Pot terminology

I am mostly in favour of using English words where appropriate in bonsai but there are some terms, particularly with pots, that are just better, quicker and easier to use as the Japanese do. This may be a little disconcerting for the uninitiated, but don’t worry, it took me years to learn as well. Here are some of the more commonly used terms and their meaning.

Clay Types


Shidei:  Purple clay, generally Yixing ware.  Have been popular for many years due to many different styles, designs and the patina that develops over time

Shudei: Vermilion clay. Slightly redder in hue than Shidei and more expensive and popular because of it. Few very old examples of these Yixing ware pots.

Udei:  Gray clay. Held in the highest regard in Japan, particularly antique examples. Many have a brownish colour.

Kodei: Red Clay. Highly appreciated by the Chinese, these are particularly rare and unusual. A much deeper and redder colour than Shudei. 

Hakudei: White Clay. Less common but not incredibly rare. Has been used less and less over time. Often carved or painted.


 Age / Period


Kowatari: “Old Crossing”.  Approximately 400 to 250 year old pots that were brought over initially to Japan from China

Nakawatari: “Mid Crossing”. Between 250 and 100 year old.

Shinto: Newer pots, but can be up to 50/60 years old and have superb patina, clay texture and build quality




Canton: A broad term for kilns along the coast and the river in Canton (modern Guangdong). Often blue glazed with embossed flower designs

Cochin: Initially referring to Southern China/Vietnam but the techniques and style spread most notably to Taiwan.

Nanban:  Rough and rustic style containers made from groggy clay from various parts of South and East Asia.

Tokoname: Area of Japan famous for ceramics and the location for most, but not all of Japanese bonsai pot production.


Special Glazes


Kinyou: A sky blue glaze which is famous and well used.  Created in the Yuzhou kilns of Heian province.

Namako:  Sea slug glaze.  A mottled dark blue glaze with white and black specks. Can be difficult to tell age as the glaze is generally thick

Ryokinyou: Robins egg glaze. A speckled variation on the Kinyou glaze




Kokagami: Shaped like an antique Japanese mirror. Roughly circular with lots of “pinched” points.

Jingasa: Shaped like an old Japanese hat. Circular pot which is narrow at the base and wide at the top. Often seen with nawabuchi or hemp rope design edging.

Rinka: Flower shaped. Similar to the mirror shape but with less and more pronounced points.

Mokkou: Quince flower shaped. Based on an old family crest design.



For more information, please contact us to purchase the second of Kunio Kobayashi’s books detailing his vast collection of pots. Price is approximately £75 / $130