Iga ware has been loved by tea masters since ancient times | traditional crafts in Mie

Iga ware
Source: Kotobank

Iga Ware is a Traditional craft utilizing the characteristics of soil

As far back as 4 million years ago, in Lake
Biwa (Shiga Prefecture), the largest lake in Japan, there was a ceramic clay
containing lignite and other materials that was deposited on the bottom of the
lake after the granite had weathered. The surrounding forests of red pines and
other greenery that provided fuel for Iga pottery were also the source of the
clay and flame art of Iga pottery. The unique and wild designs of Ko-Iga and
the beauty of its broken tone are the result of the strong fire resistance
found in Iga earthenware pots.

Three main characteristics

Spatula, latticework, ears, and distortion

Ko-Iga water jars and flower vases are
decorated with a wavy pattern called “Yamamidote” and a lattice-like
pressed pattern using spatula tools, and a pair of “Mimi” (ears) are

Vidro, ash-covering, burning, and mountain

When fired at high temperatures, the ash
from the firewood on the surface of Ko-Iga vessels becomes a greenish glass,
and ash-covering, black charring, and mountain cracks occur. These appear to be
the result of natural kiln changes, but in fact, they are fired with the expectation
that this will happen from the beginning.

Yakishime’s skin texture

The fire-red pebbled texture reflects the
color of red flames, and when food is served in a watery Iga-yaki vessel and
sake is poured, the green color of the beer reflects the food and enhances the

Iga pottery
Source: Mie prefecture


Historical Background of Iga Ware

Blessed with Lake Biwa and red pine forests

Iga is blessed with two essential resources
for pottery production, Lake Biwa layer, from which highly refractory clay can
be extracted, and forests of red pine trees, which are ideal for firewood. In
the Kamakura period (1185-1333), farmers began to produce pottery in the area.

In the Kamakura period (1185-1333), farmers
began to make jars, pots, mortars, and other daily utensils, and it is believed
that this is where Iga ware originated. Iga ware also developed in the process
of fostering Japanese culture in the samurai society.

Appearance of “Iga” ware with ears

In the Muromachi period (1333-1573), when
the tea ceremony was refined, Iga began to produce water jars and flower vases.
It is said, “Iga has ears, Shigaraki has no ears,” but from this
period, pieces with a pair of ears became common. Iga tea ceramics gradually
gained attention, but in 1579, during the Tensho Iga War led by Oda Nobunaga,
the region was burnt to the ground and the potters were scattered to other
countries. Some of them fled to Shigaraki and even all the way to Akita.

Later, Tsutsui Sadatsugu, whose talent was
recognized by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, entered the country. He happened to be a
lover of the tea ceremony. He took notice of Iga’s tea ceremony ceramics and
called back the displaced potters, protecting and encouraging their production.
This is where Iga ware tea ceremony ceramics came into its own.

The Influence of “Fat Hegemono

Iga ware of the Azuchi-Momoyama period
retained the traditional symmetrical shape, but the wavy patterns and lattice
patterns on the walls were made by using spatula tools, and the beauty of the
rough and dynamic “broken style” was felt. This was influenced by
Furuta Oribe’s “heagemono,” and it is known that Oribe himself was a
great admirer of Iga ware.

Furthermore, because Iga ware is fired
several times at high temperatures, a blue glassy beadlo glaze is naturally
formed, and the beauty of Ko-Iga, which shows a once-in-a-lifetime appearance
similar to natural beauty, is considered to be connected to the tea ceremony,
and Iga ware became famous as a tea ceremony ware under heaven. Iga ware from
this period is called “Ko-Iga” in modern times and is still highly
valued today. In his Nobel Prize lecture, “I, Beautiful Japan,” the
writer Kawabata Yasunari referred to Ko-Iga as representative of the Japanese
culture of wabi and sabi, or quiet refinement.

tokkuri by Iga pottery
Source: Nagatanien online store (3,850 yen)

The Edo Period: Interruption and revival of
Iga pottery and the appearance of earthenware pots

Iga ware was highly praised by many tea
masters, but in the Edo period (1603-1867) during the reign of Tokugawa
Iemitsu, the production of Iga ware was banned as a luxury item. The production
of Iga ware for tea ceremony was prohibited in the Edo period (1603-1867). The
production of tea ceremony Iga-yaki was interrupted for about 100 years.

