Japanese region in Buzen Province (now part of Fukuoka Prefect.), northern Kyushu, where stonewares were manufactured at various sites from c. 1600 (see also Japan, §IX, 3, (i), (d)).
The first potter to make Agano ware was the Korean master Chon’gye (Jap. Sonkai; 1576–1654). Deported to Kyushu during one of the Japanese invasions of Korea in 1592 and 1597, he entered the service of Hosokawa Tadaoki (1563–1645), the newly appointed governor of Buzen. On the completion of Tadaoki’s fortress at Kokura (now Kitakyushu), Chon’gye built the Saienba kiln, probably within the castle precincts. A site thought to be Saienba was found beneath Myōkōji, the temple that replaced the castle in 1679, and excavations took place between 1979 and 1983. Sherds of both tea ceremony and everyday wares have been found there; they have transparent glazes made with a wood-ash flux, opaque glazes made with a straw-ash flux or brown-black glazes pigmented with iron oxide. Inscriptions on surviving pieces and entries in contemporary diaries indicate that these early products were also called Buzen or Kokura ware. After a few years the Saienba kiln closed, and Chon’gye, apparently still in Tadaoki’s service, moved to the much larger Kamanokuchi kiln in the town of Akaike. Excavations there in 1955 uncovered thin-walled, finely finished wares mainly with transparent glazes; similar characteristics are found in early examples of Karatsu, Takatori and Hagi wares. Roughly coeval with the Kamanokuchi kiln was the Iwaya Kōrai kiln, a private enterprise that operated in nearby Hōjō. It made thick-walled vessels coated with an opaque glaze that is suggestive of north Korean origins. Both kilns produced wares for the tea ceremony and for utilitarian purposes.
A new phase began c. 1624, when the Saruyama Hongama kiln was opened, also in Akaike. It is believed to have been founded by Chon’gye and his assistants, who abandoned the Kamanokuchi kiln to a group of potters from the recently closed Takatori-ware kiln at Uchigaiso in the next valley. Initially the Saruyama Hongama kiln maintained the elegant standards of Kamanokuchi, but it ceased to make fine tea wares after 1632, when Hosokawa Tadaoki was made governor of the adjacent province of Higo (now part of Kumamoto Prefecture), and Chon’gye followed him there. Production of Agano wares continued for 250 years under the Ogasawara family, who succeeded the Hosokawa as lords of Buzen. In response to intense competition from the porcelain kilns at Arita, the Agano potters sought greater diversity and technical finesse. In the late 18th century Totoki Hoshō, a descendant of Chon’gye who worked at the Saruyama kiln, was sent to Kyoto and Edo to study the latest techniques, and the use of polychrome glazes and virtuoso textural effects dates from that time. Agano declined after the dissolution of the feudal domains in 1868, but production of wares in the Old Agano style was revived in the 20th century.
- G. Kōzuru: Agano. Takatori [Agano and Takatori] (1975), ii of Nihon no yakimono [Famous ceramics of Japan] (Tokyo, 1975–6, Eng. trans., 1981–4)
- Nihon no tōji [Japanese ceramics] (exh. cat., ed. Y. Yoshiaki; Tokyo, N. Mus., 1985)