[skip to content]

Department of the History of Art and Archaeology

Japanese Ceramics Past and Present

Course Code:
Course Not Running 2015/2016
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Term 2

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

Aims of Course:

  • An understanding of the methods, practice and key issues in the production of ceramics in Japan.
  • A context for critical appraisal by the students of various methodologies for the study of Japanese material culture.
  • A range of skills relevant to an understanding of Japanese ceramics.
  • Preparation for advanced or independent study of a specific research topic.

At the end of the course, a student should be able to demonstrate:

  • An advanced knowledge and understanding of the themes, issues and debates of the production of Japanese ceramics relating to aesthetic, social, political and religious contexts.
  • An ability to compare and evaluate different approaches to understanding ceramic production in Japan within the context of East Asian material culture.
  • A critical awareness of materials and themes explored in the course through investigation of particular examples of Japanese ceramics.
  • Knowledge and understanding of the range of skills used in art history, including independent study, research and presentation skills.


11 two-hour seminars/tutorials.

Scope and syllabus

The course is primarily focussed on the production of ceramics in Japan, from prehistorical times to the modern era. The origins of ceramic production in the Japanese archipelago are traced through a study of excavated pottery and figurines of the Jomon, Yayoi and Kofun periods. Ancient and medieval ceramics are investigated in the broader context of trends on the Continent. One main theme is the importance of tea gatherings as a venue for the display and enjoyment of both imported and indigenously produced wares. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries represent a crucial turning point in the history of Japanese ceramics, which is marked by the rise of various new styles and individual potters. The particular technical attributes of various kiln sites are investigated, with an in-depth study of the development of porcelain production. The topics will also include discussion of modern and contemporary trends in ceramic production, including the post war government designation of Living National Treasures to promote traditional craft production. Some teaching sessions will take place at area museums. The course primarily complements other MA offerings in East Asian archaeology, art history and museum practice.


  1. Approaching Japanese ceramics, methods and approaches
  2. Early Japanese ceramics- Jomon and Yayoi earthenwares
  3. Introduction of Stoneware- the Kofun period
  4. Medieval taste for Chinese ceramics
  5. Tea gatherings and medieval domestic ceramic production
  6. Porcelain in early modern Japan
  7. Stoneware in the Early Modern period
  8. Meiji period ceramics and Japonisme
  9. The beginning of art pottery, 20th century Japanese ceramics
  10. Museum visit

Method of assessment

One 4,5000 word essay worth 75% due Wednesday 15th December 2010

Class presentation and active participation in discussions worth 10%.

Unseen written test of art images worth 15%

The essay tests knowledge and understanding of the themes, issues and debates of Japanese ceramics, while also challenging students to identify and compare art objects relevant to their arguments in specific examples. Students are expected to show initiative and independence in the development of their essay topics and to demonstrate advanced research and presentation skills. The image test is designed to test not just visual recognition of artistic styles, but also the ability to analyse and determine the historical position of unfamiliar artworks. Presentations and class participation help give students confidence to express themselves and are evaluated on the basis of effectiveness and organization.

Suggested reading

Basic Reading:

Guth, Christine M.E. Art, Tea, and Industry: Masuda Takashi and the Mitsui Circle, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993.

Murase Miyeko (ed). Turning Point: Oribe and the Arts of Sixteenth-Century Japan. New York and New Haven, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press, 2003.

Pitelka, Morgan. Handmade Culture: Raku Potters, Patrons, and Tea Practitioners in Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2005.

The Rise of a Great Tradition: Japanese Archaeological Ceramics from the Jomon through Heian periods (10,500 BC-AD 1185). Japan Society, New York, 1990.

Rousmaniere, Nicole (ed) Crafting Beauty in Modern Japan. London: British Museum Press, 2007.

Supplementary Reading:

Ayers, John and Impey, Oliver, et al. Porcelain for Palaces: the fashion for Japan in Europe 1650-1750, London: Oriental Ceramic Society, 1990.

Becker, Johanna, Karatsu Ware; A Tradition of Diversity. Kodansha International, Tokyo, New York and San Francisco, 1986.

Cort, Louise Allison. Shigaraki, Potters' Valley, Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1979.

Cort, Louise Allison. Seto and Mino Ceramics. Washington, D.C.: Freer Galley of Art, Smithsonian Institution, 1992.

Cort, Louise Allison, et al. Isamu Noguchi and Modern Japanese Ceramics: a Close Embrace of the Earth, Washington, D.C.: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 2003

Faulkner, Rupert. Japanese Studio Crafts: Tradition and the Avant-Garde, London: Laurence King, 1995.

Impey, Oliver R., The Early Porcelain Kilns of Japan: Arita in the First Half of the Seventeenth Century. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1996.

Jahn, Gisela. Meiji Ceramics: the Art of Japanese Export Porcelain and Satsuma Ware, 1868-1912, Stuttgart: Arnoldsche, 2004.

Jenyns, Soame. Japanese Porcelain, London: Faber and Faber, 1965.

Wilson, Richard L., The Potter's Brush: the Kenzan Style in Japanese Ceramics, Washington, D.C.: The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Galley, Smithsonian Institution, 2001.