Have you ever wondered if the tableware you usually use is pottery or porcelain? Japan has introduced many forms and varieties of both pottery and porcelain to the world. Consisting of two main categories; “toki” (pottery) and “jiki” (porcelain), Japanese ceramics are known to be unique as they reflect both Art and Japanese Culture. This uniqueness has made them popular in both local and international markets. In this article, we will have a look at the wide variety of Japanese pottery and porcelain, their unique characteristics and usage.
Main Characteristics of Japanese Ceramics
From Jomon era to contemporary era, Japan boasts a long heritage of pottery since 13000 BCE. During the Edo period, a specialized type of ceramic was successfully created in the Arita region, marking the birth of porcelain in Japan. It is said that Japan started exporting ceramics to Europe during the Edo period. Among the many roles that Japanese ceramics play, perhaps the most widely known is tableware. One popular saying about Japanese food is that they “taste with the eyes”, meaning not only the taste but also the appearance of food should be appealing. To fulfill this, a wide variety of tableware is used to present delicious food in an elegant manner. A unique characteristic of Japanese pottery is that its design represents the era and the region where it is coming from. For this reason, an expert can immediately identify the origin of a piece just by having a glance.
Difference between Pottery and Porcelain
Made from clay, opaque in nature, there are two main types of pottery known as earthenware and stoneware. Compared to porcelain, pottery is made under a lower temperature in a kiln. In the past, they were mainly reserved for special occasions such as the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. A unique feature of Japanese pottery is that imperfections in appearance that occur during the manufacturing process are celebrated by the Japanese connoisseur. This unique value is well encapsulated in the Japanese term – “Wabi-Sabi”.
A diverse range of pottery has emerged representing the region where they have originated from. Satsuma ware, originated from Satsuma province, owns a history that dates to as far as the 16th century. Seto ware, or more commonly known as “Setomono” in Japan, is another variety of pottery born in Seto region in Aichi prefecture. Seto ware is particularly famous for its use of wide range of glazes. Mino ware has a great traditional value in the Japanese culture due to its usage in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. From the past Mino ware has grown into 4 main categories, each depicting distinctive colour combinations.
Compared to porcelain, pottery has a higher thickness to it. Due to this, when you hit pottery, it makes a dull sound. Before applying the glaze, the surface of a pottery appears to be coarse, often in brown or grey colour. One can almost feel the warmth of the soil used, when touching pottery. Porcelain on the other hand, due to its lower thickness, makes a metallic sound when hitting. Like most of the Western tableware, the base material is whitish or slightly bluish and shiny. In appearance, porcelain looks sophisticated and stylish.
To make porcelain, a mixture of kaolin (pure white clay), silica, and feldspar is used and it is usually translucent in nature. Compared to pottery, porcelain is made in higher temperatures. In the manufacturing process, the clay is fused with the glaze which vitrifies and strengthens it at the same time. This makes porcelain much thinner, stronger, and durable. Porcelain is used for tableware, decorative objects and in modern times, for laboratory equipment and electrical insulators too. Some of the best-known Japanese porcelain include Arita ware, Nabeshima ware, and Kutani ware. Arita ware, also known as Hizen ware marks the beginning of Japanese porcelain. Its blue and white designs dominated the Europe market in the 16th century. The distinctive feature of Nabeshima ware is its variety of animal and plant designs while Kutani ware particularly uses dark colours and mainly depicts landscapes, nature, and people.
Deriving from a rich heritage, Japanese ceramics are not merely decorative items. Behind the colorful glazes there lies a deep cultural value too.