Home > Kyoto This Month > Kyoto's Kiyomizu Ceramics


Kyoto's Kiyomizu Ceramics
A thriving expression of traditional beauty

Elegant shapes, graceful design, and pure, intense colors – these are the qualities that have drawn generation after generation to Kyoto's Kiyomizu yaki ceramic ware. Born in the area around Kiyomizu-dera Temple which sits nestled in the Higashiyama hills on the eastern side of Kyoto. Kiyomizu yaki has had a marked impact on the culture of Kyoto and Japan, and is admired and collected around the world.

The History of Kiyomizu yaki
Kiyomizu yaki traces its origins to the 5th century, and has evolved and changed over many centuries. Colors were introduced in the Muromachi period (1338-1573), and were followed some years later by overglazing techniques to give an added luster to items after firing. In the late Edo period (1600-1868), a momentous change took place: the potters of Kiyomizu shifted from earthenware to Chinese-style porcelain. Modern Kiyomizu yaki is a product of all these innovations, and is characterized by penetrating blue, yellow, and green colors and by intricate and refined designs. It is also famous for its unmatched durability.

Only a few traditional wood-fired noborigama kilns remain around Kiyomizu-dera Temple. Indeed, the area is no longer the center of Kiyomizu yaki production, although there are still many fine shops in the winding streets that lead to the temple. Some 20 years ago, most of the potters and kilns moved into Yamashina on the other side of the Higashiyama hills. The new Kiyomizu Pottery Complex not only gave the potters spacious new workshops, but also allowed the introduction of more efficient gas-fired furnaces to replace the traditional wood burning kilns.

Toki Matsuri Festival
Kyoto's annual pottery market

As part of the preparations for Obon (Festival for the Dead) the ceramic ritual dishes used on the family altar are changed for new ones. This is the origin of the Toki Matsuri, a massive outdoor ceramic event that extends down both sides of Gojo Street between the river and Higashioji from August 7th to the 10th. During Toki Matsuri, people come to buy new offering plates and dishes for their family altar and most likely for the gravestones as well. Of course, thousands come simply to look for bargains and take part in the fun. In the last several hundred years, this event has developed into a giant bargain sale for ceramics produced by nationally famous kilns in the Kiyomizu area. You are sure to find something worth buying at this sale. And, even if you don't find something, it is a great opportunity to watch people and sense the coming days of Obon. Another area to see things on sale for the preparation of Obon is in the area of Matsubara-dori, west of Higashioji around Rokudo Chinno-ji Temple (a short walk to the west and a little north of Gojo and the river). Here you can see many religious articles on display and for sale, which are used in some way for ancestor worship. These include plain stands and trays made of wood for Obon offerings, candles, incense, and special snacks for the spirits. At this temple, from the 8th to the 10th, a special bell ringing ceremony is held to welcome the spirits. The sound of this bell is said to reach the depths of hell.

Expressing the essence of Kiyomizu Ceramics
Roku Roku Dou

Located in the middle of bustling Sannenzaka Street close to Kiyomikzu Temple, Roku Roku Dou has sold authentic Kyoto ceramic works of beauty and excellence since 1874. The shop owners especially love to welcome people who are interested in learning more about the history and beauty of Kiyomizu ceramics. From traditional Kyoto ceramics to novel works by up-and-coming artists, Roku Roku Dou specializes in the most sophisticated forms of pottery expression.

Roku Roku Dou has a fine tea ceremony room behind the shop where special exhibitions are held. Here you can see works by the world-famous potter Sueharu Fukami, who has won many prizes for his celadon wares, including an international ceramic exhibition in Faenza, Italy. One of his works is prominently displayed in the State Guest House in the grounds of the Kyoto Imperial Palace compound. Fukami's works are very difficult to see in a private setting, and for those who love fine ceramics this is a truly special opportunity.

The present owner of Roku Roku Dou, who is extremely knowledgeable about the aesthetics and culture of Kyoto, speaks English and loves to help foreigners deepen their understanding of Japan. Visit Roku Roku Dou and learn more about Kyoto and its beautiful culture. To make an appointment, visit their website or enquire directly (English OK); Tel: 525-0066; info@rokuroku.net. For Roku Roku Dou location details, and other ceramic shop information, see pg.