated quite precisely. The sites where Tokoname vases were used in sutra mounds were at the mountain temples of the Tendai sect and the Shugendo sect (a mixture of primitive mountain lore and Esoteric Buddhism) or in the sutra mounds made by the "Yin-Yang" sect (positive and negative principles of Chinese philosophy).
Although sutra mounds are distributed throughout most of the country, they are found principally in the following provinces: Shiga, mainly at Mt. Hiei, Mie, Kyoto, Wakayama, Kamakura and Iwate.
The seaside of Kamakura is famous for the remains of old Tokoname, Chinese celadon and Ch'ing-pai porcelain.In the north-eastern district of Honshu, many fine old Tokoname vases are found in Iwate prefecture, chiefly at the Chusonji temple of Hiraizumi, which was built by three generations of the Fujiwara family.
Besides sutra mound vases, we see old Tokoname vases containing ashes of the cremated, dating from the late Heian period. One of the representative funerary urns is a jar with the incised design of autumn plants which is registered as a "national treasure". This jar had not been considered as Tokoname ware in the past but is now recognizedas "old Tokoname". Funerary vases mark their appearance from the late Heian period since the custom of cremation had become popular among the aristocracy of the time. These funerary urns are large in size and are very rare. They became smaller during the Kamakura period. However at the end of the Kamakura period, small funerary urns of Tokoname ware were fired in great quantity because the custom of cremation had become increasingly popular and also, the number of battles which took such a heavy toll of lives, further necessitated the practice. During the Muromachi period, utensile for daily use increased in production at the Tokoname kilns while religious articles declined until most of the Tokoname ware were products for daily use. The result was that Tokoname kilns of the time began producing ware for sale and profit.
The kilns began to be located along the coast line having protective hills in the background. With a steady improvement in the people's economic condition, their culture gradually attained a higher level of development and the Momoyama period ushered in a new Japanese world of beauty. The pottery of the Tokoname kilns changed with the times, with the production of tea utensils reflecting the tastes of the period.
Tokoname religious ware of the Heian and Kamakura periods was fired in anagama kilns (tunneled sloping kilns) but they were replaced by half surface kilns or surface kilns during the Muromachi period. The same style of kiln construction continues today in the Tokoname region, maintaining a tradition of five centuries.
According to the chronological division of Japanese history, Tokoname pieces produced before early Modern Japan should be called old Tokoname ware. However, we call only the pieces fired during the periods when the anagama kilns were in use "old Tokoname ware". Other Tokoname pieces produced after the Kamakura period are called "Tokoname ware of the Muromachi period" and the ones of modern Japan, "Tokoname ware of the Edo period". Tokoname ware, indeed, has a long history.

Classification of Old Tokoname Ware

1.Large Jar with Ash Glaze
This type of jar shows the most salient characteristics of old Tokoname ware. It is rough in appearance and stands out with a powerful masculine sense of form. Usually, these jars are stamped with three or six horizontal bands on the body. Sometimes they are often stamped with only one band on the shoulder. Originally the stamps were few in number showing slight variations. But towards the end of the Kamakura period, a greater variety of stamps were in use. There are a few jars with an incised mark on the shoulder, dispensing entirely with stamped impressions. The largest sizes of these jars are 93.0 cm. and 88.0 cm. in diameter.

2.Vase used in Sutra Mound
The standard height of this type of jar is around 35.0 cm. The most productive period of vases for sutra mounds was 1100 A.D. to 1150 A.D. and these vases are found in great quantity. The markings are either stamped or incised. Great care was taken in making these vases in a highly distinctive style and potters fired them with a feeling of respect.

3.Large Flat Bowl
There are four sizes, measuring respectively 22.0 cm., 27.0 cm., 33.0 cm., and 40.0 cm. in diameter, and were used as covers for vases or jars in the sutra mounds. Plain and undecorated, these mortar shaped bowls have a spout to assist in the answering of one's prayer.

