In their traditional literature, the Japanese have always referred to the city of Kyoto simply as kyō-- "the capital." Home of the imperial household, the aristocracy, and the court, Kyoto remained the capital of Japan from A.D. 794 until the Meiji Restoration of 1868, nominally, if not always actually, in control of the land. The ceramics produced in the city during the latter part of that period have traditionally been known as kyōyaki or "Kyō ware" rather than "Kyoto ware." To Japanese ears, the term Kyōyaki is more than simply an indication of the origin of a certain type of pottery: it reverberates with associations of a special courtly elegance and of the refined Kyoto culture out of which the pottery developed.
Fine ceramics are still made in Kyoto today, but the name "Kiyomizu ware" has slipped into general use in recent years because so many of the potters live on the narrow, sloping streets that lead steeply up to the Kiyomizu temple on the eastern side of the city. The Meiji Restoration, in which the imperial court was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo, makes a convenient dividing line between Kyōyaki and Kiyomizu ware. The date of 1868 is selected not because marked technical changes in pottery making occurred abruptly in that year, but rather to emphasize the fact that Kyōyaki is essentially a product of the Edo period (1603-1868), while Kiyomizu ware is a creation of the modern age. In addition, the Restoration of 1868 serves as an appropriate terminal date for Kyō ware, for it marks the end of a period in which high standards of quality prevailed; few ceramics made in Kyoto after that time equal in excellence those dating from the Edo period.
Dating the origins of Kyōyaki presents a far more difficult problem than determining its end. For the moment, it is enough to say that this type of ceramics began to be made during the Momoyama period (1568-1603). Ceramics had been produced in the Kyoto area during the Nara and Heian periods (seventh through the twelfth centuries) and some pieces have been traced back to prehistoric times. But such pieces are so remote and so totally different in style that only ceramics made in Kyoto shortly before and during the Edo period will be regarded as true examples of what is to be identified here as Kyōyaki.
Kyō ware comes in many forms: some pottery, some porcelain; some decorated with an overall monochrome glaze, others with elaborate designs in multicolor overglaze enamels. Diversity makes it difficult to point to any single common denominator to be used in identifying Kyōyaki, as would be easily possible to do in the case . . .