September 17, 2017

by Miyabi Saeki and Natsumi Awa

Kiyomizuyaki is one of many traditional crafts in Kyoto. The word kiyomizuyaki refers to all pottery made in Kyoto. In the past, people used many different words for different kinds of pottery. Kiyomizuyaki used to only mean pottery made near Kiyomizudera-temple. However, because Kiyomizuyaki was the most famous pottery in Kyoto, gradually it became the word most used to refer to all of Kyoto’s pottery.

In Kyoto, it is almost impossible to make a clay pot out of raw material, so the potters ordered the soil from other areas, blended them independently, and created works full of individuality. Even now, they continue to make works combining a comfortable feeling with an excellent design, such as a light finish familiar to the hands, or a pattern that contains the wishes of the four season’s flowers and a lucky omen. The individuality of each artist in the pottery is strong, and it can also be said that it is a feature.

History of Kiyomizuyaki

The origin of the pottery in Kyoto is not certain. However, there is no doubt that it started a long time ago. In the first half of the 5th century, under Emperor Yuuryaku, it is written that the pottery was made in Uji City and Fushimi Ward. After that, it is said that near the current neighborhood of Gojozaka, Kyoto, which is around Kiyomizudera-temple, is where the monk Gyouki built a kiln by the emperor’s order.

In the Muromachi era (1336-1573), color painted pottery was born by a technique transmitted from the Ming dynasty. Also, when moving to the Edo period (1603~1868), tea pots were made mainly in the Higashiyama area against the backdrop of the tea ceremony’s expanding popularity. This is what is widely called Kiyomizuyaki.

Since the Meiji Period (1868-1912), production volume has increased along with the introduction of modern production methods, and it has become an important export item for Japan. In addition, as new technologies from overseas were introduced, interest in new Kiyomizuyaki was born. After the war, there was the promotion of the conversion to environmentally friendly manufacturing facilities, but Kiyomizuyaki never lost its quality and artistic nature. The tradition continues to be protected as a high-quality ceramic featuring many varieties.

Currently there are hundreds of Kiyomizuyaki gathered in Kyoto. By master artists aiming for a new design while preserving the traditions of their predecessors, even today Kiyomizuyaki has an established position as a traditional craftwork representing Japan.

How to Make Kiyomizuyaki

There are two ways to make Kiyomizuyaki. One is by hand, and the other is by using a potter’s wheel.

These are the necessary materials for when you make it:

  • Clay: nowadays in Kyoto, people use clay from Shigaraki, Shiga prefecture, because the amount of clay from Kyoto has decreased since a long time ago and it’s hard to get now. Also, the quality of clay in Shigaraki is good, and Shigaraki is near Kyoto. Therefore, people use Shigaraki clay.
  • Potter’s Wheel: only for when you make Kiyomizuyaki by using a potter’s wheel.
  • Pallet (pottery knife): to fix the shape.
  • Kiln: a stone kiln to bake the pottery
  • Glaze: to make the pottery shine.
  • Oxide: to color the pottery, for example, with gold, silver, and/or copper.

To make Kiyomizuyaki, follow the steps below:

  1. Knead: press the air out of the clay to make the quality uniform.
  2. Potter’s wheel: put the clay on the potter’s wheel and shape it into what you want by using centrifugal force. If you don’t use the potter’s wheel, shape it by hand.
  3. Polish: fix the shape by pallet when it dries a little.
  4. Bake: heat it at 600-800 degrees until it hardens for the later processes.
  5. Sketch: sketch it by using metal or pigment.
  6. Glaze: coat the pottery with glaze by using brush
  7. Bake again: heat the glazed pottery at 1200-1300 degrees.
  8. Paint: paint it by using oxide and heat it a low temperature.

How to Use Kiyomizuyaki

Before using Kiyomizu pottery, you should put it in warm water or lukewarm water. Especially when you use soil vessels that are not strongly sealed, you can reduce the invasion of tea and seasonings by passing the pottery through warm water before using it. For instruments decorated with color drawings, gold, or silver, you should avoid using equipment that becomes high in temperature such as microwave ovens. When you find dirt or mold, it should wash out if you immerse it in bleach or boil water in it. If using bleach, please wash well with dishwashing detergent afterwards.

You can use Kiyomizuyaki as a cup, a vase, or as a plate. They are good for gifts. In Japan, sometimes people give them as wedding gifts. You can buy them at souvenir shops in Kyoto city, especially near Kiyomizudera-temple. A piece of Kiyomizu pottery can cost anywhere from 1,500 to 40,000 yen. It depends on where and what you buy, as well as who made it. The more complicated the design, the more expensive it is.