4.Vase with Three Carved Lines
This vase has three carved horizontal lines on the body, and is referred to as "san-kin-ko" in Japan. The vase was made as a container for Buddhist sutras, but was often used to contain the ashes of the cremated in the early Kamakura period. The design of three carved horizontal lines is characteristic of old Tokoname ware and evidently, is unique to this ware. Judging from the excavation sites vases with the three carved lines seem to have represented moral rules govering the five human relations. The vase is divided into five sections by the three lines on the body, that is, "sky, wind, fire, water and earth".

The vases with three carved lines disappeared after the early Kamakura period and vases the same size as above began to be produced. This transition probably represents a change of religious attitude. The vases with three carved lines were produced with a lofty ideal, while the new vases display an intimate feeling and are somewhat distorted in shape.

6.Vase with Carved Design
A strange mark is carved on the shoulder of the vase produced at the end of the Kamakura and through the Nanbokucho periods. This means that a new religion had taken root during this time.

7.Roof Tile for Buddhist Temple
This is called a"white pottery tile". The roof of the Ninnaji temple, a ruined temple at Okazaki Park and Anrakujuin in Kyoto, are covered with these tiles. In the Tokoname area, the roofs of old buildings at Noma Omura are covered with similar tiles.The tiles were fired in fairly large quantity during the late Heian through the early Kamakura periods.

8.Lipped Bowl
This type of vessel was produced in small quantity and large size lipped bowls are very rare. The hard edged small lipped bowl may have been used for camellia oil expression.

9.Small Vase
While there are not many examples of this type, none have been excavated from sutra mounds. They are found only at kiln sites of the late Heian and early Kamakura periods, and their purpose is not clearly understood.

10.Flat Bowl
This is usually called "yamachawan" or, mountain tea bowl by many people. We, however, would like to call it a "flat bowl", as "yamachawan" does not describe its function. It is a forerunncr of the earthenware cup used at Shinto shrines later on. There were many kilns that produced this type of ware,firing three or four thousand flat bowls at one time. The bowl has the characteristic shell-like pattem on the flat base (itozoko), a mark left by the cut-off string. The foot of the bowl was formed separately and later attached to the body, and shows places where chaff-remains stuck during the firing. Sometimes, the bottom of the bowl shows sand marks.

11.Lipped Dish
This is a flat dish with a spout and was used as a lid for the vase with three carved lines. The lipped dish was originally made for this purpose. When we made excavations at the kilns of the late Heian period, which were producing only flat bowls, we discovered that ten percent of the products at these kilns were lipped dishes.

12.Small Cup
Like the flat bowls, these cups were produced in large quantity. This cup has the shell-like pattern on the flat base resulting from the twisted thread used to cut the piece free. And like the flat bowls, the foot of the cup, which was formed separately and later attached to the body, shows places where chaff-remains stuck during the firing. Sometimes we find flat based cups without any foot rim. As there is evidence that a small cup was used in household Buddhist shrines of the Muromachi period, this cup was probably made for that purpose.

13.Net Sinker
These were found in great quantity at the kiln sites of the Kamakura period and there is the possibility they will be found at the kiln sites of the Heian period. Four kinds of sinkers are known and they were strung to fishing nets as sinkers.

14.Ink Slab
There are very few examples which have been excavated. A few ink slabs which have been uncovered date from the Kamakura period. Ink slabs were chiefly used when people copied Buddhist sutras but most of the ink slabs were Sue type pottery. It is very interesting for us to find Tokoname ware ink slabs of the Kamakura period at the time when the custom of sutra mounds was not so active.

15.Small Stand
There are not many excavated examples of small stands in old Tokoname ware. Usually there are two small bowls on the stand. Similar examples of the same size and style are found in the remains of Sue pottery at the old kilns of Atsumi peninsula and Sanageyama. It is very interesting that these three wares look as if they derved from the same ceramic stock. As the stand is very small, it must have been a ceremonial vessel and not actually used indaily life.

Only one excavated example is known. As the die represents the four directions, the heavens, the earth and stars, it must have been used as ceremonial vessel for praying to God.

17.Small Ball
We find many examples of this in old Seto ware, however, there have not been many excavated pieces in old Tokoname ware. It is said that the small ball was used as a bullet in warfare, but this is doubtful because some of the small balls were found in sutra mounds. It must have been used as a substitute for a crystal ball.

