Tobe pottery is great and unique with hand-painted decorations

Isobe ware

Tobe pottery with beautiful white porcelain surface

Tobe pottery is ceramic ware produced mainly in Tobe Town, Ehime Prefecture, which is said to be the best pottery village in Shikoku. Tobe-yaki is characterized by its thick, chunky form and the indigo blue coloring on the white porcelain. You can also see the combination of pure white and indigo blue on Mikawachi ware or Seto ware.

Compared to other porcelain, Tobe-yaki is more durable and resistant to cracks and chips. It is loved as ceramics for daily use. Another characteristic of Tobe ware is that it preserves the tradition of handmade and handwritten work. Although not a large production center in Japan, Tobe Pottery is appreciated by many pottery lovers for its simple texture and lovely, chunky form.

The historical background of Tobe potter

The Birth of Tobe Pottery

The birthplace of Tobe pottery, Tobe Town in Iyo County, is a sloping town surrounded by mountains. Those surrounding mountains provide a large amount of red pine trees for fuel. The slopes of the mountains are ideal for building climbing kilns, making the land very suitable for pottery production. For this reason, pottery has been actively produced in the area since ancient times. Even today, there are remains of Sue ware kilns that date back to the 6th and 7th centuries. In addition to the remains of burial mounds and settlements, many kiln sites have been found in Tobe Town.  It is known that Sue ware and haniwa were fired from the late Kofun period. The “Haniwa Kiln” in the park is a reconstruction of an anagama kiln excavated in Tobe Town.

The Development of Tobe Pottery

Until the middle of the Edo period, pottery was made. The differences of Japanese pottery and porcelain are explained in the article of Kutani-yaki. Commonly made at that time, the simple motifs of pine, bamboo, plum, fish, and other commonplace vessels can be seen in today’s Tobe ware. However, in 1775, the country was in a severe financial situation due to poor harvests caused by drought and a fire at the Edo domain residence.

To revitalize the country with a new industry, they started to develop porcelain using Iyoto (whetstone) shavings, a specialty of the domain. In 1777, he finally succeeded in firing white porcelain, and porcelain was born in Tobe. In 1818, Mukai Genji discovered Kawato pottery stone, the raw material for the revolution.  Ioka Taizo built a kiln using bricks In 1848. The various technical improvements continued to develop Tobe ware.

Tobe pottery
Source: Sukoshiya Tobe kiln

Tobe Pottery Today

In the old days, many bowls and plates necessary for daily life were produced. However,  after the luxurious color painting and white porcelain of the late Edo and Meiji periods, Tobe-yaki is now becoming established again as a daily life vessel. The skin of the ware is bluish white, and the mouth rim has a thick tama-buchi (ball-rimmed) form, with a generally chunky shape. But, there are also celadon, white porcelain, and colorful painting techniques that are part of the Tomochi pottery tradition. The number of potteries producing pottery decorated with traditional patterns has decreased over time, and today, more and more young potters are producing pottery with modern designs.

 Manufacturing Methods for Tobe pottery

1. Soil Preparation

The first step is to quarry the stone, which is made from the coarse-grained andesite of the Kamio Pass, where iron-rich potter’s stone is often found. Once the potter’s stone is quarried, the next step is sorting. The poor quality pieces are removed by breaking them into small pieces in this process.

To purify the stone, a process called “Suihi” (water-sieving) is performed. The stone is then placed in water to separate it by specific gravity, and once the water is removed and clay and other materials are added, the potter’s clay is complete. At this time, it is also essential to use a magnet to remove the iron contained in the potter’s stone.

The iron in the potter’s stone is removed using a magnet called a “ball mill,” which takes 25 to 45 hours to grind the stone to powder. Once pulverized, it is placed in a filter press for about 2 hours to remove impurities and create pure ceramic clay.

2. clay kneading

A clay kneader is used to knead the hardness of the potter’s clay to a homogeneous consistency. The air contained in the clay is carefully worked out to prevent holes from forming when the clay is fired. Before mechanization, clay kneading was done by hand, and it is said that it takes three years of training alone.

Tobe porcelain
Source: Iori

3. Rokuro Molding

Rokuro molding is often used for forming. The potter’s clay of Tomochi is hard and is not softened with water, so forming requires a lot of strength. To use the potter’s wheel, the clay is first placed on the potter’s wheel, and the potter taps it by hand so that the clay is in the center.

Next, the potter kneads the clay by turning the wheel and moving it up and down, a process called “dochi-koshi. The next process is called “Dotori,” which involves scraping off the unneeded soil and making the shape of the pot as narrow as possible. Tools such as trowels and spatulas are used to shape the vessel, and a tonbo or toscan is often used to adjust the size, tanned leather is used to finish the vessel, and shippiki is used to remove the vessel from its base.

Finally, the entire vessel is prepared with a planer. Other techniques used in Tomochi include hand-bi neri molding, casting, string molding, and tatara molding, in which clay is poured into a plaster mold. After molding, carving and decorating are done when the clay is still in the dry stage. It is important to dry the clay thoroughly before unglazed firing in order to prevent cracks from forming on the vessel.

4. Unglazed firing

After checking for any cracks before firing, the vessels are placed in the kiln. 18 hours of firing at 950 degrees Celsius is followed by 2 hours of firing at a lower temperature for the remainder of the process.

5. Underglaze painting

Underglaze painting has been done by hand since ancient times. By using a special pigment called gosu, the areas where the branches have been painted after firing will turn indigo blue.

6. Glazing

After the underglaze painting is completed, the vessel is glazed.

7. Hon-yaki

The final firing process, honyaki, takes place at 1300 degrees Celsius for 15 to 24 hours, and after cooling down sufficiently, the kiln is discharged to complete the process.

Japanese traditional pottery
Source: Setouchi Finder


Key Points

Tobe ware is loved as daily-use vessels because of its simple texture and durability. The patterns and colors depicted on the vessels are also very attractive. While preserving tradition, each kiln has its own unique character, so why not find a kiln that you like? You will be charmed by the usability and loveliness of the pottery once you have one in your hands, and you will want to have a variety of them.

The simple, unadorned lines of the pottery are appealing, and the motifs drawn on them are mostly modeled after nature. The most well-known motifs are arabesque, sun, and azalea. Durable and suitable for daily use. This craft can be washed in a dishwasher because of its resistance to breakage. Plus, it is also heat-resistant and can be heated in a microwave oven. It is easy to use, as heat is not easily transferred, and food does not feel hot when held in the hand and does not get cold easily. Furthermore, it is reasonably priced and has great appeal as a familiar vessel.


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