The ceramic history of Japan goes back a very long time. The earliest work found
is currently accepted to be dated at about 14,000 years old. This is probably the
oldest claywork found to date anywhere on the Earth. These early Neolithic earthenware
pieces that have been found in excavations, referred to as Jomon, already show a
great sophistication of technical execution as well as aesthetic sense, so the craft
of clayworking was well developed in Japan at a very early time.
Not only does Japanese ceramics have a long history, but it is broad too. The islands
are blessed with copious deposits of diverse types of clays, and pottery making was
quite widespread. Japan is a rugged, volcanic, mountainous country and travel in
early times was arduous. Because of this, each pottery making area developed a very
distinctive style based on local foods and traditions, the available local clay type,
and the kinds of firewood available.
Japanese ceramics was influenced by a unique blend of the multiple factors of war,
trade, cultural, and religious exchanges flowing out of mainland China. These influences
passed through the mediating and transforming influence of the Korean peninsula.
They were eventually fully digested and later emerged as truly Japanese interpretations.
The isolation from the rest of the world that Japan placed itself into for many years
helped to preserve many indigenous traditions well into the 20th century.
At the end of the 15th century AD, Juko Murata established strict rituals for the
drinking of tea, and by so doing, started a practice that would have a profound influence
on the ceramics of Japan. By the late 16th century AD, the impact of the formal tea
ceremony (Chado= "The way of tea") on Japanese ceramics resulted in the ceramic arts
rising to the most revered of art forms in the country.
This strong influence continues to this day. Handcrafted pottery in Japan is looked
at as a fine art form the equal of painting and sculpture, exhibitions of clayworks
are frequent, and the populace tends to routinely use handcrafted works in their
day-to-day lives. Being a professional potter in Japan is a highly respected and
often highly profitable profession.
As a result of this reverence for claywork (yakimono), pricing for contemporary handcrafted
Japanese pottery is very different from that here in the USA. For example, a small
handcrafted yunomi, a day-to-day tea cup about half the size of an American coffee
mug, typically costs about the equivalent of $40.00 (Y4000). A yunomi by a master
potter like Shimaoka Tatsuzo will typically cost about $800.00 to $1000.00.