The Guide to Tokoname Tea ware: Where Tradition and Tea Converge

The Guide to Tokoname Tea ware: Where Tradition and Tea Converge

Tokoname ware has a wide variety of items such as teapots, bonsai pots, and beckoning cats.This section introduces Tokoname yaki, which boasts the oldest history in Japan but is still used for a wide range of purposes in modern times.

What is Tokoname ware?

Tokoname ware is ceramics produced in Tokoname City on the Chita Peninsula in Aichi Prefecture, which is located about 2 hours and 30 minutes by car from Osaka. It is said to be the oldest of the Six Ancient Kilns in Japan, and has been designated as a traditional craft by the government. Tokoname ware has been closely related to our daily lives, being used for daily utensils such as jars and pots, small crafts such as teapots, tea sets, and flower vases in the old days, and tiles and sanitary ware in the modern age.

Tokoname, a town of pottery

Facing Ise Bay, Tokoname City is called "Pottery town", a town of rolling hills and black walls, as is typical of a pottery town. The streets are characterized by zodiac pottery and animal pottery placed along the roadsides, and earthenware pipes, shochu bottles, and ceramic plates piled or embedded in the streets. Tokoname is a place name meaning "always slippery," and care should be taken because the slopes are steep and steep with many rocky soil beds, making it slippery. Tokoname ware made in Tokoname, which can be called a town of pottery, can be said to be pottery that mixes the emotion of a long history with the convenience of everyday use.

Characteristics of Tokoname ware

Tokoname ware is characterized by its use of iron-rich clay from the Chita Peninsula. Taking advantage of this property, the reddish coloring of the iron is called "Shudei," and it is the color of the pottery that characterizes Tokoname ware.

Various products such as tea bowls and flowerpots are made, and among them, Kyusu (teapots) are still popular today because the iron content is said to mellow the bitterness and astringency of tea. It feels right at home as something to be used every day, and the more you use it, the more it tastes good.

There are many kilns in the hilly areas of the Chita Peninsula, and craftsmen with traditional skills have been producing these products since ancient times. Craftsmen who produce high quality products have passed down their skills and techniques, such as "hand-hineri molding," throughout the 1,000-year history of the kilns. Among the hand-hineri molding techniques used since the Heian period (794-1185), "yoriko-zukuri," in which thick strings of clay are piled up and molded, is the oldest technique used to make large products such as large jars and turtles.

Other techniques include "oshi-shaped molding" for making bonsai pots, "rokuro molding" using an electric rokuro, and the "mo-gake decoration technique" in which "algae" from the coastal areas of the Chita Peninsula is baked closely together to form a pattern.

In carving, a type of decoration, the technique of carving a design into the base of a vase or teapot with a single knife is excellent, and it is said that it can only be mastered over a long period of time. Some craftsmen are qualified as "traditional craftsmen" with the aim of reviving the traditional craft industry by passing on these techniques and skills, thus passing the baton to the future.

History of Tokoname ware

The history of Tokoname ware dates back about 1000 years to the end of the Heian Period. During the Heian period, religious objects such as sansuji pots, which were used to store sutra manuscripts, were the main items produced. During the Kamakura and Muromachi periods, the majority of pots and jars were used for daily utensils, but the pottery industry declined temporarily during the Azuchi-Momoyama period, when Oda Nobunaga was active, due to the prohibition of the construction of kilns outside of Seto in the Owari territory. Tokoname was a territory of Owari.*

*Tokoname was included in the territory of Owari.

In the Edo period (1603-1867), Tokoname ware production became active again, and the popularity of sencha (green tea), which was popular among the literati, led to the creation of Kyusu (teapots) made of vermilion, white, and fire-colored clay, which took advantage of the characteristics of the clay. During the Meiji and Taisho periods (1868-1912), many master craftsmen began to produce "Shudei Kyusu" (red clay teapot), and demand for these teapots increased rapidly, establishing the foundation of Tokoname ware as we know it today.

What is a Shudei Kyusu?

tokoname tea ware
Tokoname tea ware

Shudei Kyusu, a national traditional handicraft, is known as a representative Tokoname ware. It is said that Jumon I, Chozo I, and others began making this tea container with a handle for making sencha (green tea) in the late Edo period (1603-1868). The iron-rich clay produced in Tokoname is ochre-colored before firing, but when fired in a kiln, the heat of the kiln changes the iron oxide and gives it a unique vermilion color. Shudei Kyusu are made with a very thin wall, considering the weight when you hold it in your hand and pour tea into it. The body of the Kyusu is often carved with dragon or flower patterns, which are often favored by the literati. The Kyusu is closely connected to the lives of Japanese people who enjoy tea, and it provides a momentary sense of peace and tranquility.

Three Representative Tokoname Potteries

In Tokoname, many potteries are still producing ceramics, mainly Kyusu (teapots) and daily necessities.Here we introduce some representative Tokoname potteries.


Ukokogama is a Tokoname ware company that focuses on the production of Kyusu.They produce both conventional Kyusu and more modern Kyusu that are easier to use.Conventional Kyusu are equipped with a handmade ceramic tea strainer inside the spout to prevent tea grounds from pouring into the tea bowl when brewing tea.

However, ceramic tea strainers are not suitable for tea leaves as fine as those of deep steamed tea.This allows the tea leaves to swim around inside the container, which improves the flow of tea, and also prevents the tea leaves from blocking the spout.This kind of attention to detail in tea making is what makes Tokoname-yaki Kyusu evolve day by day.

Koushin Kiln

Kou-shin-gama is a kiln hosted by Mr. Masaomi Kato, who has received numerous awards, including the Prime Minister's Award.Mr. Tadaomi Kato produces "marble Kyusu," which reproduces a marble-like pattern on a vessel based on one of the traditional techniques of Tokoname ware, "mugake," in which seaweed algae is hung over the vessel and fired so that its pattern is reflected on the vessel.

This is a very time-consuming process that requires three times baking to produce this dignified appearance and coloring.The tea strainer is also made larger than a typical Tokoname Kyusu to prevent the lid from falling off while pouring tea, which reduces the risk of tea clogging and is popular for its ease of use.

Yamagen Toen

Yamagen Toen has successfully adapted its cultivated Tokoname ware techniques to the current era and developed the cute and functional TOKONAME series. With a sense of crisis over Tokoname's kilns, which have been reduced to less than one-third of their original size since the Showa period, Yamagen launched the TOKONAME series to make Tokoname ware that would fit in with everyday life and attract the interest of children, who are the future of Tokoname.

Tokoname ware in the TOKONAME series is mainly light pastel colors, rather than the traditional vermilion, and is suited to modern lifestyles. Tokoname jars seem to have been used since ancient times as storage tools for sake, water, and grain, and were transported across the country by sea. This kiln makes Tokoname ware while adapting the traditional techniques of the time when the kiln was founded to the needs of the modern age.