As the name might suggest Seto yakimono ware originally came from the village of Seto. One of the Six Ancient Kilns was located in Seto. Since it was such an important part of ceramics history, the village actually lends its name to the generic Japanese word for pottery.
Numerous Japanese speakers use the term setomono for the art of pottery making. All Japanese ceramics artists owe a great debt to this region of Aichi Prefecture. Pottery has been made in Seto since at least the 13th century. According to most histories Kato Shirozaemon brought the art to Seto. He had been studying pottery in China in the 1220s.
Seto traveled Japan and tried to find a place to set up shop. Unfortunately for these other towns, no one realized how great his ideas were. Kato eventually set up a successful kiln in the settlements at Seto. Potters started to flock to the area from around Japan, which made into a sort of artists’ colony.
For most of the Kamakura period (1192-1333) artists more or less copied Song dynasty temmoku wares. These pieces were often glazed in black colors merely because this was a popular style in China at the time. A good deal of ceramics produced during this era were designed for ceremonial uses.
When the Muromachi period (1338-1573) began, practical needs were deemed more important. Seto yakimono pieces from this time period are largely representative of domestic needs. Saucers, tea bowls, plates and jars are usually associated with the Muromachi period.
These works are far more plane than Kamakura Seto wares. Wabi philosophers stressed rustic simplicity, and domestic shoppers were probably less interested in exotic Chinese art forms. Regardless of era, Seto ceramics sport a feldspathic glaze. Muromachi pieces are generally glazed evenly. Kamakura artists let the glaze run rather naturally.
Pieces from the transitional period have an otherworldly yellowish glaze. A few sport a dark-brown glaze that’s referred to as the Seto temmoku style. Armchair archaeologists will certainly want to bone up on the differences so that they can spot pieces of various eras at a glance.
That’s not to say that Seto pieces weren’t created in later time periods as well. Seto glazes remained popular for quite some time. As a testament to their staying power one might actually find pieces made in what’s now Gifu Prefecture that are almost identical to their Seto cousins. While Gifu might not seem far from Aichi in the modern era, the journey between them was certainly treacherous for travelers of the later Sengoku jidai.