Karatsu ware is the type of pottery originated from today’s eastern Saga Prefecture and northern Nagasaki Prefecture. It was a common understanding that ceramics such as Imari (porcelain) and Karatsu (pottery) had been started by potters who were brought to Japan from the Korean Peninsula during Hideyoshi Toyotomi’s campaign to the Korean Peninsula. However, based on recent researches, there is a new theory that Karatsu ware started during the 1580s – earlier than the campaign to the Korean Peninsula.
Karatsu ware originally focused on everyday items, such as dinner plates and water jars. But wabi tea men took liking to Karatsu ware’s characteristically simple and unpretentious beauty. During the Momoyama Period, many me’ibutsu (famous or renowned utensils) were produced, and even today, Karatsu is treasured as one of the three types of pottery most beloved by tea practitioners: “First, Raku, second, Hagi, third, Karatsu.”
During the Edo Period, many kilns sprung up, thus crowding mountainsides and threatening their environment. The Government of the Saga Province took actions to consolidate kilns in the Arita region, and consequently many Karatsu kilns were destroyed. However, owing to its reputation as tea utensils, Karatsu ware continued as a “goyo’u gama” (a kiln operated directly by the lord of the province) for producing tea utensils. At the kiln, gifts to the Shogunate Government were produced, and the pottery was referred to as “Kenjo’u Karatsu” (Karatsu for offering).
Various factors, such as losing the Provincial Government’s protection as a result of the Me’iji Restoration, and Arita and other porcelain ware becomng dominant, contributed to the decline of Karatsu ware. A living national treasure, Mr. Mu’an Nagazato, brought back the ancient Karatsu technique of “tatakizukuri,” and resurrected the life of Karatsu ware. “Tatakizukuri” originated in Korea. A vessel is created by coiling up a string of clay. To support the vessel, a board is inserted inside, and the exterior surface is pounded with another board to shape the vessel into a desired form. The pounding board has protrusions, and the marks left on the vessel’s surface create a pattern.
There are many varieties among Karatsu ware. Generally speaking, the soil has rough texture. It is hard and contains iron, and after being fired, it turns dark gray. Particularly famous are:
- Egaratsu: Pictures (e; 絵) of birds, flowers, plants, etc. are drawn with ferric solution on the surface, which is then coated with a clear-finishing glaze, such as gray glaze.
- Madaragaratsu: Feldspars and straw ashes are used in the firing, which causes iron in the clay to turn black, blue and other colors, thus creating spots (madara; 斑).
- Cho’usen Karatsu: Iron glaze, which turns black, and straw ash glaze, which turns white, are applied from the opposite directions, thus creating an overlapping draping pattern.
Karatsu ware is designated as one of “Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Designated Traditional Crafts.”
唐津平茶碗・Karatsu hirajawan (flat chawan)