Kiyomizu-yaki ware: A Ceramic Kyoto Matcha Chawan Teabowl in Plum
I was given a beautiful matcha tea bowl (chawan) for Christmas by Yukki’s family!
It has a gorgeous white and red plum blossom pattern, which sits on a stone-white translucent glaze through which you can discern the reddish clay from which it is made.
The plum branch is painted in a diluted black brown, and this colour decorates the rim of the chawan in a single line, right around the edge.
Inside the bowl there is more intriguing beauty, as the thicker stone-white glaze shows the way the bowl was made – the centre disappears into a swirling arabesque line, and the colour of the clay reveals itself again through the glaze.
Turn the bowl over and it is apparent that the top-most stone-white glaze has been pasted over a ground layer of translucent brown undersizing.
The support that the bowl sits on is pure clay, and there is a little stamp pressed into it.
This Japanese plum teabowl is wrapped exquisitely. Wrapping is very much a part of the Japanese aesthetic and every bit as important to the gift as the contents, so, I am protecting the tissue that sits inside the bowl, and the wrapping that protects the outside of the bowl, and I treasure the beautiful white textured cube-shaped box that the chawan lives in.
Silver leaf shapes illuminate this beautiful paper with calligraphic art by Fujiwara-no-Sadanobu, (1088)
The box is beautiful. It has flecks of a silvery white texture that catch the light and they remind me of the hakuokigami shapes of silver and gold leaf that the Heian courtiers loved to see in their papers and books. To me, the Heian skill at papermaking is the direct antecedent of the technique I can see on this lovely chawan box!
The plum matcha teabowl is a beautiful item, and I was so intrigued I was keen to discover more about it!
Who made the bowl?
I can see that the maker of this bowl is Kyoto Kumagai.
Written on the leaflet it says:
Kyo-yaki and Kiyomizu-yaki in Kyoto has shaped a unique and elegant cultural climate in the history of the city for over a thousand years. The Kyo-yaki and Kiyomizu-yaki produced in Kyoto are splendid, delicate and sophisticated Japanese traditional crafts. While preserving the spirit of our predecessors, including Ninsei and Kenzan, we are creating works that put skill into the current sense of the times.
History of Kyoto ceramic ware
Kyoto has a long history as the imperial capital of Japan, beginning in 794 when the Emperor moved the capital from nearby Nara. Kyoto was then named Heian-kyō, or ‘the capital of peace and tranquility’. For the court aristocracy it was a time of rarified beauty, exemplified by exquisite poetry, scroll paintings, symbolic dances, and festivals.
This refined and elegant culture produced Sueki ware (a type of unglazed earthenware) and Ryokuyutoki ware (which was a green-glazed earthenware). Ceramic skills had been learned by copying imported Chinese and Korean ware. This eventually led to the delicate beauty of Kyo-yaki and Kiyomizu-yaki ceramic ware, which is one of the finest Japanese traditional crafts.
Tea bowl with overglaze gold and silver, by Ninsei Nonomura, Kyoto Edo period, 17th century,
Aichi Prefectural Ceramic Museum
Today, Kyoto ware is produced by skilful master artisans who balance contemporary design while remaining faithful to the tradition that was established by the skilled artisans Nonomura Ninsei and his apprentice Ogata Kenzan during the Edo era (17th-19th century). They created ceramic ware of great beauty, and it is this style that formed the basis of Kyo-yaki and Kiyomizu-yaki Kyoto ceramic ware.
These ceramic masters perfected the art of pottery using advanced potter’s wheel techniques and elegant, colourful, overglaze designs. During this time, the blue, green and gold decorative ceramics known as Kiyomizu-yaki were established.
Kyoto's Climbing Kilns
In 1624, a climbing kiln for stoneware production was built at Awataguchi near Sanjo Bridge in Kyoto.
Twenty years later, Nonomura Ninsei established the Omuro kiln to fire tea wares near Ninna-ji Temple in about 1647.
There were many climbing kilns established along the slopes of the northern and eastern mountains of Kyoto to fire the ceramic wares with their renowned delicate designs, including the area next to Kiyomizu temple.
This is a Kyoto climbing kiln that can be seen at the Kawai Kanjiro Memorial Museum
Why were there so many kilns?
