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Ceramic Classifications: Patterns, Shapes, Glazes, Techniques – Illustrated.

お客様

What a lovely vessel!
What kind of vessel is it?

新人の板前

Have you ever struggled to answer questions about vessels from customers or juniors?

A restaurant is not just a place to fill your stomach. To provide meaningful and memorable experiences, attention must be given not only to the taste of the dishes but also to the service and ambiance.

Moreover, the “vessels” that bring out the charm of the dishes and require a sense of selection and compatibility are also crucial.

However, I feel that there are few chefs who are well-versed in the types and characteristics of Japanese vessels.

In this article, we will explain clearly with images the types and features of ceramics from four perspectives: pattern, shape, glaze, and technique.

This article is about “Paprika.”
・22 years of experience as a chef, holding a license for preparing blowfish (fugu).
・Worked in various establishments such as traditional Japanese inns, high-end restaurants, and private clubs.
・Holds the position of head chef with previous experience.
[For a detailed profile, click here]

Ceramics are the crystallization of Japan’s tradition and art, possessing the power to captivate people. Acquiring knowledge about ceramics deepens communication with customers and enables the provision of impressive dining experiences.

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【Auspicious Patterns】Fortunate Designs

Japanese vessels that represent the characteristics of Japanese culture often feature auspicious patterns drawn to wish for “prosperity” and “longevity.”

These patterns, called “Auspicious Patterns” (kisshō mon’yō), are highly popular even internationally.

Auspicious patterns are not limited to vessels; they are also used in kimonos, ornaments, and have become representative designs of Japan.

We will introduce auspicious patterns in the following four categories.

  • Geometric Patterns
  • Flora and Fauna Patterns
  • Landscape Patterns
  • Other Patterns

Geometric Patterns | Simple Shapes Endlessly Continuing

Ichimatsu

A pattern drawn with squares in a grid. Derived from the pattern on the hakama of Kabuki actor “Sano Kawa Ichimatsu.”

Seigaiha

A pattern depicting endlessly continuing gentle waves.

Shippo

A pattern created by combining ellipses.

Amime

A pattern depicting a fishing net.

Sayagata

A pattern created by overlaying “卍” diagonally.

Uroko

A pattern imitating fish scales using triangles.

Flora and Fauna Patterns | Auspicious Symbols from Ancient Times

Many auspicious animals and plants from ancient Japan are also commonly used in vessels.

Karakusa

A pattern with endlessly extending stems and leaves entwining to create curves. Incidentally, there is no plant called “Karakusa.”

Sakura

A pattern depicting Japan’s national flower, the cherry blossom.

Kiku

A pattern depicting the chrysanthemum, a symbol of the passport and the imperial family.

Matsu

A pattern depicting pine, representing the highest rank in the trio of pine, bamboo, and plum.

Botan

A pattern depicting the peony, symbolizing “eternal youth and longevity.”

Grapes

A pattern depicting grapes symbolizing abundance and prosperity.

Musashino

A pattern representing the susuki grass-covered Musashino, originating from the Musashino plateau in western Tokyo.

Tokusa

A pattern drawn with lines of the same width, inspired by plants like “tokusa” (horsetail, ten grass, grindstone grass).

Mugiwara-te

A pattern depicting straw with a combination of thin and thick lines.

Mubyou

A pattern depicting six gourds, symbolizing “mubyou sokusai” (sound health and long life).

Chidori

A pattern depicting chidori with the wordplay “Chitori” derived from “taking a thousand fortunes,” symbolizing overcoming rough waves.

Tsuru

The famous saying “Tsuru wa sennen, kame wa mannen” inspired this pattern, symbolizing longevity and well-wishing.

Choujuugiga

A pattern depicting anthropomorphized animals like rabbits, frogs, and monkeys.

Scenic Patterns | Scenes Adorned by the Four Seasons

Sakuragawa

A pattern depicting the scene of cherry blossoms falling on the river surface.

Tatsutagawa

A pattern depicting the flow of a river and maple leaves. Inspired by the famous autumn foliage spot, “Tatsutagawa” in Nara Prefecture.

Sansui

Symbolizing wind and light, a pattern depicting the natural landscape.

Unkin

Full-bloom cherry blossoms as white clouds and autumn leaves as brocade. A pattern representing the seasons of spring and autumn.

Other Patterns

Youraku

A pattern inspired by the stringing of precious gems and metal beads of ancient Indian noblewomen.

