Our Collection: Historical Pottery Toilets

【History of antique toilet bowls】

  During the end of the 12th century, members of the nobility utilized wooden toilet bowls affixed with drawer-style basins, which were known as hibako. Peasants collected the excrement from these contraptions, which was then used as manure.
  The early 1600s saw the appearance of squat toilets with only the upper portion placed on the floor, as well as urinals with boards that had been positioned together—thereby allowing urine and feces to be separately collected and utilized. Toilets were also separated into those for excrement and those for urine, with chamber pots placed below floor level, and their contents later collected. Such toilets were reserved exclusively for the residences of elite warriors and the wealthy class, however. Meanwhile, commoners dug a hole in the floorboards for excrement, underneath which toilets were placed in the form of an unglazed earthenware jar, or simply a jar with two boards placed over it to stand upon.
  Around the late 1850s, ceramic toilet bowls that replicated the shape of theretofore standard wooden versions are said to have begun being manufactured in Seto and Tokoname (Aichi prefecture). Compared to wooden toilet bowls, which easily become soiled and decayed, ceramic versions were favored for their cleanliness and durability, as they were able to be wiped down with a damp cloth. While ceramic toilet bowls were at first only manufactured in small numbers, demand rose for their use when rebuilding homes that had been demolished in the Mino–Owari earthquake of 1891. Ceramic toilet bowls went on to enjoy widespread use across the entire country, beginning with the Tokai region.
  Toilet bowl designs featured distinct characteristics in their different regions of production. This depended upon differences in clay and other local raw materials, as well as differing attitudes toward the practice of elimination. In terms of decorations, toilet bowls with luxurious blue and white designs were favored in Seto (Aichi prefecture), Arita (Saga prefecture) and Hirashimizu (Yamagata prefecture); while those in Shigaraki (Shiga prefecture) and Akasaka (Fukuoka prefecture) featured blue and green glazes that had been applied vertically and horizontally on a white surface.
  At that time, it was common practice to place toilets in small sheds located away from the main house or building; or to set up a partitioned space for squat toilets and urinals at the end of the veranda-style porch located along the structure’s edge. In some cases, guest toilets were located inside the main home, with owners showing their hospitality by welcoming visitors with beautifully-decorated toilet bowls placed inside spaces that were both visually and spiritually purified.
  The concepts of cleanliness and hospitality among the Japanese people have led to its modern toilets being regarded today as the best in the world.

【Shape of antique toilet bowls】

Rectangular squat toilet bowl
Based upon the shape of wooden squat toilets, this version features a clay board known as a kinkakushi that is affixed to a long bottom frame. It was constructed slab-style, wherein clay boards are placed together using a wooden mold. Almost no rectangular squat toilets were produced in porcelain, since firing porcelain clay slabs at high temperatures can result in deformations or fracturing.

Oval squat toilet bowl
Well-known as a Japanese-style toilet, this squat toilet features a spherically rounded kinkakushi with an oval-shaped bottom frame. In order to ensure consistent production using porcelain, these squat toilets began to be produced in 1891 in Seto (Aichi prefecture) using plaster molds.

Mukodaka urinal
This ceramic urinal, modeled after a version crafted from a wooden barrel, is fashioned on a potter’s wheel and retains the original wooden restraints. The front section of the barrel has been removed, with the opposite side standing taller (hence its name, mukodaka, or “higher on the far side”). Similar to the small storage-type urinal known as an okiben, which was portable, the mukodaka had a hole in the bottom and was kept in place—usually indoors or under the eaves of a roof.

Morning glory urinal
Modeled after the wooden urinal that was fashioned from boards placed together, this urinal opens in the front and is named for its resemblance to the blooming flower of the same name. It was crafted in slab form, using a wooden mold to fit together clay boards.

【Major antique toilet bowl production locales】

In Seto (Aichi prefecture), ceramic toilet bowls are said to have first been crafted during the mid-1850s. Demand rose particularly for use in reconstructed homes after a large 1891 earthquake, with most produced in blue and white through the first decade of the 1900s. Those with picturesque, sketch-like Seto underglaze in deep, vivid blues stopped being manufactured in porcelain almost completely around 1904. Ceramic versions continued until the pre-war period, partly since the techniques for creating blue and white designs shifted around 1912 from hand-drawing to the more efficient copper-plated transfer printing. Ceramic toilet bowls were also manufactured using painting and glazing in the Oribe, Shino and Kizeto styles.

Toilet bowl production in Arita (Saga prefecture) was exceedingly limited, with Matsuo Tokusuke manufacturing porcelain toilet bowls for a short period beginning around 1899. These featured patterns including blue and white arabesque, where empty spaces featured prominently within the design.

In Hirashimizu (Yamagata prefecture), blue and white toilet bowls were manufactured beginning around 1911 until the end of World War II, and were modeled after those produced in Seto. Fashioned primarily from iron-rich clay, their blue and white surface was applied atop a slip coating of white mud.
  Hirashimizu underglaze blue is known for its luminescent cobalt blue color. Its large, simple design features a peony illustration in the center, flanked by flower arabesque patterns. Although ceramic, its low level of absorbency rendered it particularly well-suited toward colder climates such as the Tohoku region in northeastern Japan, where it saw widespread use.

Tokoname (Aichi prefecture) was once a production area for bisque-fired pottery jars that were used to hold excrement. Ceramic toilet bowls began to be manufactured there around the mid-1850s, using a clay containing iron that was coated with clear and brown glazes. Stoneware pipes became a major industry in this region around the end of the 19th through the beginning of the 20th centuries, and the production of toilet bowls accordingly did not see an increase.

Ceramic toilet bowls began to be manufactured in Shigaraki (Saga prefecture) during the late 1860s. First designed using blue glazes applied vertically atop coarse white clay, they later featured blue and green glazes in vertical and horizontal patterns. Most squat toilets were rectangular, while oval versions differed from those elsewhere due to a semi-circular fixture attached to a long bottom frame.
  Around the end of the first decade of the 1900s, urinals with morning glory-shaped openings were created in four shapes of differing sizes. Those with wide openings could also be used by women, and sales reached the high-demand region encompassing northwestern Honshu island and further down the western seacoast. Wide-mouthed urinals were crafted until the late 1980s.

Akasaka (Fukuoka prefecture) was located near a production area for bisque-fired pottery jars that were used to hold excrement, and toilet bowls are said to have started being manufactured there in 1868. Utilizing finely-grained clay containing iron, to which green blue and dark yellow glazes were applied, these ceramic toilet bowls were reminiscent of those in the Shigaraki style.

In Takahama (the Mikawa region of Aichi prefecture), furnace and cooking stove producer Ichitaro Kamiya began crafting ceramic toilet bowls around 1910, featuring the low-temperature Raku ware firing process and auburn-colored glazing. Although lacking sufficient strength, they were known for their low cost. Accordingly, production of toilet bowls fired at low temperature began to increase in the Mikawa region shortly thereafter, and they went on to be manufactured in the neighboring Shinkawa district of Hekinan city beginning around 1912.

Lavatory footwear(Toilet Slippers)

In order not to soil the floor when using the toilet, clog-type shoes were placed in front of urinals. These were not meant for walking, but rather for indicating the position where one should stand. In the case of squat toilets, closed-toed footwear was favored in order to prevent splashing on oneself. Pottery-style footwear, which was able to be washed clean with water, replaced the earlier versions of sandals that had been crafted from straw or wood.