John Baymore at River Bend Pottery

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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.