16 November 2023

Tosen Kiln: Kyoto's Ceramic Heritage and Future

Step into the storied world of Kyoto's ceramic artistry with the esteemed Tosen Kiln. Founded in 1868, Tosen Kiln serves as a beacon to the harmonious fusion of time-honored traditions and contemporary innovations. Through the discerning eyes of master artist Taniguchi, readers will traverse a landscape of evolving designs, collaborative ventures, and contemplative reflections on Kyoto's dynamic artisanal shifts. This feature implores us to appreciate the delicate balance between tradition and innovation, urging a renewed commitment to safeguarding Kyoto's rich ceramic heritage. An enlightening journey awaits.


  • About Tosen Kiln
  • Evolution of Floral Designs at Tosen Kiln: The Camellia and Tokusa Inspirations
  • Creativity and Collaboration in a Changing World
  • The Fading Mentorship: Taniguchi Reflects on Kyoto's Changing Artisan Landscape
  • Preserving Kyoto's Ceramic Legacy

About Tosen Kiln

Established in 1868 as a Kiyomizu ware wholesaler, Tosen Kiln inaugurated its production studio in Mukomachi, a Kyoto suburb, in 1944. Kyo and Kiyomizu wares, celebrated for their intricate hand paintings and exquisite modeling, incorporate pottery techniques from across Japan, devoid of a singular style. Tosen Kiln embodies this legacy, drawing inspiration from master potter Nonomura Ninsei's refined lathing and radiant painting methods. Their unique touch lies in underglaze enameling, a technique capturing the gentle hues and warmth emblematic of Kiyomizu ware.

Evolution of Floral Designs at Tosen Kiln: The Camellia and Tokusa Inspirations

Adorning the Camellia Flowers

At Tosen Kiln, the delicate art of underglaze painting is embraced, offering a subtle and soft color palette. While overglaze painting provides striking vividness, underglaze painting captures a gentle warmth and handcrafted tenderness.

The Camellia design, passionately adored by Taniguchi, evolved naturally in his artistic journey. Starting with a singular camellia on a plate, he refined the design over time. The leaves merge dark and light green shades to establish balance, while white and red dyes are used for the petals, providing them a unique, raised, and glossy finish that contrasts the watercolor-esque hue of the leaves. Expert painters with a background in Japanese style painting bring these designs to life.

Taniguchi experiments with various layouts, sometimes letting the camellias frame the food on the plate's edge, or placing a single flower in the center as a post-meal reveal. Occasionally, the designs even grace the inner surface of cups, countering the white interior's simplicity.

The Tokusa Motif, Red and Blue

Conversely, the design of Tokusa or Horsetail in English, which is traditionally blue, was innovatively adapted by Taniguchi. Envisioning a pair of cups, he incorporated two colors, imparting warmth to the hand-drawn lines. These lines, though initially penciled to ensure spacing, defy the impersonal touch of printing. This artwork complements the milky-white hue of Tosen Kiln's bisque. Adding a touch of uniqueness, intentional dents adorn the bisque's surface, avoiding a strictly round form.

Creativity and Collaboration in a Changing World

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For Taniguchi, creativity is not a fleeting spark but a continuous quest for innovative designs. He considers it both a joy and privilege to possess the imaginative flair and the technical prowess in ceramics to bring his visions to life. Beyond his ceramic realm, Taniguchi actively engages with craftspeople across Kyoto, including experts in metalworks and glassworks, fostering collaborative ventures. He believes that these exchanges are vital, providing artisans a platform to ideate and potentially co-create.

Reflecting on the past, Taniguchi recalls a time when artisans could afford moments of leisure—times when the day's tasks ended early, allowing them to muse over and experiment with novel designs. Contrasting this with today's demanding culture, he notes the diminishing spaces for artisans to truly explore their creativity, as they grapple with meeting quotas and optimizing efficiency—a shift he finds deeply regrettable.

The Fading Mentorship: Taniguchi Reflects on Kyoto's Changing Artisan Landscape

Taniguchi reminisces about a time when Kyoto's artisan community thrived on mentorship and collaboration. Once, revered ceramic merchants played a pivotal role, guiding young artisans with their expert critiques, fostering growth, and promoting excellence. These dealers would rigorously assess the work of novice ceramicists, driving them to hone their craft and, when merited, reward them with substantial orders. This symbiotic relationship cultivated a vibrant, educational, and competitive atmosphere for emerging talents.

Unfortunately, many of these esteemed establishments are either closing down or no longer maintain their influential standing. The diminishing proactive guidance from dealers has left the newer generation of artisans to navigate their craft largely in isolation, often leading to an excessively individualistic approach.

Taniguchi stresses the need for not only artisans, but also the arts and craft dealers, to re-embrace their pivotal roles, moving beyond transient trends and short-term gains, and nurturing the tradition of mentorship once more.

Preserving Kyoto's Ceramic Legacy

"Crafting with the traditional clay of Kiyomizu Ware, I apply glazes that complement this heritage material. My creations honor our legacy, bearing designs that resonate with the contemporary era."

The story of Tosen Kiln, along with the indomitable spirit of Taniguchi, mirrors the extensive ceramic legacy of Kyoto, which is characterized by dedication, innovation, and collaboration. As we find ourselves at the crossroads of tradition and contemporary demands, acknowledging the invaluable role of mentorship and community is increasingly crucial to ensure the sustainability of this ancient craft.

Taniguchi's journey is not simply a testament to his artistic mastery, but also a call to preserve the collective wisdom and the nurturing environments of yesteryears. Let us honor and hold dear the intricate interplay between artisan and merchant, creativity and critique, tradition and innovation, as we endeavor to maintain Kyoto's respected ceramic heritage for future generations.

View Tosen Kiln Collection

By Kawakami Yoshikaze