Takatori ware is well known to practitioners of the tea ceremony, but its relatively limited and specialized production has caused its four hundred year history to be overlooked by many lovers of Japanese ceramics. The various tribulations and triumphs of the Takatori potters are remarkably well documented in a number of historical sources dating from the Edo period (1615-1867), bringing a moving, human side to the story of these elegant wares. Furthermore, archaeological excavation of a majority of the seven Takatori kilnsites, has helped to define the stylistic development of the wares. Thus, both the historical significance and the aesthetic appeal of Takatori ware make it worthy of wider recognition.
As was the case with other high-fired ceramics from southwestern Japan, including Arita (Imari), Satsuma, Hagi and Karatsu, the first makers of Takatori ware were Korean potters who were brought to Japan during and immediately following the Japanese invasions of Korea between 1592 and 1598. Takatori ware was the official ceramic of the Kuroda, rulers of Chikuzen province (now Fukuoka prefecture), for nearly 300 years until the abolition of the domain system in 1871.
The Beginnings of Takatori Ware and the Eimanji Takuma Kiln (ca. 1600 - 1614)
Although most of the Korean potters were brought to Japan as captives, it appears that the first Takatori potter, whose Korean name was Palsan, may have come willingly, since his wife and child were allowed to accompany him and he was given a generous stipend by Kuroda Nagamasa (memorial portrait as a monk, above), the warlord responsible for his arrival. In 1600, Nagamasa and his army of retainers, were awarded the province of Chikuzen, located on the northern coast of Kyushu, as a reward for services rendered in the battle of Sekigahara, in which Tokugawa Ieyasu and his supporters defeated Ishida Mitsunari and the supporters of Hideyoshi's heir, gaining control over the entire country. Soon after, Palsan and his father-in-law, known only by his Japanese name Shinkurô, built a kiln on the eastern border of the province, at the base of Takatori Mountain (east of present-day Nôgata city). Kuroda Nagamasa gave Palsan the family name 'Takatori' after the site of the kiln, and changed his Korean name to the Japanese name of Hachizô.
Today, the site of the first Takatori kiln is known as Eimanji Takuma. The site has been excavated by archaeologists who found that the wares made there by Takatori Hachizô and his helpers were of a dark colored, sandy clay and were covered in simple glazes based on straw ash and wood ash. Many of the pieces were thickly made as a result of the poor fire-resistance of the clay, and were utilitarian in nature, although some wares for tea were fired at Eimanji Takuma as well. The kiln structure was of the 'split-bamboo' type of 'climbing' kiln commonly found in Korea in the sixteenth century and had six chambers.
The Uchigaso Kiln (1614 - 1620s)