Koishiwara Pottery makes the most of earthen nature


Koishiwara Pottery, “the ultimate in beauty for practical use”

Koishiwara Pottery is produced in the Koishiwara region of Higashimine Village, Asakura County, Fukuoka Prefecture. The Koishiwara district is situated in an area of lush vegetation, encircled by mountains at an altitude of 1,000 meters. For roughly 350 years, pottery has been crafted in this location, which is blessed with clay ideal for pottery production and trees that serve as fuel for the climbing kilns. The prominent attribute of Koishiwara Pottery is its surface patterns, fashioned through techniques such as “tobikanna,” a process of shaving the surface with a plane, and “hakeme,” which involves brushing the surface with a brush. The charm of this technique is its understated nature, which renders it uncomplicated, exquisite, and inviting.

Typical techniques

This method involves the use of a plane blade’s edge to create precise, systematic incisions, resulting in sharp and distinct patterns on the surface.

This is a method in which a design is meticulously brushed onto the white clay while rotating the wheel. When applied to a circular plate, the outcome resembles that of a chrysanthemum blossom.

A decorative technique in which decorative clay or glaze is applied. While turning the potter’s wheel, glaze is applied to the surface by dripping the glaze from a certain height with a dropper or the like.

A decorative technique similar to nagashi-gake, in which glaze and decorative clay are applied to the surface. The glaze is poured over the surface with a ladle while turning the pot on the potter’s wheel.

source: Koishiwara-yaki Association

History of Koishiwara Pottery

Koishiwara Pottery began in the Edo period

In 1665, Hanojo, the descendant of Hachizo Takatori, who established Takatori Pottery (*), discovered high-quality clay in Nakano, located in the Koishiwara region. He then inaugurated a kiln in Nakano Sarayama to create pottery primarily for the tea ceremony. He focused on firing ceramics suited to this particular ritual.

*Takatori ware: first produced in Fukuoka Prefecture in 1600, when Nagamasa Kuroda, the lord of Fukuoka, opened a domain kiln at the western foot of the city.

In 1682, Kuroda Mitsuyuki, the third lord of the Chikuzen Fukuoka domain, invited Imari potters from the Hizen domain to introduce Chinese-style porcelain production methods. He then collaborated with the kilns already established in Koishiwara, thus initiating the prototype of Koishiwara Pottery that persists to this day. Initially, Koishiwara pottery consisted primarily of everyday miscellaneous items such as mortars and cups. However, by the mid-Edo period, products featuring an ochre-colored sea cucumber glaze were also developed. According to historical records of the time, sake cups, flower vases, tea sets, and various other items were produced.

source: Fanfan Fukuoka

Koishiwara Pottery gained recognition with the spread of the folk art movement

During the Meiji period until the early Showa period, Koishiwara Pottery primarily manufactured large bowls, plates, jars, and mortars using a communal climbing kiln located in the entire Koishiwara Village. In 1929, the esteemed pottery masters Bernard Leach, Yanagi Muneyoshi, Hamada Shoji, among others, visited Koishiwara Village and lauded Koishiwara-yaki, thereby bringing it to the forefront and making it a popular ceramic art.

As the demand for folk art increased, more people traveled to the village to acquire Koishiwara-yaki, and the hereditary kilns began attracting a wide range of people, resulting in an upsurge in the number of private potters. It was during this period that Koishiwara began producing pitcher pots and other daily-life pottery.

In 1958, Koishiwara Pottery won the Grand Prix at the World Exposition held in Brussels, Belgium, and attained international renown. Furthermore, in 1975, Koishiwara Pottery became the first pottery in Japan to receive the designation of a traditional craft by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Presently, there are over 50 pottery studios in Higashimine Village. The age-old techniques of Koishiwara-yaki have been passed down through generations and are still used to adorn many dinner tables as commonplace tableware.

Manufacturing Method & Process

1. Digging for the original clay

Extracting Koishiwara potter’s clay has been a historical practice in the region due to its abundant supply, and presently, substantial amounts of this valuable resource can still be excavated.

2. Drying the clay

The excavated clay is dried.

3. Crushing

The dried clay is crushed using water from the valley river.

4. Soil Strain

Using a water tank, the crushed clay is strained into small pieces. The clay is repeatedly strained until it becomes fine and sticky.

5. Dehydration

The scraped clay is dehydrated.

6. Kneading

The clay is kneaded. The process is called “Kiku-neri” (chrysanthemum kneading) because the clay is kneaded to resemble the shape of chrysanthemum petals. Kiku-kneading removes air from the soil, making it sticky and hard.

7. Kneading

Soil is carefully kneaded by hand. This process is continued until all air bubbles in the clay are completely eliminated.

8. Rocro molding

Shaping is done using a potter’s wheel. Currently, an electric potter’s wheel is used, and the speed is adjusted with a lever while molding. The potter’s wheel is then stretched into a stick shape and piled on top of the potter’s wheel, or the potter’s wheel is pulled off with a string after shaping.

Rokuro molding
Source:  F_d Corp.

9. Semi-drying

The potter’s clay is dried in the sun.

10. Cosmetic Coating

The dried clay is then decorated with patterns using tools and fingers. Various patterns and work are applied using techniques such as a flying plane, brush marks, comb marks, and finger painting.

11. Shaving

A piece of iron is scraped off by applying a piece of iron while turning a potter’s wheel on a piece of clay. Various patterns are applied by this process. This technique is performed at the same time as applying the decorative luster.

12. Unglazed

The item is unglazed with various patterns and workmanship.

13. Glazing

A glaze made from a mixture of locally produced straw ash, wood ash, feldspar, etc. is applied. Koishiwara Pottery has several methods of glazing: “hizukake,” in which glaze is applied evenly with a ladle; “nagashikake,” in which glaze is poured into a small container with a mouth and poured at equal intervals; and “uchikake,” in which glaze is poured all at once. The glaze gives the work a glossy sheen and prevents water from penetrating.

14. Hon-yaki

Firing Koishiwara ware
source: Koishiwara-yaki Association

The final firing process takes place in a climbing kiln. Glazed pieces that dissolve easily are arranged in the back and fired at the lowest firing point until the temperature reaches 1000°C. It takes approximately 15 hours to reach 1000°C. When the temperature reaches 1000 degrees Celsius, the pot is fired horizontally for about 15 hours. When the temperature of the pot reaches about 1,300 degrees Celsius, the upper kiln is ready for side firing. The pots are fired in the kiln for about 40 hours after firing. After the firing is finished, the kiln is cooled for about a week before being removed from the kiln.

15. Inspection

The work is checked for scratches and other defects.

Koishiwara ware
source: On la CRU.

key point

Koishiwara-yaki pottery has patterns using traditional techniques and a warm, rustic texture. Koishiwara-yaki is loved by many people as pottery that combines beauty and practicality. The pottery has a simple yet elegant texture, and its beautiful shapes and colors are appealing while being highly practical. The pottery is popular not only as a traditional souvenir, but also as a hands-on experience at pottery making classes.


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