18.Long Necked Vase
The vase has a band of flower petals in relief between the neck and shoulder, and this is one of the characteristics of old Tokoname ware. We find many examples of this style both in large and small pieces. As they were produced in the Heian period and faith in the teachings of Kannon Bodhisattva was widely popular during this time, it may represent a suibyo (water bottle) held by Kannon Bodhisattva, as a symbol of purity.

Characteristics of Old Tokoname Ware

An old Tokoname vase has a coarse sandy grey body and is covered with a natural greenish-yellow wood ash glaze on the body, which has run down the sides in streaks like a mountain stream or waterfall. It is an attractive and impressive piece. Vases or jars of the Heian period are thinly potted and are imbued with a sublime idea. The reason why they still retain the grace and delicacy of the Hiean period is that the high culture of the time is reflected in old Tokoname pieces. Tokoname pieces of the Heian period have expanded thin mouths, which remind us of the sharp point on a Japanese sword.
The Kamakura peices stretch their shoulders remarkably and suggest the power of a militaristic government. Some of them are covered with a natural ash glaze running down the sides in streaks. The lip sections of the vessels are rolled back in a curve from the openings and this technique gives a fine spring and tautness to the double-fold finish on neck openings. This is one of the characteristics of old Tokoname pieces of the Kamakura period.
Stamp impressions on the vessels are also characteristic of old Tokoname ware. If we should classify the stamps into small group, they would be divided into several hundreds. However, the basic stamps can be classified into a few groups. They are considered as amulets to avert the evils cast by the Tendai sect. But, in the late Kamakura period,stamps with different ideas made their appearance. Depending on the size of the vessels, stamps were impressed on the shoulder or body, in one, three or five lines.
A mudra of the Shugendo sect of Buddhism was carved on the shoulder of some of the Tokoname jars made during the late Kamakura through the Nanbokucho periods. This suggest that a new faith might have arisen.
We often see sand marks on the bases of old Tokoname pieces showing the process of pottery making. Except for Tokoname ware, we don't find sandy bases on Japanese ceramics. However, some of the old Tokoname pieces are not sand marked and instead, bear the mark of "clog supports". This indicates that the vessels were potted on a "rotary stand" much like a potter's wheel.
Big flat bowls were also potted on a rotary stand. A bowl was given its finished shape by trimming the underside,and while the foot was formed separately,it was later attached to the body. The rotary stand is a kind of potter's wheel which is not very precise. This method of potting on a rotary stand and utilizing sand was practised until the Muromachi period. We find many foot rims of flat bowls showing places where chaff-remains stuck during the firing of old Tokoname ware indicating another one of its characteristics.

Throwing Techniques of Old Tokoname Ware

The following three methods are considered as the throwing techniques of old Tokoname ware.
(1) Old Tokoname pieces were potted only by potter's hands and legs by the coil method (jars or vases).
(2) They were formed on a rotary stand by the coil method (vases).
(3) They were thrown on a primitive potter's wheel by the tatara technique where a cylindrical form was coil built and a vessel was shaped by moving the wheel (large flat bowls or flat bowls).
Among the three methods, the most characteristic technique of old Tokoname ware is No. 1, that is, a vessel was coil built by hand.

(1) The potter sprinkles a wooden plate with sand and the base of the vessel is formed first by beating. Thus sand is imbedded in the underside of the form. A coil of clay about 10 cm. in diameter is attached to the base, then it is smoothed and stretched from the inside with a wooden shaping tool keeping the left hand on the outer surface. The potter attaches the coil clockwise and builds the wall step by step. After attaching two coils and smoothing them, the potter leaves the clay as it is and adds two more coils the next day. In this manner, the potter gradually shapes a vessel in four or five stages. It takes about three to five days for the potter to complete the form. A stamp is put on the outer surface where the clay slabs are joined after piling. By this technique, a round vase is formed without using a potter's wheel. The technique of coil construction continues to be used today in the Tokoname region, spanning a history of over 900 years.

(2) Coiling clay on a rotary stand is done as in the above technique, but only small vases are potted by this method. Since the vases given their final finishing on the rotary stand, they usually show classical features. Some of the vessels produced by this technique often show the impressions of "clog supports", wood grain, or a bisque fired throwing plate. However, no sand marks are found in this type.

