Kyo-ware/Kiyomizu-ware is a type of pottery produced in the Kyoto area. Originally, Kyo-ware was a general term for all pottery produced in Kyoto, while Kiyomizu ware was a subcategory, referring to products traditionally made in the direct vicinity of Kiyomizu temple. Today, the terms are used interchangeably to refer to all pottery produced in Kyoto. Since Kyoto was once the capital of Japan, the wares hold a sense of luxury and are known for being grand and extraordinarily ornate. Today, it is a Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry-designated traditional Japanese craft.
As the name itself suggests, Kyo-ware originated in the Kyoto area, the center of Japan until the capital moved to Tokyo. Kyo-ware was first created during the Nara and Heian periods (710-1185) and production grew as tea ceremonies became increasingly popular during the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573-1600). Blessed with the presence of the Imperial family, nobility and shrines and temples that fostered its court culture, Kyoto attracted the best materials and tools, and the most talented craftsmen. It was at the beginning of the Edo period (1603-1868), when highly skilled artisans of this craft started to appear. The artists that are considered the fathers of Kyo Ware are Ninsei Nonomura and Kenzan Ogata.
Ninsei was originally from the village of Nono in Kuwata Province in Tango (present day Northern Kyoto). He went to Kyoto and received permission to establish a pottery workshop in front of the Ninna-ji temple complex at Omuro. His talent matured under the guidance of renowned tea ceremony master Sowa Kanamori. He was acclaimed for his lathing technique, lustrous pictures and the beauty of his colorful and elegantly shaped ceramics.
Kenzan was born as Shinsei, the third son of the Ogata Family, which ran a high-class clothing shop in Kariganeya, Kyoto. His elder brother was the renowned painter Korin. Kenzan led a secluded life, learning Japanese and Chinese poetry, and studying Zen Buddhism. He was inspired by Ninsei and learned the art of pottery from him. He started a kiln in Narutaki, Rakusei, which is when he named himself “Kenzan” (northwest mountain), because, it is said, his kiln was in the northwest of Kyoto. Although Kenzan learned the art of pottery from Ninsei, he tried to create his own original style of pottery, using the painting technique of his brother Korin. The brothers often collaborated, producing ware that combined Korin’s painting and Kenzan’s poems.
Other master craftsmen that gained popularity during the latter part of the Edo period are: Eisan Okuda, Mokubei Aoki, Douhachi Ninnami and Hozen Eiraku.
When the Meiji Era began in 1868 and the capital moved from Kyoto to Tokyo, Kyo ware/Kiyomizu ware started declining. However, Kyo ware artisans managed to survive by exporting porcelain to Europe and the United States, where Japonisme was gaining popularity. What these potters have in common is that while they used the Chinese, Korean and Japanese techniques and styles gained over many generations, they also tried to add their own personal touch, which led to the birth of many different styles and shapes of Kyo ware.
The main characteristic of these wares is that unlike the Imari-Arita style, it essentially has no rules. Kyo ware is a fusion of all techniques: artisans are free to use whatever clay, potter’s stone, or technique that they like. That’s why every piece is a uniquely individual expression of the artist.
Although these wares may boast the most different colors, the harmonious combination of red and gold is peculiar to Kyo Ware. Another popular technique is called “Some-tsuke” (染付, "apply dye)", a Japanese term referring to the technique of decorating ceramics with brush-painted designs in underglaze cobalt blue on a white ground.