Japanese Ceramics History

The records of the Japanese ceramics started with the Jomon earthenware, which was later observed by the Yayoi that integrated most of the thoughts that began in the first period. The third length that followed was the Kofun, which existed round third and seventh centuries, and just like the predecessors, the Haji ware accompanied the Kofun and incorporated most of the ancient thoughts into their new creation. The Japanese ceramics are respected as some of the most elegant designs that have the wealthy historical background. This paper aims at creating an understanding regarding the records of Japanese ceramics, and how they developed and transitioned through different historic periods.
The Jomon Period
The Jomon period is a time in the Japanese history that existed between 14,000-1000BCE. During this time, the inhabitants of Japan were mainly hunters and gatherers, and this culture lived to the time of sedentism and cultural complexities. The first forms of pottery in the Japanese culture are traced back to the Jomon period, which had a unique style characterized by decorations of impressed cords into the surfaces of wet clay. One of the critical attributes of this prehistoric culture is that they were rich in tools made from bones, stones, shells, and antlers. Most of their pottery figures resemble those that existed in the pre-Columbian cultures. The Jomon potteries are considered the oldest in the world, and they had impressive decorations that resembled a rope, and it is from the cord pattern in their pottery that the name Jomon developed.

The Jomon potteries were simple vessels, and two types of potteries existed in this period. There was a dark grey and had angular edges accompanied by decorations of curved lines and handles that were designed to look like animals’ head. The others were vessels, which were reddish brown and with no decorations or just a few wavy lines. It is believed that the potters only used open fires to create the ceramics since there is no evidence of kilns during this period.

Historians identified six categories of ceramics developed in the Jomon period, and these were as follows:

Fukabachi, which is the most common type and these were bowls and jars with widened mouth and contracted neck.

Asabachi and these were shallow bowls

Hachi, which were bowls of medium height

Sara were bowls that resembled plates because they were shallow

Tsubo were vessels with long necks and narrow mouths, and

Chuko, which was a vessel with a spout

Most of the vessels during the Jomon period had either a flat or a round bottom. Besides, there were also ceramics that resembled lamps or incense burners and had apertures as part of the decorations. The decorations however differed with regions and chinsen-mon was typical in the east of Japan where they mostly used shells in decorating the clays while oshigata-mon was predominant in the west of Japan and most of their impressions were made with a dowel.

Yayoi Period

As the migrants from the Asian states started to arrive in Japan around 400 BCE, they introduced new techniques and decorations of pottery. The region of Japan that felt more of this change was the western areas as it displayed a much more considerable variation in their ceramics and manufacture techniques compared to the eastern sides. The previous fashion, evident in the Jomon period, characterized by minimalism was eventually replaced by the finer potter, which existed in the Yayoi period that lived around 300 BCE and 250 BCE. Some of the common things in the ceramics of this period were that the potteries were finer, lacked decoration and the reddish color.

The Yayoi ceramics were the successor of the Jomon period, and they were much different from what existed in the previous era. The Yayoi potteries were less decorated and lacked luster hence these made them appear like their original forms. However, despite this, they had unique creations, and this can be owed to the fact that the Yayoi people were from different ethnicities as there were Koreans from the peninsula. One thing that it shares in common with the Jomon pottery is that it was also geometric. Though most of the ceramics typically lacked paint, some of the pieces were often painted with red pigments to show that whatever they lacked in luster, they made up for it in practicality. It is because of this that historians identify them to be more practical compared to the Jomons. The Yayoi pottery was simple, but the usages were plenty, as they would be used for storage, cooking or even making offerings.

The Yayoi people used the same techniques used by the Jomon. The potteries were made by coiling the clay, and the smoothening both inside and outside using their hands or tools and the last part would involve firing the designs through hot fire. The main shapes of pottery in this time were pots with wide mouths, jars with long necks, pedestal bowls and deep basins.

Influence from Other Cultures

Jomon is identified as the earliest culture in the Japan history, and it is majorly characterized by cord-pattern pottery. The Jomon were mainly isolated from the rest of Asia. This is because, during this period, the Jomons never focused on trading and thus barely interacted with the outside world. Their seclusion gave them an opportunity to develop ceramics free from external influence and anything that they created demonstrated only their uniqueness. However, this is not the case with the Yayoi culture. By the time the Yayoi community started to exist, many Asian regions had embraced trade, and this enabled them to interact with people from other communities. Many of the vessels found in the Yayoi period resembled those that were found in Korea, hence revealing the idea that the Koreans majorly influenced the second period in the history of the Japanese ceramics. At the same time, some of their pieces highlight influences from the Jomon ceramics such as the long neck jars and the bowls of medium height. As the Yayoi culture interacted with migrants from southeastern China, they also learned about tools that they could use in making potteries.

The Raku Firing

The raku firing dates back to early 1500 as it was mentioned by the Zen Buddhist Masters during their ceremonial tea. The raku firing is commonly associated with the Japanese potteries that were mainly used in the Japanese tea ceremonies. Raku firing is among the most natural techniques used in firing, and this is owed to its simplicity and naturalness. According to the Japanese history, the raku firing involved all of nature’s elements, which are water, air, fire, and earth. The earth was used in making the ceramics, and then the pot would be put in a reduction chamber kiln. Once it was ready, the pot would be removed from the fire and dipped into the water, which stoped the firing and cooled the vessel. Raku firing was often associated with the Japanese tea ceremony where a tea master would produce handmade bowls. These tea bowls were unique in their design and characteristics and were often referred to as ima-yaki. Raku previously was the name that created these tea wares, and the practice has been passed down to now 15 generations in the family. The raku ware marked a significant time in the history of Japanese ceramics, as they were the first to use a seal mark.

Modern Japanese Ceramics History

The first phase of the modern Japanese period began in 1603 and lasted till 1867, and this is known as the Edo period. The period saw the first production of porcelain in the Tang dynasty. The ceramics during this time were of high definition and more refined because of advanced technology and incorporation of a variety of ceramics. Their vessels were fired at high temperatures as a way of making them durable and vitrified. The potters in this time never used clay but resorted to porcelain made from specific clay known as kaolin. The designs were smooth and semi-translucence hence making it easier for painting. The Edo period got its influence from the Korean potters who migrated to Japan. The Meiji era is what followed the Edo period, and it began around 1868 until 1912. The ceramics in this period closely resembled the ones made in the Edo period, and a community known as Satsuma made them. In these wares, the potters also used the same ceramics but concentrated so much on the design and the paintings. The style of painting the ceramics in the Meiji era was known as glide on because they painted scenes and images of high-class people in Japanese society in various leisure activities. Unlike the other periods, the ceramics produced in the Meiji era were mainly for export and thus were hardly encountered in Japan.

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