(3) Flat bowls of various sizes are thrown on a small but sturdy rotary stand. As the clay was shaped on the wheel, turning marks can be seen on these pieces. It is most remarkable, however, that big flat bowls were thrown off the hump. They do lack the spiral pattern in the clay usually found in vessels thrown on a similar potter's wheel of the Edo period.

Tunneled Sloping Kiln and Its Distribution

One of the characteristics of old Tokoname ware is that it was fired in anagama kilns (tunneled sloping kilns). Both Sue and old Tokoname ware were fired in tunneled sloping kilns but Sue kilns were more advanced technically and differed in construction. In sue ware kilns, first a tunnel was dug, then the floor, walls and ceiling were covered with fire clay. There was only one fire port. On the contrary, the tunneled sloping kilns for old Tokoname ware were dug in the slope and used as they were. No fire clay covered the interior. This is a remarkable difference between the two kilns. A suitable stratum is the first prerequsite for the tunneled sloping kilns of old Tokoname ware. A silica formation must run close to the surface of the ground where old Tokoname kilns were constructed. Most minerals constrict when heated, however, silica always expands when heated and thus, old Tokoname kilns were not destroyed by several firings. The special stratification in the Tokoname area where silica formations run close to the surface of the ground, are where old Tokoname kilns were established. Tunneled sloping kilns clustered upon the desired Tokoname strata and an estimated 3,000 kilns existed on a large scale through the Heian and Kamakura periods (794-1333). The remains of these kilns is a most spectacular sight and not seen elsewhere in Japan.
A pillar was set up in the center of the fire port of the kiln, marking a difference between the tunneled sloping kilns for Sue type ware which have no pillars. As the old Tokoname kilns were very big in scale, a pillar in the center of fire port must have been necessary for reinforcement However, even the small tunneled sloping kilns for flat bowls have pillars in the center of the fire port, so the purpose was not only for reinforcement but also embodies the positive and negative principles of Chinese philosophy. The pillar divides the fire port and kiln into two chambers, one side being "negative" and the other "positive" and the kiln was then fired by these principles. Further ramification of this philosophy is demonstrated by the two parallel chambers spaced about one meter apart. One chamber is on a 30 degrees incline while the other inclines 20 degrees on the average. As every tunneled sloping kiln is constructed along the same principles, it is clear that the 30 degrees chamber and the 20 degrees chamber were tunneled as a pair. The rainy season in spring and summer was considered "positive" and the more steeply inclined chamber of 30 degrees was fired since there was so much moisture. The dry season in autumn and winter was believed "negative", so the inclined chamber of 20 degrees was used, its draft being assisted by the wind this time of year. This is a very scientific method of firing. It is definite that the tunneled sloping kilns were fired with the positive and negative principles of Chinese philosophy in accommodation to nature.

