Traditional Kyoto Pottery Kyo-yaki and Kiyomizu-yaki | Traditional Japanese crafts in Kyoto


Kyo-yaki and Kiyomizu-yaki
Source: Furusato choice  (200,00 yen)

Kyo-yaki and Kiyomizu-yaki, Traditional
Crafts Nurtured in the Ancient Capital of Kyoto

Kyo-yaki and Kiyomizu-yaki are traditional
crafts fostered in the ancient capital of Kyoto. Initially,
“Kyo-yaki” was used to refer to ceramics made for tea culture ceremony mainly
in the Higashiyama area in the east of Kyoto. On the other hand,  “Kiyomizu-yaki”
was used to refer to ceramics made in the Kiyomizu-zaka and Gojozaka areas, the
approach to Kiyomizu Temple, which is also a famous sightseeing places.
However, over the course of its 400-year history, the production area has
expanded and the techniques have diversified, and the term
“Kiyomizu-yaki” has come to be used as a generic term for the entire


Characteristics of Kyo-yaki and Kiyomizu-yaki

The characteristics of Kyoyaki and
Kiyomizuyaki are too diverse to be described in a single word, and there are as
many types as there are makers. There is no fixed technique like Kutani-ware or Mikawachi-ware. Each potter continues to produce unique and original pieces by
combining molding techniques such as hand-bi neri, potter’s wheel, and pouring,
and decorative techniques such as Sometsuke, Iroe, etc. Kyoto used to be a city that attracted the best potters from all over the
country. The idea was that if you were recognized in Kyoto, you were on your
own, and as a result, the good qualities of the various production areas were
accumulated to create the present-day Kyo-yaki and Kiyomizu-yaki.

Kiyomizu-yaki is unique in that it is
produced in small quantities and is very rare because most of the processes are
done by hand. Therefore, if you miss the chance to get a piece, you may not be
able to get the same one twice, but you are sure to find a favorite piece that
will captivate your heart. The warmth of the handmade dishes is reflected in
the atmosphere created by the unparalleled skill and sense of the makers, which
cannot be imitated by a machine. The moment you hold it in your hand, you will
be thrilled by the special feeling. The long years of use of these pieces will
give them a distinctive flavor and memories that will make you feel even more
attached to them. This is the beauty and characteristic of Kyo-yaki and

Kiyomizu-yaki, the only existing type of
Kyo-yaki kiln, is synonymous with Kyo-yaki, and today the terms Kyo-yaki and
Kiyomizu-yaki are used almost synonymously. Unconstrained by technique or
formality, each piece of Kyo-yaki or Kiyomizu-yaki is unique and enjoys a free
style in which the individuality of the craftsman and artist is fully
expressed. The appeal of Kyo-yaki and Kiyomizu-yaki is not in choosing the dishes
to be served or the occasion for using them, but in being able to choose dishes
that match one’s lifestyle.

Kiyomizu-yaki and Kyo-yaki

History of Kyo-yaki and Kiyomizu-yaki

Until Edo period

Kyoto, the capital since ancient times, was
the center of distribution, and during the Middle Ages, it was the place where
domestic ceramics from Seto, Tokoname, Bizen, and Shigaraki, as well as
ceramics from China and Korea, flowed into the city in large quantities.
Although Sue ware and other ceramics had been produced since the Heian-kyoperiod (794-1185), it was during the Momoyama period (1573-1600) and the early
Edo period (1603-1868) that pottery began to be produced using climbing kilns.
Merchants invited artisans from all over the country to Kyoto and had them
produce pottery from various regions. With the popularity of the tea ceremony,
tea utensils and vessels began to be produced and developed to the point where
they were offered to court nobles and feudal lords, mainly by tea masters.

Edo period

By the Edo period (1603-1867), there was a
major change in the artistic history of Kyo-yaki and Kiyomizu-yaki. In the Edo
period, the emergence of master craftsmen such as Nonomura Ninsei and Ogata
Kenzan led to an increase in the value of these wares. Furthermore, in the
latter half of the 18th century, Okuda Eisen succeeded in firing porcelain, bringing
a breath of fresh air to the ceramic art of Kyoto.