Moji

A pattern depicting characters expressing auspicious meanings, such as “happiness,” “leadership,” “longevity,” and “good fortune.”

Karako

A pattern depicting children playing from ancient China’s “Tang” dynasty.

Shonzui

A pattern featuring intricate geometric designs, flowers, birds, and landscapes. Considered the highest level of sometsuke (underglaze blue) patterns.

Komasuji

Circular pattern with horizontal lines drawn in a vessel shape.

【Shapes】A Variety of Unique Shapes

In addition to round and square shapes, Japanese tableware features a wealth of bold and innovative designs. The richness of these expressions can be seen as the depth of pottery and captivates people.

Warizansho

Shaped like three split Japanese pepper grains.

Kodai

A high and elevated shape with a supporting base on the bottom surface.

Senmen

A shape resembling an opened fan.

Momiji

A pattern depicting autumn leaves (Momiji) turning red in autumn.

Boke

Generally shaped like four flower petals.

Katakuchi

A shape with a pouring spout at one part of the rim.

Tojime

A shape where the base overlaps, giving the appearance of being stitched together.

Kittate

A shape with a rim that stands vertically.

Hamaguri

A shape mimicking the shell of a clam (Hamaguri).

Kasa

An oval-shaped hat, like an umbrella, used to shield from rain and sun.

Tetsuki

A shape with a handle. The handle is decorative, and the dish is not meant to be held by it.

Konoha

The shape of a leaf.

Hangetsu

A shape resembling half of a circle, like cutting a ring in half.

Kiku

A pattern depicting chrysanthemum, a symbol used in passports and by the imperial family.

Biwa

The shape of the biwa, a musical instrument played in Japan since the 7th century.

Gourd

A shape resembling a gourd. A good luck charm with a widening base.

【Technique】Masterful Craftsmanship

Ceramics, also a traditional craft, have evolved over the years with the birth and development of numerous skilled artisans.

The craftsmanship of masters that moves those who hold their creations.

Sometsuke

Blue on white—a fundamental technique in Japanese ceramics. The use of cobalt oxide for underglaze painting.

Akae

A technique of applying overglaze after the final firing, finishing with a transparent glaze. Mainly featuring red color in the painting.

Iroe

A style of overglaze red using colors other than red. It employs pigments mixed with coloring metals: red and yellow (iron oxide), green (copper oxide), purple (manganese oxide), blue (cobalt oxide).

Nunome

A decorative technique pressing the texture of woven fabric. Originally a step in the ceramic process to peel off fabric from a mold rather than a decorative method.

Ginsai

A technique embellishing overglaze painting with silver powder or foil.

Kinsai

A luxurious technique adorning overglaze painting with gold powder or foil. Considered extremely challenging among ceramic techniques.

Hakeme

A technique of casually decorating with brushstrokes. Intentionally creating unevenness to emphasize a varied brushstroke pattern.

Tetsue

A technique of underglaze painting using pigments containing iron oxide. The color varies from black to reddish-black to yellow-brown depending on the iron content.

Fukizumi

A technique of spraying Wu-su (cobalt oxide) with an airbrush. Mainly used in Sometsuke (Underglaze Blue).

Kinran-Te

Also known as “Ko-Imari Style.” A technique decorating Akae (Red Overglaze) with gold leaf. Emphasizes decorative pieces rather than functional vessels.

Sukashi-bori

A decorative technique of drilling holes into the vessel. Achieved using nails, chisels, or molds.

Mishima-De

A technique of drawing patterns with incised lines on gray clay. The dotted pattern resembles the “Shizuoka Mishima Shrine Calendar.”

Irabo

A technique using iron-rich coarse clay to create a bumpy surface. Originally a type of tea bowl in the Japanese tea ceremony.

【Glaze】Transforming Color and Texture Through Firing

Ceramics undergo a transformation in color, gloss, and texture through the application and firing of a glass-like substance called glaze. The term “glaze” is pronounced as “yūyaku” or “uwagusuri.”

What are the characteristics and effects of glaze? Let’s explore the basics.

Characteristics and Effects of Glaze

《What is Glaze?》
・A substance containing glass derived from minerals and oxides.
・There are various types of glazes, such as transparent, white, and colored glazes, numbering in the hundreds.
・Applied in liquid form on the surface of ceramics and solidifies during firing.
・The type of glaze and application method (dipping, spraying, brushwork, etc.) allow for adjusting color and texture.
・Changes can be controlled by adjusting firing temperature, duration, and oxygen levels.