Tokoname Wares of the Muromachi through Edo Periods

Owing to the collapse and disorder of the militaristic government in the Muromachi period, Tokoname ware of the time underwent same changes. Old Tokoname ware was a product of the tunneled sloping kilns which were easily relocated. But half surface or surface kilns in the Muromachi period (1392-1573) began to be permanently established at certain places and produced not only religious objects but also various utensils for daily use. With the dramatic decline in the production of religious articles accompanied by improved organization and management, the kilns were soon into mass production of jars and vases.
Together with the change in kiln construction, the kind of clay used also changed. Mountain clay, which is low in iron content, was used for old Tokoname ware. But for mass production during the Muromachi period, potters began to use clay which was found in large quantity underneath their rice-fields. Since clay from the rice-fields is high in iron content and the refractoriness is lower than mountain clay, the pottery could be fired harder by the lower heat of the surface kilns. A Tokoname vase of the Muromachi period appears to be "stoneware". Vases and jars made from clay containing iron oxide, when fired, turned black all over, showing one of the characteristics of Tokoname ware of this period. They are bulky and heavy vessels and full of local color of the Tokoname area.
When the tunneled sloping kilns were active, virgin forests in Tokoname area were used as fuel, using such wood as oak, camphor, mirica and camellia. Virgin forests in this area seem to have been depleted by the end of the Kamakura period, and as a consequence, pine, which was the chief fuel during the Muromachi period, had to be imported from Ise and Kishu provinces.
The fire in the tunneled sloping kilns was a reducing to a strong reducing flame while the flame in the Tokoname kilns of the Muromachi period was an oxidizing one since the mountain clay was high in iron content. This is a distinguishing characteristic between old Tokoname ware and Tokoname ware of the Muromachi period. It is worthy of note that ceramic change with the times and in contrast to the time of the tunneled sloping kilns, potters now attempted compounding glazes technically during the Muromachi period. The natural glaze of the period came from pine ash and resembles yellow sesame seed gloss.
Even in the Muromachi period, many jars or vases which were made by the Tokoname technique, still have sandy bases. Rotary stands continued to be used during this period and small jars potted on this instrument display elegant shapes with base marks showing "clog supports".
Big surface kilns were established on the hills near the shoreline with easy access for boats and during the Muromachi period, large quantities of Tokoname ware were shipped to various places, taking advantage of water transport. Wherever a waterway was available, we find Tokoname pieces of the Muromachi period.
Kilns in the Echizen and Tamba regions had produced jars and vases like Tokoname ware since the Kamakura period, and often Tokoname ware is mistaken for "Tamba", "Echizen" or sometimes, "Bizen" or "Namban ware". This is especially true in the Kansai district where Tokoname jars of the Muromachi period are called "Tamba ware".
During this period, Mizuno Kenmotsu, better known as Lord Tokoname, was a prominent man who had a talent for linked verse and the tea ceremony. Kenmotsu cultivated the friendship of such well-known men as Tsuda Sokyu and Sen-no Rikyu to whom he introduced many fine earlier Tokoname vases. One of the most famous pieces is a water jar once owned by Rikyu. It was named "Fushiki" and has been handed down for generations.
The Tokoname region was one of the bases for the Shugendo sect of the time and the Kosanji temple in this area was a powerful temple of the Enjoji group. As Kenmotsu had the Kosanji temple under his influence, he presented a problem to Oda Nobunaga at the time when Nobunaga began to extend his power. Kenmotsu had connections with Akechi Mitsuhide, the man who killed Nobunaga at the Honnoji temple. Because of this, Kenmotsu abandoned the Tokoname castle to avoid the confusion and fled to the Tenryuji temple in Saga, Kyoto. After Kenmotsu left the Tokoname castle, the Kosanji temple and Tokoname village were completely burned to the ground. The Tokohame kilns also suffered heavy losses.
According to the tea ceremony diaries by Tsuda Sohkyu, we see that Kenmotsu enjoyed the tea ceremony quite often with Rikyu and Sohkyu. The diary says that Kenmotsu showed a big jar today, which means that he introduced Tokoname ware at the ceremony. Rikyu's diary titled "One Hundred Tea Ceremonies" tells that today the "Fushiki" water jar was used and that Kenmotsu was the host of the tea ceremony. Kenmotsu entered priesthood but later committed suicide by disembowelment at the Tenryuji temple in 2nd year of Keicho (1597).
The Tokoname kilns were quickly reconstructed in the early modern period of Japan and with the remarkable developments of culture and the improved economic situation of the merchant class, the rank of potters, which had been held down by the strict caste system, gradually gained in importance. Watanabe Yahei, who was active during the Tenmei era (1781-1789), was given the title "Tokoname Genkohsai" by Lord Owari. He was the first potter who signed his name to Tokoname ware. Thus, the age of anonymous potters was replaced by the age of signed Tokoname ware. During the Bunka and Bunsei eras(1804-1830), Tokoname ware entirely wheel thrown were produced. There were many excellent potters. Hakuoh, Chohza and Tohzen were the leading potters at the end of the Edo period. It was about this time that the famous "Mogake" glaze was developed by lna Chohza II. During the Ansei period (1854-1860), Sugie Jumon succeeded in producing his copies of the I-hsing pot (red stoneware pot) and they were greatly appreciated by his contemporaries.