【Introduction to traditional crafts】~Karatsu ware (Saga Prefecture)~

【Introduction to traditional crafts】~Karatsu ware (Saga Prefecture)~


Karatsu ware



【Production area of Karatsu ware】

Around Karatsu City, Saga Prefecture, Northern Nagasaki Prefecture



【What is Karatsu ware?】

Ceramics produced in the northern part of Nagasaki Prefecture, around Karatsu City in Saga Prefecture.

The phrase “Ichiraku, Niogi, Sankaratsu” has been around since the Azuchi-Momoyama period (about 400-450 years ago).

Since that time, it has gained popularity in the world of tea ceremony, and you can see that it continues to be useful to tea masters as a representative vessel.

In addition, there are about 20 different styles, such as “Picture karatsu”, “Korean karatsu”, and “black karatsu”.


In 1988, it was designated as a traditional craft.



【Features of Karatsu ware】

It is characterized by its earthy and rustic texture, and by its many decorative techniques.

It is popular as a vessel that complements food and flowers because it is made in a simple yet deep style.

In many cases, craftsmen do all the work in one go without dividing the work.


Karatsu ware cherishes the idea of 80% for the creator and 20% for the user.

This is based on the belief that “a work is not completed when it is made, but can be said to be truly completed only when it is used.”



【History of Karatsu ware】

There are currently two theories about when Karatsu ware began.

In 1592, Toyotomi Hideyoshi dispatched troops to Korea, and the theory is that it was made by the Korean craftsmen who brought him to Japan at that time.

And another theory that it was already made around 1580, has been newly emerging from recent research.


It is said that when Karatsu ware began to be made, it was often used on the daily table.

Gradually, Karatsu ware gained popularity for its simplicity and wabi-sabi taste, and established its position as a tea utensil.

About 400 to 450 years ago, during the Azuchi-Momoyama period, it established its position as a tea utensil, and became so well-known that it is said that “pottery is synonymous with Karatsu”.


However, the number of kilns increased after the Edo period, and the mountains fell into disrepair.

The Saga domain began crackdowns to protect the forests, demolished potteries, and more and more potteries were moved to Arita within the same domain.

Due to these influences, the number of potteries in Karatsu will continue to decline.

Although the existence of Karatsu ware is in danger, the technique was restored by Muan Nakazato, a Living National Treasure, and the traditional technique continues to be handed down.

The current number of potteries has recovered to about 70.



【Production process of Karatsu ware】

①Mining pottery clay

In Karatsu ware, the characteristics of the clay appear as they are in the work.

There is even a saying, “The attractiveness of Karatsu ware is determined by the soil.”

After collecting the soil, the first thing to do is scrape it off.

A shaving sickle is used to scrape the soil, and a hammer is used to remove unevenness on the surface of the soil.

It takes a lot of patience, but it is important for producing high-quality pottery and must be done carefully.


②Soil stepping

It is the work of mixing water with the soil that has been scraped and stepping on it.

After the craftsmen step on the clay into a disc shape, they cut it and step on it again.

The “appropriate hardness for making pottery” is exactly the experience and sense of craftsmen, but it is not something that can be acquired overnight.

Craftsmen need to go many times and remember it with their body as a sense.

After completing the sand stepping process, divide it while shaping it into a ball shape.


③Soil kneading

It is a work of carefully kneading the clay that has been molded into a ball shape.

By kneading well, the air contained in the soil is removed and the size of the soil particles is made uniform.

After kneading, shape the clay into a cannonball shape.



There are various molding methods, and the representative ones are as follows.

The pottery is shaped according to the method that best suits the type of pottery you want to make.


・Lathe molding

A technique in which craftsmen mold by touching a rotating potter’s wheel with water on their hands.

The same is true for the electric potter’s wheel, which uses a motor to turn the potter’s wheel, and the kicker’s potter’s wheel, where craftsmen turn the potter’s wheel while kicking it with their feet.



A technique in which clay is piled up in a cylindrical shape while “batting” the inside.

Once it reaches the desired height, it is shaped by hitting it with a tool such as a “Shurei”.



A technique peculiar to old Karatsu.



・Making strings

A technique in which the soil is stretched thin and long like a string and piled up in a ring shape.


※After molding is completed, the hill is shaved and the molded clay is allowed to dry naturally.



In addition to carving, traditional techniques such as “Kushime”, “Zogan”, and “Hakeme” are used to decorate.

After decoration, the objects to be painted are unglazed.


※In some cases, it is unglazed at a low temperature before painting.


⑥Painting and glazing

Painting is generally done with a brush, but some craftsmen use their own fingers or bamboo to paint.

In most cases, vessels are not flat, and it is not possible to redraw them by erasing them with an eraser.

At the time of completion, it is very difficult to express the image exactly as I envisioned it.

As with all the work up to this point, it takes practice and practice.

After the painting is completed, it is dried after being glazed.


⑦Main firing

The dried work is placed in a kiln heated to a high temperature of 1250-1300°C and fired.

The texture of the finished product is completely different depending on the temperature and baking time, so outstanding skills such as many years of experience and intuition are required.



Types of Karatsu ware

Various types of Karatsu ware have been created depending on the soil and technique.

Here are some representative examples.


・Picture Karatsu

referring source:Karatsu ware ONLINE


Karatsu ware is said to be Japan’s first painting.

A representative type of Karatsu ware with a beautiful balance between “pictures of flowers, plants, birds, etc.” and “surrounding blank space”.

A transparent glaze is used.


・Plain Karatsu

referring source:Karatsu ware ONLINE


No painting, only one type of glaze is used for firing.

The simplest type of Karatsu ware.


・Spotted Karatsu

referring source:Karatsu ware ONLINE


By using a cloudy glaze, it is characterized by a milky white color after firing.

It got its name from the speckles that appear on its surface.


・Korean Karatsu

referring source:Karatsu ware ONLINE


By using two types of glaze, it features different color contrast and gradation on the top and bottom and left and right.


・Black Karatsu

referring source:Karatsu ware ONLINE


It is characterized by a blackish color due to firing using a glaze that contains a lot of iron.

The amount of iron, of course, shows various shades depending on the degree of oxidation.


・Mishima Karatsu

referring source:Karatsu ware ONLINE


Patterns such as “flower-shaped embossing” and “line engraving” are characteristic.

The carved parts are filled with different soil, so the pattern looks very prominent.



referring source:Karatsu ware ONLINE


This is a technique in which the base material is half-dried, and is then baked with a white dressing.

In modern times, it was incorporated into Karatsu ware.





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