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Foundation of Imari Toen

The late 1960s marked the peak of Japan’s high economic growth, when the lifestyles of Japanese people were changing dramatically. Massive efforts were made to enhance productivity in a wide range of fields, leading to an age of mass production and mass consumption. Such changes throughout Japanese society triggered similar changes in the ceramic industry too. Against such a background, Sadame Kaneko (father of the current Imari Toen President), who ran a pottery in Imari then, took decisive action to go back to the origin of porcelain and produce higher-quality ceramic products. He founded Imari Toen in 1968, and invited Chitōjin to work as a ceramist at the new company. After changing his career from Japanese painting to ceramic art, Chitōjin had conducted painstaking research on Chinese ceramics. He devoted the major part of his life to creating ceramic works as a professional.

With the great support of Sadame Kaneko, Chitōjin produced many works, and at the same time, devoted his energy as an industrial designer to guiding artisans at Imari Toen.


A bohemian

Not many people may know the name of Chitōjin (1902–1977; born as Yonezō Sawada). The Konica Gallery of the British Museum, London, however, held a solo exhibition of this little-known ceramic artist for four months from May 1997. This was an epoch-making event as the first solo exhibition of a Japanese ceramist held at the museum, meeting with a strong, favorable reaction.

The starting point for this revolutionary exhibition was when Mr. Lawrence Smith, then Senior Keeper of the Department of Japanese Antiques, British Museum, discovered Chitōjin’s amazing talents. In April 1993, the British curator happened to visit Imari Toen (Okawauchiyama, Imari City, Saga Pref.) and came across Chitōjin’s works displayed there, being fascinated by the energy of those works.

Mr. Smith described Chitōjin as a Shikō Munakata in the world of ceramic art, and stated, “Chitōjin is an outstanding, original existence in the ceramic art world, because he not only used a wide variety of traditional skills in centuries-old ceramic art, but also created works integrating bold patterns, humor combined with the human touch, powerful brushstrokes, a sense of wide scale, and pure originality. Such works of his inspire imagination and remain in the viewer’s memory.”

1902 Born as Yonezō Sawada in Miyazu City, Kyoto Prefecture. Aspired to become a Japanese-painting artist from his younger days.
Graduated from the Regular Course at Kyoto City Ceramic Research Institute Training School.
Trained himself under the guidance of Kanjirō Kawai, Shinobu Komori, Shōji Hamada, and other ceramists.
Researched the design and production of dyed textiles.
1934 Taught the patterning of ceramics at the Arita Ceramic Research Institute, Saga Prefecture.
1943 Researched Chinese ceramics at the Sanagu Ceramic Research Institute, Mie Prefecture.
1950 Joined Andō Chizan Pottery, Gifu Prefecture.
1960 Moved to Ureshino Town (present-day Ureshino City), Saga Prefecture.
1968 Participated in the founding of Imari Toen, and became an advisory designer at the company.
Continued his creative activities at Imari Toen.
1977 Died at 75 years of age.


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Process of Imari-Yaki

Preparing clay

To create pure-white ceramics, we use the finest and rare kind of Amakusa porcelain stone to prepare the highest-quality clay. Since different works should have different textures, we always make subtle adjustments to our originally-developed clay. For some works, we also use other varieties of clay we carefully select from around Japan, including varieties mainly used for Karatsu ware and Hagi ware.


Shaping clay

We use four kinds of shaping methods: shaping on manual pottery wheels, shaping on machine pottery wheels, molding, and pressure molding, according to the type of work.

A prominent feature of our shaping process is the step of shaving in the finishing stage for all kinds of products. Artisans shave not only the foot and rim of each vessel but its entire surface on a revolving pottery wheel. They do this steady work while envisioning how the paint will run and how the fired surface will feel.

Artisans themselves make a kana, or a plane necessary for the step of shaving, suitable for each work. They also work on a special kind of plane and use it to make a tochiri (tobi-kanna) pattern, that is, a pattern of regularly arranged small plane marks, at the shaving step.

Data on the weight and thickness of completely shaped clay pieces, as well as the angle of the plane blades, are collected to prevent unevenness in product quality.

Base firing

Shaped clay pieces are put into a kiln by hand, and fired usually at a temperature of approximately 900°C for about 10 hours. For some types of works, the firing temperature may be raised to up to 950°C, and the firing time may be extended to 15 hours.


Even highly experienced artisans look at a pattern model while drawing a pattern with underglaze, no matter how familiar the artisans are with drawing the pattern. This shows how strictly the artisans follow the instructions of Chitōjin, who placed importance on the basics.

We prepare gosu, or underglazing materials, for ourselves, and use over 10 kinds of underglazes with different shades of blue according to the type of work.

Because a short firing time results in fragile ceramic works, Imari Toen operates 24 hours a day to manage the firing temperature and the color of the fire, as well as to check the Seger cones, a kind of temperature measuring device that changes its shape as the temperature in the kiln changes. This process of firing is so difficult that few artisans have ever felt completely satisfied with the results of their firing work.


We use only the overglazes we have originally prepared, placing importance on shades of colors and a feeling of translucence. For gold overglazing, we use pigments made with pure gold powder, while using pigments in red, green, yellow, blue, and purple for colored overglazing. The red pigment, in particular, features a deep shade of color called “Chitōjin’s red.”

Artisans have complete mastery of their Kumano brushes, to which they make subtle adjustments. They paint all patterns by hand, using a wide range of techniques from long-established ones to new ones. Just as in the underglazing process, artisans paint patterns while looking at models in strict conformity with the basics.

Akae-gama (final firing)

Overglazed pieces are fired in a kiln whose temperature is raised to 800°C over five hours, plus for two hours at a fixed temperature. Fixing certain colors requires additional firings.

Show room

Three Show rooms

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