Since the 19th century ginger jars have been used largely for decoration, but before that time they were used most often for the transportation of many different types of spices, including ginger. The typical ginger jar is tall and flared toward its top with no handles or other external features and a smooth or rounded cap to seal the jar.
A modern usage of the ginger jar is to convert them into the bases of table lamps. The jars' construction gives them an edge in this manner of use because they have a low center of gravity due to their squatness and width.
Ginger jars originate in China where their use in the spice trade was superseded by demand in the West for vases and other ceramics with a Chinese flare. This demand created a large market for decorative ginger jars produced without any practical purpose in mind and exported from China to Europe and the rest of the West.
Ginger jars are decorated in a great number of different styles. One distinctive style owes its usage to their flared shape which allows larger scenes and images to frame smaller ones with great visual effect. Common visual motifs for ginger jars originating in China include carp, dragons and other animals.