On the other hand, pottery among the
general public was associated with Kiyomizu-dera Temple. The Kiyomizu-zaka and
Gojo-zaka areas, which used to be the approach to Kiyomizu-dera Temple, became
crowded around the middle of the Edo period, and pottery was made and sold as
souvenirs to visitors to the temple. Since the pottery was made from local clay
at that time, it was also appreciated as a good luck charm.

Meiji Period

The Meiji Restoration (1868-1912) dealt a
severe blow to Kyoto’s ceramic industry. In 1869 (Meiji 2), the city
established an industrial promotion center and actively introduced European and
American ceramic techniques. There was also a period when they focused on
products for export, but their success was short-lived and they returned to
traditional high-end products.


Taisho period

In the Taisho period (1912-1926), the
Kiyomizu-zaka and Gojozaka area became too cramped, and the company expanded
into the new Hiyoshi and Sennyuji areas. It is said that these areas were
chosen not only because of their proximity to Kiyomizu-zaka and Gojo-zaka, but
also because of the sloping terrain required to build climbing kilns. During
this period, large-scale factories were opened in other production areas, and
mass production of daily necessities by machine began one after another.
Outstanding craftsmen who were forced out of their jobs moved to Kyoto.
Although the workshops and factories in Kyoto were mainly small-scale, advanced
techniques and tea ceremony utensils continued to be produced.

The Taisho period was also a time of
individual artistic pursuits. The Mingei (folk art) movement was advocated by
Yanagi Muneyoshi, and ceramics was also in the spotlight. Kawai Kanjiro and
Tomimoto Kenkichi participated in this movement. In 1927, Ishiguro Sohma also
began full-scale pottery production in Kyoto. The expansion of the pottery
industry in Kyoto, which attracted many excellent potters along with immigrant
craftsmen, also contributed to the growth of the artistic movement in Kyoto

Showa period

After the Pacific War, Kyoto’s ceramics
were led by Shimizu Rokubei VI and Kusube Yaichi. Rokubei founded the Kyoto
Potters’ Club in 1948. In 1953, Yayoi formed the Haku Shoku Kai, a group of
young potters, and the Seitokai, a group of young potters, to provide guidance
to younger generations of artists. Under the guidance of these two groups, many
potters were nurtured and became the foundation of modern Kyo-yaki pottery. In
addition, new works based on traditional techniques were created by artists
such as Kenkichi Tomimoto, Munemaro Ishiguro, Yuzo Kondo, and Unichi Shimizu,
all of whom were recognized as living national treasures, and their works were
exhibited at the Japan Traditional Crafts Exhibition. In addition, artists who
considered avant-garde ceramic policies emerged and a variety of works were
created, expanding the scope of Kiyomizu-yaki.

Kyo-ware and Kiyomizu ware
Source: Furusato Choice (83,00 yen)

What for Today

Today, most Kiyomizu-yaki potteries are
concentrated in the Yamashina district. This area, which was developed as an
industrial park, is called “Kiyomizu-yaki Danchi” (Kiyomizu Pottery
Complex). There are also many kilns in the Sumiyama district of Uji City, far
from Kyoto City. Many of these kilns were relocated from Kiyomizu-zaka,
Gojozaka, Hiyoshi, and Sennyuji between the 1960s and 1970s.

