The Japanese master ceramists

The art of pottery in Japan extends from the Neolithic period with Jōmon pottery, through Chinese and Korean influences in later periods, to the sophistication of the Edo period with porcelain for export and the refinement of ceramic art in the Meiji period.

Ceramists such as Tanaka Chōjirō who is attributed with the creation of Raku ceramics. The Edo-period artists Hon’ami Kōetsu and Ogata Kenzan, as well as Meiji period innovators such as Makuzu Kozan, have been instrumental in the development and evolution of Japanese ceramics, combining traditional techniques with artistic innovations.

Japan’s living national treasures

Japanese master ceramicists, recognized as “Living National Treasures,” are guardians of a rich cultural heritage dating back centuries. This title, awarded by the Japanese government, recognizes individuals who have achieved exceptional mastery in their respective arts or crafts, including ceramics. These masters not only honor traditional ceramic techniques, but also reinvent them, pushing their medium forward while preserving their country’s cultural heritage in the process.

The “Living National Treasure” designation can be awarded to individuals, collectives or preservation groups that have mastered an art or craft, where individual character is not emphasized. It is an unusual approach to cultural preservation that provides substantial support, including a special annual grant from the Japanese government to help artisans continue their work and train successors.

The best works in Japanese ceramics

Among the featured potters is Ito Sekisui V, who hails from a Japanese ceramic dynasty that has been forging red clay pots, or “mumyōi,” for 14 generations. The clay, rich in ferric oxide, is collected from the gold mines of Sado Island, where Sekisui V continues to operate the family kiln, exploring idiosyncratic firing and glazing techniques.

Manji Inoue, born and raised in the city of Arita, known for its long history of pottery production dating back to the 17th century, is another outstanding master ceramicist. After serving in the Japanese Navy, Inoue devoted himself entirely to continuing the tradition of Arita ceramics, developing an elegant, almost minimalist style, characterized by sinuous curves and a distinctive translucent green light in his glazes.

These artists, along with others such as Isezaki Jun, Nakajima Hiroshi and Imaizumi Imaemon XIV, are examples of how Japan’s Living National Treasures keep ceramic tradition alive, while injecting innovation and modernity into their works. Each, in their own way, reflects Japan’s commitment to preserving its intangible cultural heritage, ensuring that ancestral ceramic techniques and styles not only survive, but also evolve for future generations.

The list of ceramists currently considered living treasures is:

  1. Kiyoshi Hara
  2. Osamu Suzuki
  3. Jun Isezaki
  4. Manji Inoue
  5. Akihiro Maeta
  6. Hiroshi Nakashima
  7. Minori Yoshita
  8. Sekisui Itō V
  9. Kōzō Katō

List of Japanese master ceramists

You have here the most renowned masters of Japanese pottery

Through each name in this drop-down list you can reach an article dedicated to the life and work of each artist.

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