Japan is famous for their wide array of ceramics. The popular tourist destinations such as Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto offer foreign visitors with lovely souvenir plates, bowls, and the like but only showcase a small percentage of the country’s different types of ancient pottery. In fact, more than 50% of Japanese pottery can actually be found outside of these urban cities, particularly in an area known as Mino at the Gifu Prefecture.
An Overview of Mino Province of the Gifu Prefecture in Japan
The Gifu Prefecture is majorly made up of two old provinces known as Hida and Mino. The province of Hida is located up north and features tall mountains, while the southern province, Mino, mostly consists of vast plains with arable soil. These provinces are further divided into five unofficial regions known as Hida, Tono, Chuno, Gifu, and Seino, whose borders follow loose definitions.
Mino, or also known as Noshu, played an important role in political and military matters aimed towards Kyoto and Tokaido. It was initially ruled by the Toki clan during the Kamakura and Muromachi Periods before being governed by Oda Nobunaga in the Azuchi Period.
The western edge of the region also served as the setting for the Battle of Sekigahara, a decisive event that transpired on October 21, 1600, which eventually led to the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate.
Ceramics and Pottery in Mino, Japan
Other than its rich history, Mino is also known for housing some of Japan’s ancient traditional goods including pottery, or better known as Mino Ware or Mino Yaki. This type of Japanese pottery dates back over a thousand years ago and is believed to have been developed in the Toki and Minokamo towns.
Before the Azuchi-Momoyama Period, craftsmen from the area of Seto fled to and settled in the Mino region to escape the brutalities of war. The lords of Toki town gladly took them under their protection, allowing the craftsmen to continue on with their lives in their new homes.
The art of ceramics and pottery was introduced to the district by Kato Yosabei. His sons also followed in his footsteps and produced other forms of pottery in the area. The craft was able to gain further recognition when tea ceremony crockeries were developed.
Over time, several variations of Mino ware were formed, one of which was produced under the guidance of Lord Furuta Oribe. Any bowl, pot, tea vessel, plate, or utensil that featured the green style were known as Oribe ware, which many feudal lords found highly admirable.
During the Edo Period, a big percentage of Mino ware was designed to address the daily necessities of the community instead of merely serving as decorative pieces. Come the Meiji Period when mass production was introduced to Japan, Mino ware easily became available nationwide and eventually on an international scale.
The Different Kinds of Mino Ware (Mino Yaki) in Japan – Bowls, Plates, Etc.
Mino ware comes in four distinct styles that have been developed throughout the centuries. Each of these variations is made using a certain kiln and method that greatly contribute to its resulting appearance.
Kizeto was supposedly developed in the Seto area in the ancient times of Japan hence its name. However, it was soon discovered that kizeto actually originated in Mino during the Momoyama Period, as supported by old kiln traces found within the region.
This type of Mino ware features a lot of yellow, which have led many to call it yellow pottery. Ancient kizeto came in the form of plates, bowls, incense containers, and flower vases. Green and brown colors are often used to decorate kizeto pottery.
Setoguro pottery majorly makes use of the color black, which craftsmen are able to draw out by firing the materials in large kilns then rapidly cooling them down. Similar to kizeto, the name of this kind of Mino ware is derived from the mistaken belief that it was originally developed in the Seto area. However, setoguro differs from kizeto in terms of form; only bowls are produced from this variation.
Shino pottery is made by firing the feldspar-glazed materials at low temperatures for long periods of time before slowly cooling them. The glaze, known as choseki-yu or shino-yu, produce thick crawling patterns during the firing process.
The most common forms that this kind of Mino ware comes in include tea utensils, dishes, and bowls that are thick but lightweight. The base color used for shino pieces is white, which usually ends up with scorch marks.
This form of pottery has its own subcategories which differ in firing, glazing, and decorating methods:
- Muji Shino
Muji Shino refers to plain shino pottery items that are not decorated with any pictures or patterns. Only the lip or corners of the item feature a red color, which is produced by the thin coating of choseki-yu.
During the early years of shino pottery, this kind of style was very common. However, production of this style gradually decreased as decorated shino pieces started emerging.
E-Shino is also known as picture shino, given its use of brushed patterns or pictures. Unlike other styles, this kind of shino pottery makes use of the glaze after the piece has been formed and decorated, which creates an illusion of floating colors.
Some of the most popular designs painted on e-shino pieces include flowers, mountains, grass, and geometric patterns. There are also a few items that feature short phrases or poems painted on them.
- Beni Shino
Beni Shino refers to pottery items that feature red patterns. This kind of shino is made by using red clay to decorate the piece and coating all of it with a light layer of choseki-yu. As such, it also goes by the name Crimson Shino.
- Aka Shino
Aka Shino, or red shino, features red scorch patterns produced by a thin coating of choseki-yu on top of an oni-ita clay slip, which is applied over the entire piece. The atmosphere of the kiln greatly contributes to the reaction of the slip and coating.
- Nezumi Shino
Nezumi Shino is the gray counterpart of Aka Shino. A piece of pottery is covered with oni-ita clay then coated with choseki-yu before firing. Given the correct kiln conditions, the ending result features a white base with a gray overglaze. In some cases, the gray patterns have a subtle hint of purple, which is considered to be a highly valuable effect.
- Neriage Shino
Neriage Shino is one of the most prized types of shino pottery. It is also referred to as marbled shino and makes use of white and red clay. These clays are mixed together and coated with choseki-yu before firing. Afterward, the resulting piece features white and black layers.
Other countries such as Korea and China also make use of this technique. As such, it is believed that neriage shino was developed during the trading transactions of Japan and the two countries.