If you are interested in Kiyomizuyaki, you can experience making it by yourself by taking a pottery lesson at Kiyomizugojo, near Kiyomizudera-temple. For example, you can make a cup at Zuikougama, which is a pottery studio. First, you should put on a samue – which is an apron that looks like a kimono – to keep your clothes clean. Then you can begin making Kiyomizuyaki. Usually, it is hard for beginners to start from the first step, so the staff has already done the difficult parts. You do the other parts. For example, you do the shaping. It is a little difficult to shape it how you want, but the staff helps you when you are in trouble. After that you can choose the color from dark brown, light brown, and white. Also, you can carve your name at the bottom of the cup. This course is only about shaping, but if you want, you can also sketch.

There are six courses at Zuikougama, three of them are wheel pottery lessons, and the others are painting pottery lessons. The price, time, size, shapes and color are different depending on what you choose. Choosing a course is one of the fun parts, so please enjoy it. There are many places where you can take Kiyomizuyaki lessons in Kyoto. Some of them can offer English lessons. If you have a chance to come to Kyoto, why don’t you experience it?

Zuikougama (Kiyomizudera Trial Studio)

Address: 385-5 YasakaKamimachi, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0827, Kyoto prefecture

Open hours: 10:00 – 17:00

*Last Entry 16:30 (Cup Plan, Painting Light) 16:00 (others)

Reservation: 075-744-6644

*By Email: please give them your:

1) Lesson of your choice
2) Date
3) Time
4) Number of Participants

Access: From Kyoto Station, Bus number 100 or 206.

Stop at Kiyomizu-Michi Bus Stop.

From Shijo-Kawaramachi, Bus Number 207.

Stop at Kiyomizu-Michi Bus Stop.

It is located near Kiyomizu Temple, just next to the five-story pagoda “Yasaka-No-Tou” (Yasaka Pagoda).

Cafe Koke-dango

by Kyoko Kiminami and Sayaka Matsuda


Moss, Pottery and Bonsai at Café Koke-dango

Café Koke-dango is located in Kamishichiken in the northern part of Kyoto. Its kind and friendly owner, Yasue Sawa, spoke to us us about the history of the cafe and her everyday life. She began to display tougeihin, or ceramic arts, in the café as a hobby, but soon she began to display more works in response to positive customer interest. So the café established a gallery of ceramic art. Some other pieces that also decorate this café include the koke (moss) art and bonsai.

“Tougeihin” means works of ceramic art in Japanese. These pieces are formed out of various kinds of clay and then fired at a high temperature in an earthen kama or kiln. There are many different kinds of pottery in Japan since each region has its own characteristic geography, materials, techniques and traditions.

Koke, or green moss, grows over the surface of the earth or on rocks, and is especially used in Japanese gardens as a ground cover. Some types of koke are even edible. Recently, cultivating moss in decorative balls or in vessels or trays has become a popular pastime for some people.

Finally, bonsai is the traditional Japanese art form of growing a miniature tree or bush in a tray. The hobbyist patiently and carefully guides the form of the tree, so we can appreciate the beauty of its shape, leaves, the grain of its trunk and its entire appearance. A characteristic of bonsai is that it appears like a scene out of nature. It requires years of attention, including fertilizing, trimming, wirework and watering.


In the past, Nishijin-ori was produced in Kamishichiken. Nishijin-ori is a type of Japanese textile produced in Nishijin, the textile district of Kyoto. Nishijin produces many kinds of textiles —clothes, obi (sashes for kimono), kimono, neckties and bags— and has a long-established tradition in Japan.

Before Cafe Koke-dango was cleaned up and renovated, it was a Nishijin-ori textile store. So it is a very old townhouse with a beautiful garden, elegant windows and peaceful atmosphere. Even in summer, this café is cool. Nearby are Kitano-Tenmangu Shrine and a training school for maiko and geisha, so visitors to the café might be able to catch a glimpse of them if they are lucky!


Most visitors sit on the traditional tatami mats, but there are some chairs, too. So if you have weak needs and have trouble sitting on the floor, you can use these. It’s very considerate for foreigners who may not be used to the Japanese custom of sitting on the floor.

Sometimes at the café, an artisan will hold a handicraft workshop. They may teach participants, for example, how to make a decorative ball of moss. In the café, there are many handicrafts like pouches and purses with Japanese patterns for sale. When we went, we saw an exhibition of ceramic arts called “Togei“. On display were small dishes shaped liked leaves; they can be used for pouring soy sauce or as a chopstick rest. There were also stylish rice bowls and teacups. So Café Koke-dango is popular with ladies. Of course is a good place to buy souvenirs. In summer, shaved ice with syrup is added to the menu.


3 minutes by foot from the bus stop Kamishichiken
Go down Shichihon-matsu street and turn left at the first corner, you will see the café on your right.