Seto ware, one of the most famous ware in Japan


Pure white and beautiful blue pigment in Seto ware

The malleable substrate material is produced by blending “saba,” a weathered granite sourced from Sanage, with Seto’s “kibushi” clay and “nagome” clay. After firing the clay, intricate depictions of birds, flowers, and insects are directly painted onto the white background using indigo-based shades of gozu pigment. This is a unique characteristic of Seto Sometsuke ware. The allure of this ware is further enhanced by its opulent appearance, achieved by maintaining high kiln temperatures for a specific period to facilitate glaze maturation. In May 1997, it was conferred traditional craft status by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry and is currently manufactured in Seto City and Owari-Asahi City.

“Sometsuke” refers to white-based ware that is painted with cobalt pigment (gozu pigment), coated with a firing agent, and then fired. This immaculate and blue-colored traditional craft can be observed in Mikawachi ware. While the term is generally applied to porcelain, Seto Sometsuke ware is celebrated for its distinctiveness, including its predecessor, ceramic body Sometsuke (dye-printing on pottery). The primary techniques employed are “sen-sho” (fine line drawing), “dami” (shading), and “tsuke-tate” (direct drawing without outlines).

Both pottery and porcelain are available.

One of the primary distinguishing features of Seto ware is its capacity to produce both pottery and porcelain. Earthenware, also known as “pottery,” is made from clayey soil, commonly referred to as “potter’s clay,” whereas porcelain, also known as “stoneware,” is produced from a combination of crushed ceramic stones such as quartz and feldspar mixed with clay. Consequently, the firing temperatures required for ceramics and porcelain are markedly dissimilar.

seto ware
Source: Kiln Art

Historical Background of Seto ware

The origins of Seto Sometsuke ware can be traced back to the early 19th century during the Edo period. It all began when a potter known as “tōkō,” Katō Tamikichi, from Seto Village (later Seto City), acquired the techniques for manufacturing porcelain in Kyushu and brought them back to Seto to disseminate the knowledge. The Chinese painting techniques that were taught to the potters by various painters who visited Seto later evolved into the Seto Sometsuke ware painting techniques.

By the mid-19th century during the Edo period, the techniques of manufacturing and painting had already been established. The Seto Sometsuke ware painting techniques, which illustrated Seto’s landscapes and nature, were highly acclaimed at the World Expositions held in Paris and Vienna in the late 19th and early 20th centuries during the Edo period, and they also influenced the European art movement known as “Art Nouveau.”

During the Meiji period (1868-1912), Seto Sometsuke ware production became more prevalent. In addition to tableware and stacked boxes, large items such as tables, lanterns, and vases were also produced. This manufacturing technique is still in use today.

Manufacturing Methods and Processes

1. Clay preparation

The constituents employed in the production of Seto Sometsuke ware consist of “Motoyama Mokubushi Clay” and “Motoyama Gairame Clay,” both of which are native to Seto and are characterized by their cohesive properties, and “Sanage Choseki,” which possesses translucent features. By amalgamating various materials, a malleable clay that is distinctive to Seto Sometsuke ware is concocted.

2. Clay Formation

The clay is shaped using a multitude of techniques including “rokuro,” whereby the clay is manipulated on a revolving circular table, “katauchi,” whereby the clay is compressed into a mould, and “te-hineri,” whereby the clay is manually moulded by hand. Post-moulding, the base is thinned by scraping to regulate its thickness, and the surface is purified by wiping it with a moistened cloth or sponge. Designs can be incorporated at this stage, with customary methods such as “kakka,” wherein a pattern is carved using a planer or spatula, and “inka,” whereby a pattern is applied by pressing an ink stick onto the surface.

3. Drying and unglazed

Upon completion of the moulding process, the base is desiccated and left unglazed at a low temperature of approximately 850 degrees Celsius.

4. Sometsuke (underglaze painting)

Underglaze painting is employed to illustrate patterns on the unglazed base before the glaze is applied. Seto-Somezuke ware is recognized for employing the “Some-tsuke” technique, which is one of the underglaze painting techniques. In “Some-tsuke”, patterns are directly painted on the base with a brush using a pigment called “Gosu”, which is chiefly made from cobalt oxide pigment. Multiple painting methods exist, including “line painting,” where slender lines are employed to sketch outlines, “dami,” wherein the inside of the line painting is painted to add shading, and “tsuketate,” where the inside of the line painting is freely painted without outlines.

5. Glazing

After “Sometsuke,” glaze is applied to the underglaze utilizing techniques such as “nagashikake,” “soakkake,” and “hake-nuri.” The primary glaze utilized is the transparent and lustrous “lime glaze.” Celadon glaze, lapis lazuli glaze, oak ash glaze, etc. are also used.

6. Drying and firing

Following the drying of the glazed base, it is fired. In Seto Sometsuke ware, the ultimate phase of firing is distinguished by the “nerashi” process. In the “nerashi” process, the temperature of the pot is maintained at approximately 1,250 degrees Celsius for a specific duration to promote the ripening of the glaze

7. Completion

Once the firing process, including the “nerashi” process, is concluded, the Seto Sometsuke ware is extracted from the kiln. If patterns are to be added by uwaetsuke (overglaze painting), it is done at this point after the primary firing. The same techniques used for underglaze painting, such as line drawing and dammi, are used to add gold, silver, and other new colors, and the piece is fired at a low temperature of 700 to 800 degrees Celsius to conclude the process.

Seto ware
Source: Japan Traditional Crafts AOYAMA square


Dealer and Museum of Seto ware

Setogura Ceramic Plaza

Setogura 1F, 1-1 Kurasho-cho, Seto-shi,
Aichi, Japan
Tel: 0561-89-5758
Business hours: 10:00-17:30
Closed: Year-end and New Year holidays,
Temporary closing about once a month

E-commerce site:


Seto Sometsuke Pottery Craft Museum

98 Nishigo-cho, Seto-shi, Aichi, Japan

Seto lacquerware
Source: Japan Railway Tokai
 1              3                     6 
Let's share this post !