Tea ceremony was very popular in the capital city. Tea ceremony masters, the imperial court and aristocracy, shoguns, and Buddhist monks served tea in Kiyomizu ware, and the potteries sprang up to cater to their needs.
Wado Sanza, Tea Ceremony
Kiyomizu production was located within the grounds owned by Kiyomizu Temple and there were 3 climbing kilns right up to the end of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1868.
Production of Kyoto Ware
Spring in Kyoto Shower of Cherry Blossom Mandarin Duck
Kiyomizu-yaki is a kind of stoneware. Because of its fine appearance it’s often mistaken for porcelain.
The colours in kiyomizu-yaki’s pottery glaze are vivid and contain a high percentage of glass which is fired at a low temperature, making the pigments in the glass appear almost transparent.
Kyoto didn’t have an easily-located source of clay and so potters had to transport their clay from other regions in Japan, and then blend it in their own unique ways.
As Kyoto was the producing area, and it had the biggest market, the ceramicists in Kyoto improved their skills and aesthetics owing to the requirements and the criticisms from the masters of tea ceremony, the aristocracy, the samurai class and the wealthy townspeople. These people began to collect ceramics simply because they were beautiful, and the increased demand propelled ever-more imaginative designs and advanced the technical skills.
Kyoto ware has become renowned for its fine, delicate quality and its variety of beauty.
How Kiyomizu-yaki Ware is Made
The traditional hand-painted pottery under-glazing art of Kyoto
The materials are clay and porcelain.
Wedge a lump of clay well to remove air bubbles and make the texture even.
Place the clay on the pottery wheel and form the bowl using centrifugal force – this takes a lot of skill.
Trim the half-dried clay with a metal spatula.
Biscuit firing is done at a low temperature between 600-800 degrees Celsius in order to strengthen the chawan before it is painted and glazed.
A design is drawn onto the bisque-fired bowl using an underglaze colour or mineral pigments, using a calligraphy brush.
The bowl is then coated in glaze.
The bowl is fired for the final time at a high temperature of between 1,200-1,300 degrees Celsius.
8.Overglaze and overglaze firing
The bowl is now coloured using metal pigments such as oxidized gold, silver and bronze for a beautiful finish, and fired again at a low temperature. The bowl is now finished!
Location in Kyoto
Chawanzaka leads up to Kiyomizudera, near the lovely streets of Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka
Chawanzaka is the name of one of the streets that lead uphill to the beloved temple Kiyomizu-dera. The name records its long history as the area where Kiyomizu ware (Kiyomizu-yaki) was produced.
Chawanzaka also has stores with a long history of vending beautiful traditional Kyoto artisan products, such as Nishijin-ori, Kyo-fan, and Kyoto o-kashi sweets.
The entrance to Kiyomizudera overlooks the busy streets of Kyoto
Because, in the Edo period, there were many areas of Kyoto lending their names to distinctive ceramics, such as the Omuro ware from Ninna-ji, collectively they were called Kyo-yaki, or Kyo ware. Nowadays, all of the pottery which is made in Kyoto is known as Kiyomizu-yaki. And even though the pottery kilns no longer burn at Kiyomizudera, many of the companies and artisans shops remain.
Kiyomizu-yaki no Sato Matsuri
One place that I will definitely hope to be able to go to is the large Kyoto ceramics festival known as the Kiyomizuyaki no Sato Matsuri!
It’s held every year in October – on the third Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. There are lots of stalls with producers showing their wares from Kyoto and beyond, with a focus on Kiyomizu-yaki!
You can even have a try at throwing clay onto a potter’s wheel to make your own teabowl!
Other pottery workshops such as Touan in higashiyama offers a workshop where you can try your hand at making a teabowl, and it will be shipped to you later!
Photo from NHK asadora Dondo Hare
We hope you have enjoyed reading all about our discovery of kiyomizu-yaki ware! You might like to read another of our articles about Japanese art, such as this one called Japonisme.
Thank you for reading,
Cathy and Yukki
Kyoto Ware, Ritsumeikan University
Touan: pottery in higashiyama
Hagiyaki Pottery : photos of chawan
Sharing Kyoto: photo of climbing kiln from Kawai Kanjiro Memorial Museum
NHK asadora Dondo Hare screenshot
Wikimedia Commons: Fujiwara-no-Sadanobu, Fragment: Ishiyama Gire
Wikimedia Commons: Nonomura Ninsei chawan