The reason for the relocation is often
explained as that the air pollution control law (1968) and the Kyoto
Prefectural Ordinance on Pollution Control (1971) considered the soot and smoke
emitted from the climbing kilns to be a pollution, and that the kilns could not
continue to be used because many houses had been built in the surrounding area.
However, it is also likely that there was a desire to increase productivity to
keep pace with the increase in consumption, such as by building new kilns and
expanding work space. The last time the kilns on Kiyomizu-zaka and Gojozaka
slopes were used was in 1980, when a fire that is believed to have originated
in the kilns caused residents of the neighborhood to sign a petition calling
for their abolition, which was a major impetus for the abolition of the
climbing kilns and the formation of the modern kilns, mainly electric and gas

Process and Method

1. Kneading the clay

The first step is to knead the clay well by
hand. The clay is then carefully rubbed to remove air, make it uniform in
hardness, and increase its stickiness. Since Kyoto does not produce potter’s
clay at present, clay from Shigaraki, Amakusa, Iga, Seto, etc. are imported and
handled for potter’s clay. Kaolin, wood-bonded clay, silica stone, feldspar,
etc. are added to the potter’s clay, and frog-eye clay, kaolin, silica stone,
pottery stone, feldspar, etc. are added to the porcelain clay.

2. molding

There are three types of molding methods: Rokuro molding, twist molding, and cast molding.

  • In rokuro molding, the clay is placed on
    the center of a spinning disk called a “rokuro” and molded by
    centrifugal force while the clay is moistened. There are three types of rokuro:
    hand rokuro, kick rokuro, and machine rokuro. This method requires a high level
    of skill by craftsmen.

  • Twist molding is a method of molding
    clay by twisting it with fingertips and a bamboo spatula. This method does not
    use a potter’s wheel and is considered the simplest method.

  • In the Imoko-molding method,
    the clay is mixed with water and soda silicate to form mud, which is then
    poured into a plaster mold. A large number of delicately shaped or similarly
    shaped pieces can be molded.

3. Drying and Kezuri(carving)-Finishing

After several days of drying in the shade,
the molded product is semi-dried, and then the “Kezuri-Finishing”
process is performed. A stand called a “sitter” is placed on the
wheel, and the molded product is placed upside down. While rotating the wheel,
a metal canner or bamboo spatula is used to cut out the base and finish the
entire piece. Decorations are then applied using finishing tools, and the piece
is left to dry in the sun.

4. unglazed

After drying in the sun, the pots are
unglazed before being fired. The purpose of unglazed firing is to facilitate
the painting process that follows.

5. Underglaze painting

Pre-glaze painting is done before the main
firing process. The painting is done by hand, brush by brush, using pigments
and metals such as iron oxide and gosu, which produce an austere blue color,
with a brush.

6. Glazing (Seyu)

This is the process of applying glazes such
as colored glazes, transparent glazes, and glossy glazes. Firing produces
color, transparency, and luster. 
This process, along with the molding
process, is an important process that determines the attractiveness of the
finished pottery.

7. Main firing

In this process, the glaze is applied to
the molded piece, which is then placed in a kiln and fired at a high
temperature. Gas kilns and electric kilns are now the mainstream in place of
traditional climbing kilns. There are two types of kilns: oxidizing kiln firing
and reducing kiln firing.

8. Overglaze painting

Overglaze painting is done after the main
firing (some overglaze painting is not done). All kinds of metal pigments are
used for painting and coloring with fine brush strokes. Gold and silver are
also applied in the overglaze enameling process.

9. Uwae firing

After overglaze painting, the piece is
fired again at a low temperature. This process is used to bring out the color
and luster of the pigments and prevent them from peeling off. This is done
while watching a piece called “Iro-mi” to see how the glaze is
melting and a thermometer. After firing, we wait for the kiln to cool down, and
then remove the kiln.

Kyo ware and Kiyomizu ware


Kyoto is a very important place in Japan’s
history and the birthplace of its culture. The same is true for traditional
crafts. In fact, Kyoto is the second largest prefecture in Japan after Tokyo in
terms of traditional crafts.

In Kyoto today, there are schools where
students can learn the techniques of kyo-yaki and kiyomi-zuyaki, and Kiyomizu-yaki
estates where young people can train themselves through employment, attracting
young people from all over Japan who want to become potters in Kyoto. The
pottery made in Kyoto, which is diverse and highly artistic, continues to be
produced by new makers every day.

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