Mizuya, fine Japanese tableware

Seto ware
Describing Seto ware can be confusing because its' style, appearance and even material (clay vs. porcelain) can vary greatly. Seto is the name of the city in Western Japan where the kilns are located, and therefore, all pottery made there is named after the kiln. Over the year, the resourceful and practical Seto potters copied whatever was in demand at the time, and therefore Seto ware can have the appearance of Oribe, Imari, Kyo-yaki or other well-known kilns and styles. However, to the trained eye, the ware’s solid construction and unique characteristics of the glaze is unmistakable.

Popular at the end of the Edo era, the utilitarian, heavy and rugged Seto plates with umanome (horse eye) designs are very much in demand today. They were often used in the ryokan (Japanese inns) along the old Tokaido road, Japan’s first modern “highway”, and are painted in iron oxide with five or six concentric spirals along the circumference of the plate. These represent horse eyes. Later, the Mingei movement’s founder Yanagi Soetsu heralded their attractive style and bold energy, and Seto umanome plates became collectors’ items. Whether sitting on a shelf for display, or brought to the table filled with mounds of fried potatoes or skewers of yakitori, the plates — which come in many sizes but are usually large — are extremely useful, stylish and durable.

Above: This large umanome plate is appreciated by collectors of Mingei artwork. Below: A beautifully painted andonzara (lamp plate)
Seto lamp plate
Left: A rare set of tiny umanome kozara (small plates)


Seto umanome horse eye kozara

Also popular with collectors are Seto andonzara (lamp plates) that were once used under lamps and candles. Most often plain, they are occasionally found with boldly painted floral or kanji motifs, and the best examples —reminiscent of Matisse drawings — can be very pricey indeed. In the center of these, as well as umanome plates, are unglazed spots where ceramic cones were placed during the firing process. Cheap and plentiful in their day, the plates were simply stacked up, one on top of the other, in the kiln.

Seto is one of the oldest kilns in Japan, dating back at least to the Nara era (710-794). The exact date of origin is not known, but records describing what are thought to be Seto containers appear in important historical books and documents of the time. By the Heian era, we know that ash glazes were used, and by the Kamakura era, iron glazes were used. Later, in the Momoyama era, porcelain was adopted, and up to this day it is the main type produced in Seto. However, in the Akazu area of Seto city, clay is used.

We have a limited quantity of Seto ware at our Japanese tableware gallery, Mizuya.