From the mid-Edo period, demand for pottery
as a craft increased, and the lords protected and encouraged pottery
production, leading to the revival of Iga ware. The introduction of glazed
pottery techniques by potters from Kyoto and Seto during the Horeki period
(1751-1764) also helped the revival. The mainstay of the revival was the
production of glazed earthenware such as earthenware pots, kyohira (clay pots),
and earthenware bottles, as opposed to the tea ceremony ceramics that had been
used until then. The pottery produced after this period is called “revived
Iga” as opposed to “old Iga”.

From the modern period onward,
heat-resistant tableware became an everyday utensil.

Earthen pots and Yukihiras were produced in
the Meiji, Taisho, and Showa periods, making use of Iga’s highly refractory
clay. When metal production ceased during World War II, demand for Iga
earthenware pots and Yukihira pots surged as substitutes.

After the war, industrial modernization led
to a decrease in the number of Iga potters, and sales of earthenware pots and
pans rapidly declined. However, the technique of making earthenware pots and
other heat-resistant tableware has been passed down to the present day, and
products have been developed that are suited to modern life by taking advantage
of the unique characteristics of Iga-yaki. Iga-yaki was designated as a
national traditional craft in 1982. Currently, 13 traditional craftsmen are

Iga Ware Today

Demand for Iga-yaki is on the rise, thanks
to the efforts of those who have passed down the techniques and continued to
produce products that meet the needs of the times, including popular products
such as Kamado-san, an earthenware pot for cooking rice that requires no heat,
by Hase-en, a long-established kiln established in 1832. The New Green Iga
Pottery Market held every spring and the Iga Pottery Festival held in autumn
attract many people who come to enjoy the fire resistance, beadlocks, and other
unique sights that are unique to Iga pottery.

Production Method & Process

1. Mining the raw clay

The raw clay is mined from the area around
Marubashira, Makiyama, and Ueno City, which is located around the former Lake

2. clay making process

The clay-making process differs depending
on the item to be made. For tableware, a process called suihi is used to
separate the clay particles according to their size. For making vases, on the
other hand, the clay is dried, ground into a powder, and then water is added to
produce the clay in the dry process.

3. molding (kikuneri)

In order to remove air from the clay, the
clay is kneaded and formed using a method called Kiku-neri. Kiku-neri is also
called Kiku-momi (chrysanthemum rubbing), and the name comes from the fact that
the clay is kneaded like the petals of a chrysanthemum. Once the air is removed,
the molding process continues. There are four main types of molding methods.
The most well-known are “rokuro-formation,” in which molding is done
using a wheel, “te-hineri-shaping,” in which molding is done by hand,
and “tatara-formation,” in which molding is done using a piece of
wood called a tatara-ita. Other examples include “string making
molding,” in which clay is made into strings and the strings are piled on
top of each other.

4. finishing

This is the process of finishing the shape
of the pottery by adding handles and decorations that are characteristic of
Ko-Iga. There are several ways to add patterns, such as “Itching,” in
which patterns are applied with clay dissolved in water, “Line
carving,” in which patterns are carved using only lines, and
“Inka,” in which patterns are created by pressing flowers or grass
against the surface.

5. drying

In order to completely remove water from
the work, it is thoroughly dried in a drying room or in the sun.

6. Firing

Firing is the process of firing pottery at
approximately 700 to 800 degrees Celsius. Here, decoration (called
“ash-caburi”), which produces the characteristic beadlo glaze of Iga
ware, painting, and glazing are performed to prevent stains and water erosion.
In most cases, a gas kiln or a climbing kiln is used. In the case of a gas
kiln, firing continues for 15 to 30 hours daily for 4 to 7 days, and in the
case of a climbing kiln, it takes 4 to 10 days. When painting, pigments such as
oniita, which is often used as a decorative material for ceramics, and gosu, a
pigment used to draw patterns on dyed porcelain, are used. 

If no painting is
done, the ash-covered decoration, which is a characteristic of Iga ware, is
done in a climbing kiln, and the beadlows and burns produced here greatly
affect the quality of the work. Glazes such as “ash glaze,” which is
made from the ashes of plants and trees, and “lime glaze,” which is
made from lime, are used for glazing.

7. removing from the kiln

This is the process of removing a piece of
work from the kiln. If the work is taken out suddenly, it may crack due to
temperature change, so it is removed after waiting for the kiln to cool down

Iga ware
Source: NOREN

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