《Effects of Glaze》
・Coats ceramics with a glassy layer, improving durability and waterproofing, extending their lifespan.
・Imparts a beautiful gloss and color to the surface.

Glaze is a crucial element in bringing out the beauty and uniqueness of ceramics. Its endless variety of colors and textures can be expressed through combinations, ratios, and firing temperatures.

Kōchi

Commonly used in Kyoto’s Kiyomizu-yaki, employing colored glazes such as yellow, purple, green, and blue. Originates from trade with Vietnam, known as Kōchishi.

Matto-yū

An opaque glaze added with magnesite to black glaze, resulting in a matte texture without surface gloss.

Kakewake

Glazing technique that separates and pours two or more colored glazes.

Seiji

Porcelain colored in shades of bluish-green or light blue. Achieved by reducing firing ash glaze or body containing small amounts of iron.

MEMO: What is Reduction Firing?
It is a firing method conducted in an incomplete combustion, oxygen-depleted environment. By limiting the introduction of oxygen, oxidation is prevented in both the clay body and glaze (opposite: oxidation firing).

Kiseto

Develops yellow to brown hues, famous in Mino City, Gifu Prefecture.

Gohon Te

Clay’s iron content undergoes kiln changes, resulting in red hues and speckled patterns.

Seihakuji

Intermediate color tone between white porcelain and celadon. Applies a slightly bluish transparent glaze on a white base.

Ruriyū

Ruriyū glaze, a lapis lazuli-colored glaze mixed with Wuji, exhibits blue to indigo hues in reduction firing. Named after the gemstone lapis lazuli.

Oribe

Deep green color achieved by mixing copper oxide into a base of feldspar and wood ash glaze. Conceived by tea master Furuta Oribe.

Tenmoku

Develops black to brown to tortoiseshell hues with black iron glaze. Originates from Zen monks bringing it from China’s Tenmoku mountain during the Kamakura period.

Shino-Yu

White glaze used in Shino ware, applied to ceramics with low iron content.

Kobiki

Technique of fully immersing the base ware in white slip (or pouring it entirely on the surface). Named for the textured appearance resembling scattered powder.

Kannyu

Cracks caused by differences in glaze and base material expansion and contraction rates. The “Seven Transformations of Hagi” is famous. Enjoy color changes through use.

【Understanding the Names】Identifying Types

Ceramics have names, and understanding the principles helps identify the type of vessel.

《Rules for Naming Ceramics》
① Technique (Glaze)
Example: Sometsuke, Aka-e, Kinrande, Hiramaki-e, etc.
(Oribe, Kiseto, Shino-Yu, Tenmoku, etc.)
② Pattern
Example: Karakusa, Sansui, Ichimatsu, Hōjōzukushi, etc.
③ Shape
Example: Mokugua, Kiku, Sensu-men, Konoha, etc.
④ Size
Example: San sun, Go sun, Nana sun, etc.
(1 sun ≈ 3cm)
⑤ Purpose
Example: Sara, Hachi, Mukozuke, Kodaibuta, etc.

Example: Sometsuke Karakusa Mokugata San-Sun Sara
A dish of approximately 9 cm, with Sometsuke technique, depicting Karakusa pattern, and having a Mokugata (wood gourd) shape.

Example: Oribe Ichimatsu Sensu-men Mukozuke
A deep dish in the shape of a folding fan, decorated with Ichimatsu pattern, and glazed with Oribe glaze.

MEMO: What is Mukozuke?
A general term for deep dishes and shallow bowls around 15 cm in size, mainly used for arranging “sashimi” in kaiseki cuisine.


With knowledge, you can imagine the type of vessel just by its name. Conversely, by looking at the vessel, you can predict its name.

【Summary of Types of Ceramics】Enhancing Culinary Creativity

Ceramics are artistic works reflecting Japanese culture and aesthetic consciousness.

The choice and presentation of vessels can create conversations and emotional connections with customers.
Having expertise in ceramics becomes a formidable advantage, helping to discern the quality and value of vessels.

Understanding the types and characteristics of Japanese tableware enables chefs to harmonize vessels with dishes and create unique culinary creations.

Learning the rich history and diversity of Japanese tableware enhances culinary creativity and contributes to skill improvement as a chef.

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