Antique Onta Ware Chawan

Potter: Onta Village

Approximate size: W4.5″ by H3.1″ or 11.5 by 8.0 cm

This special chawan was made in the village of Onta, which is found in the vicinity of Hita City, Oita prefecture, Japan. Half cylinder shape and thrown on a wheel, this bowl has a one of a kind ash glaze with much variation in colour, gradation and density throughout. A unique piece from this special village. From the aged box my estimate would be early Meiji or late Edo period. Most Onta ware that is made more recently is considerably different from this chawan.

Onta Village is a unique place in many ways, consisting of only 10 families in total who are responsible for the production and continuation of Onta yaki. The village is a tightly-knit community, with families of potters going back generations. The work such as the purification of the earth and creation of the clay is done by the women, while men are responsible for actually creating the wares. Pieces are never signed by an individual but only with the sign of the Onta village. This is to signify that the production of a single vessel was the combined work of the community, not just one person.

Onta yaki was started in the mid Edo Shogunate with the assistance of several Koishiwara potters and handed down through oral traditions within a very limited number of families.

If you were to visit Onta Village, you wouldn’t see any modern machinery being used for the production of Onta yaki. From start to finish the process consists of manual labor, still done the traditional way. Think of sourcing, sifting, processing and preparation of the clay even before a single cup can be made.

Onta ware was inscribed by the national government as an Intangible Cultural Property in 1995

Onta yaki became widely known during the late Taisho and early Showa period. The main reason for this was the adoption of 2 specific techniques named Tobikanna and Uchi-hakeme and help from Muneyoshi Yanagi.

Tobikanna or jumping iron – the technique of creating chatter markings using a specialized metal tool

In practice the tobikanna is held over an object that is slip-covered and dried thoroughly and while the piece rotates on the wheel, the potter makes contact with the tool on the surface. The blade carves into the top layer and creates patterns while jumping from place to place, creating circular scatter markings and patterns. Its simplicity allows each potter to express his own vision and a happy side effect to the way in which the technique is executed, in a highly rapid manner makes creating identical pieces nearly impossible.

Uchi-hakeme – brushstrokes and brush-marks made with white slip

Yanagi Sōetsu (柳 宗悦), also went by the name Yanagi Muneyoshi. He is known as a Japanese art critic, philosopher and above all as the founder of the Mingei movement in the late 1920s and 1930s.

Muneyoshi Yanagi’s visited Sarayama in 1931. Soon after, Onta yaki was introduced to the world, becoming gradually more famous and was later officially recognized as Onta yaki. Before that, Onta yaki was simply referred to as “Hita’s thing”, because of the area where Onta village is located. Hita lies in the west of Ōita prefecture.

The chawan is sealed and comes with the old paulownia tomobako or storage box that bears calligraphy by one of the citizens of Onta village. The chawan has no chips or cracks and condition is excellent.


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