Oribe dates back to the start of the 17th century when pottery was fired in connected kilns in the Mino province. As previously mentioned, this type of Mino ware was influenced by Furuta Oribe, who was quite fond of the traditional tea ceremony. The defining characteristic of oribe pottery is the presence of a green glaze.
Similar to shino, oribe also has its own set of subcategories that differ with each other in terms of style:
- Aka Oribe
Aka Oribe, or Red Oribe, makes use of red clay painted with a white slip. After firing, the resulting piece is decorated with patterns using iron. Common forms of aka oribe include plates, incense boxes, dishes, small bowls, and chawan (tea bowls).
- Oribe Guro
Oribe Guro refers to pottery items that feature a majorly black glaze produced by rapidly cooling the piece after firing. There are also brown variations of this type which is produced by leaving the piece of pottery to slowly cool in the kiln, resulting in a slightly distorted shape. A lot of tea bowls fall under this kind of oribe pottery.
Kuro-Oribe is also known as black oribe, given its use of the same glaze used for oribe guro. However, the black glaze on this kind of pottery only appears in sections, alongside a white glaze.
- Shino Oribe
Shion Oribe resembles muji shino in terms of its plain white appearance. However, it features thinner walls and harder material than muji shino. Furthermore, it does not carry any other colors on its lip or corners.
E-Oribe, also known as Oribe Sometsuke, refers to printed oribe. Before firing, ash is added to the feldspar glaze which produced a transparent illusion similar to glass. This makes the iron decorations of the piece stand out and seem as though they were processed by a special printing machine.
- So Oribe
So Oribe features a uniform glaze of green all over. Depending on the amount of choseki-yu used to coat it before firing, so oribe pieces may carry some scorch marks or patterns.
A City Guide to Mino, Japan for Tourist Groups
Pottery, porcelain, and ceramic items are not the only things that Mino has to offer. Tourists planning a trip to the area must make it a point to head on to Mino Province’s cities and enjoy spectacular, historical, gastronomical, and cultural activities such as:
Sightseeing, History, and Culture
Udatsu refers to an architectural design incorporated on both ends of a roof to serve as a firewall. Wealthy merchants used this design as a means to showcase their refinement and wealth to the public. There was a time that almost all structures in the province featured udatsu but gradually disappeared as the centuries went by.
At present, there are still a few houses and shops in the areas of Izumi, Motozumi, Aioi, and Tokiwa that carry the udatsu design, some of which have been designated as Important Cultural Properties of Japan. These places include the Kosaka Residence, Yamada Residence, Kato Residence, Okasen Inn, Furuta Residence, Watanabe Residence, Furukawa Residence, Jidaiken, and Me-no-ji Streets,
- Rokuon Temple Jizo Shrine
The Rokuon Temple Jizo Shrine is popular for its six-sided pagoda, situated on an old road that is believed to guarantee the safety of visitors and travelers.
- Oyada Shrine
The Oyada Shrine dates back to the Edo Period and features flamboyant architectural designs. Furthermore, its structures and halls are decorated with colors and intricate carvings. The area is particularly lovely during the spring (March-April) and autumn seasons (September-November) when the leaves of its more than 3,000 maple trees showcase vivid colors.
- Chozo Temple
The Chozo Temple is the oldest Buddhist temple in the central city of Mino. It is a designated Important Cultural Property of Japan and is among the must-visit destinations of the Gifu Prefecture.
- Mino Bridge
The Mino Bride is one of the oldest suspension bridges in Japan. It features a bright red coating of paint and crosses the Nagara River from the northern part of Mino to the west side of Mt. Ogura. It measures 113 meters in length and 3.1 meters in width. The bridge has a total span of 116 meters.
- Kawaminato Lighthouse
The Kawaminato Lighthouse, or also known as Kozuchi Minato, is situated along the coast of the Nagara River. During the Edo and Meiji Periods, the area served as the main center for transporting and distribution regional goods. Operations eventually stopped when train systems were developed by the 44th year of the Meiji Period.
There is shrine known as Sumiyoshi Shrine located near the lighthouse which originally served as a place where people could visit and pray for the safety of the boats.
Food and Souvenirs
- Wild Boar Nabe
Wild Boar Nabe refers to a soup dish that consists of a miso broth, wild boar meat, and different kinds of vegetables. The wild boar comes from the mountains surrounding Mino. According to locals, its meat has a soft texture and gentle smell.
- Freshwater Trout
The Nagara River located on the north side of Mino has an abundance of freshwater trout. As such, many cities and towns of the province serve dishes that make use of the fish. Tourists can also buy dried freshwater trout as an edible souvenir.
The province of Mino produces a lot of persimmon items made by local farming women. Foreign travelers can choose to purchase persimmon paste, persimmon sherbet, persimmon jam, and dried persimmons at local stores or tourism offices.
- Souvenir Products
Tourists may purchase souvenir items such as ceramics, pottery, paper, matcha, sweets, and more at specialty stores and retail outlets within the province. The most popular places for souvenir shopping include the Michikusa-Kan Local Product Market, Michi-no-Eki Mino Niwaka Tea House, and Banya.
- Pottery Making
A trip to Mino would not be complete without making pottery. A popular place where tourists can learn how to create their own pottery pieces through the guidance of professional potters is the Yakimono Kyoushitsu Mori no Tsuchi.
Here, visitors can avail of a 2-hours course, exclusive of clay which is priced at 50 yen/gram, for just 1,000 yen. For those who want to spend the night, there is also a package available for 10,000 yen which allows guests to stay at a nearby traditional Japanese home.