tobe yaki

Tobe ware (Tobe yaki): Discovering Beauty from One of Japanese Pottery

#Tobe town

What is Tobe ware?

Tobe-yaki is the general term for porcelain produced in Tobe Town, Iyo County, Ehime Prefecture. It is said to be the best pottery village in Shikoku, and production began about 250 years ago. Tobe ware has a beautiful white porcelain surface with blue underglaze blue, and is used as tableware, flower vases, cups, and other practical daily utensils. It is sturdier and heavier than porcelain from other kilns. Its thick, chunky form is also characteristic, and it is highly valued for daily use because it is resistant to cracking and chipping. The fact that the tradition of handmade and handwritten work is maintained is one of the points that make it highly valued.

History of Tobe ware

The history of Tobe ware was born from the topography of the region, which was blessed with pottery making, and the desire of the people of the time to overcome the difficulties of the region.

Kofun - Heian Period: Beginning of Pottery in the Tobe Area

It is said that "Tobe-yaki" originated in the Edo period (1603-1867), but pottery was actively produced in the Tobe area before that. The slopes of the mountains in the Tobe area were ideal for building kilns, and the abundance of wood for fuel led to the production of pottery in the region. The advantage of this topography was that the stream running down the slope was suitable for setting up a water wheel, which was later actively used to crush the raw material, whetstone, into pottery clay. In fact, many kiln sites of Sue ware from the 6th~7th century have been found in the Ogeta burial mound, indicating that the history of pottery had begun.

Edo Period: Production of Tobe Ware and Porcelain Begins

The production of "Tobe-yaki" porcelain, which continues to this day, began in the mid-Edo period.
The reason for this was that Yasutoki Kato, the feudal lord of the time, ordered the production of porcelain as a special product to help the domain recover from its financial difficulties. The region's specialty was a type of whetstone called Iyoto, which was very popular in the region. While the production of these whetstones was thriving, the clan at the time was struggling to dispose of the waste produced when the whetstones were cut.

The disposal of grinding stone shavings was such hard work that the villagers, who were forced to bear this burden, even asked the clan to exempt them from the obligation to do so.
The solution to this problem of grinding stone waste disposal and financial difficulties was to use grinding stone waste as a raw material for porcelain and sell it as a specialty product.
The person who came up with this idea was Jihei Izumiya, a whetstone wholesaler in Osaka, who was then coordinating the sales of Iyoto. As soon as Jihei Izumiya learned that Amakusa whetstones were being used to make porcelain, he advised the clan to produce porcelain using Iyoto shavings.
The clan adopted this groundbreaking idea, and the lord of the clan began production of Tobe ware using whetstone shavings as the raw material.

Although the initial production was extremely difficult, as evidenced by the large cracks that appeared on the surface during firing, after repeated trial and error, in 1777, white porcelain ware was finally successfully fired. At that time, there was no exchange with other clans to avoid the outflow of technology, and the only way to produce porcelain was to use only their own techniques, so one can imagine the tremendous effort that went into the production. Since that time, the techniques of Tobe ware have been passed down to the present day through continuous technical improvements.

Taisho - Showa Period: A Period of Temporary Decline but Techniques Reevaluated

From the Taisho to the early Showa period, the number of potteries and wholesalers decreased due to the recession and war, and production dropped sharply. At this time, new techniques were introduced one after another in areas such as Seto and Mino, including coal-fired kilns, mechanical potteries, and painting using copper plate printing instead of brush strokes.
It was thought that Tobe ware was left behind in these technological innovations, but the situation changed after the war.
The folk art movement led by Yanagi Muneyoshi, Bernard Leach, Hamada Shoji, and others led to a reevaluation of Tobe ware, which had been produced by hand. This movement to find beauty in everyday items produced by hand was a tailwind for Tobe ware, and today there are about 100 potteries that continue to produce unique pieces while preserving tradition.

Modernity: The Beauty of Modernity and Traditional Techniques

After overcoming hardships, Tobe ware was designated as a traditional national craft in 1976.
Traditional techniques are still being passed down today, but recently women and young potters have been active in the industry, and successors are being nurtured. Tobe ware combines the beauty of everyday use with modern coloring and design and traditional techniques.
It is also very practical porcelain, so it would be good to incorporate it into daily life.

Characteristics of Tobe ware

The characteristic of Tobe ware, which combines history and practicality, is its beautiful white porcelain surface that stands out as the light passes through it. The blue patterns on the porcelain are reflected in dishes, vases, cups, etc., making them gorgeous. It is also convenient and durable enough to withstand microwave ovens and dishwashers, making it extremely easy to use as porcelain for everyday use.
How durable it is is so strong that it is also called "fighting ware," based on the story that it does not break even when thrown at a couple in a quarrel. Please note that we do not recommend throwing the tableware in a quarrel between husband and wife.

The four types of Tobe ware designated as traditional crafts are white porcelain, some-tone porcelain, celadon porcelain, and tenmoku (iron glaze).

Tobe Town Tourism Association

Each type has a different flavor, so it is possible to enjoy each type of Tobe ware in its own way.