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What is Onta Ware and Koishiwara Ware?

by StarkEvan
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Onta ware is a traditional Japanese pottery from the Oita Prefecture. Koishiwara ware (Koishiwara-yaki) is a traditional style of Japanese pottery from Koishiwara, Fukuoka Prefecture. Onta ware and Koishiwara ware and known for sharing the same design principles

The history of Koishiwara ware

The production of Koishiwara ware began before the production of Onta ware, and Koishiwara ware artisans would move to Otsumura (which would become known as Hita in modern Oita prefucture) spreading their craft. The origins of Koishiwara ware can be traced back to the Edo Period (1603-1868), when the Kuroda Clan’s lord invited potters from Imari to create fine porcelains. Then, at the turn of the 18th century, unknown craftsmen started producing the everyday earthenware that is now known as Koishiwara-yaki. Members of a folk art movement rediscovered the art of Koishiwara ware in 1931, resulting in greater appreciation of this regional ceramic art form throughout Japan. Koishiwara ware became a common example of Fukuoka Prefecture’s traditional crafts during the mid-century art and ceramics boom.

The history of Onta ware

Onta ware is thought to be descended from Koishiwara ware. About 300 years ago, the three founders of the Onta kilns built the first one. Since then, the descendants of the original founders have continued to use the same age-old methods, digging up clay in the surrounding mountains and grinding it into powder using water-powered “karausu” mills (large wooden hammers that work with the flow of the nearby river). The production of Onta ware is tradition that has been passed down through the generations, and is an essential part of both Onta’s history and culture. When Bernard Leach, a popular British potter, visited Onta in the 1950s, Onta pottery gained international recognition and acclaim. He worked alongside the local potters, sharing his knowledge and expertise while also learning from them. Many well-known Japanese artists have visited Onta and collaborated with local artisans over the years.

The characteristics of Onta ware and Koshiwara ware

The primary unique characteristic of Onta ware and Koshiwara ware is their emphasis on practicality, as well as their simplicity of design. In addition, the unique hand-made method with which they are produced is particularly unique. This method ensure that every piece is one-of-a-kind. As a general design principle, these ware’s are intended to be used more as a tool for everyday use, rather than a purely aesthetic piece. Onta ware is known for its decorative plates and bowls, as well as deep dishes (wide, shallow bowls) and other items that can be used as decorative items or everyday tableware. Koishiwara ware’s primary unique point is the style of patterns that develop when applied while rotating on a potter’s wheel. Both styles are decorated with a variety of unique techniques and designs. These include: tobikanna (chatter marking), hakeme (brush marking), kushime (comb patterns), nagashikake (glaze pouring at regular intervals) and uchikake (splash patterns).

Creating Onta ware is a community effort

Perhaps the most characteristic thing about Onta ware is the way it is produced by utilizing a communal produciton process. Since no apprentices have been brought in from outside the families, each potter is trained by his own father. No pupils are allowed to be trained in the art of Onta ware from outside areas. Because of this, no more than 10 kilns are continuing this lineage of more than 300 years of Onta ware ceramics. Different from common practice, completed Onta ware is not etched with the signiture of a signle kilns or potters. Rather, ten kilns work together to protect the shared brand of “Onta ware”.

The process of producing Onta ware

The soft clay used in Onta potteries (also known as Onta’s soft clay) is dug locally from the mountainside near the village. It’s then pounded into powder for 20 to 30 days with use of a wooden hammer (known as “Karausu” in Japanese) that is powered hydraulically by the river that runs through the village. After being filtered and dried in the baths, the clay is kneaded and molded into shape using a conventional kick-wheel and is then color-glazed after drying. Simple designs and earthy colors characterize the unique designs style of Onta. Natural materials such as straw, ash, wood, copper, and iron are used to create the various types of glazes that will be used to coat the clay. Predominantly used colors are green brown yellow, and black. Each piece is produced by first throwing it on the wheel and then placing coils by hand. A white slip is applied, and one or more decorative techniques, such as small chatter marks, brush marks, combed lines, and even patterns formed by their masters’ fingers are applied over it.

How to use Onta ware and Koishiwara ware

Onta ware’s practical and more simplistic designs make a great addition to the overall aesthetic of your tableware. Onta ware will make a great companion to more intricate or vibrant design elements, and can serve as a more minimalist design element in your table design.

Where to Buy Onta & Koishiwara Ware?

You can purchase them at MUSUBI KILN, our global shop for traditional Japanese tableware. They are kind of rare pieces of pottery and may only be available for pre-order, but it should be worth it!

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