Reflecting On the Origin and Development of Japanese Porcelain
Japan claims one of the oldest porcelain cultures in the world. The earliest use of ceramic pottery in the island nation dates back to 10000 BC. The birth place and capital of Japanese porcelain industry is the Arita village in the island of Kyushu
The recorded history of Japanese porcelain began with the Japanese invasion of Korea in last decade of the sixteenth century (1592 and 1598). The Koreas had learned the craft of porcelain manufacture from the Chinese. Some of these master potters were brought to Japan and they settled in Arita in the Kyushu. Among these master craftsmen was Ri Sampei, the father of Japanese porcelain.
Arita was gifted with high quality clay and soon the craft flourished in the region. The finished quality porcelain began to be exported from the port of Imari, 10 kilometers from the village of Arita.
So it is safe to say that the modern porcelain manufacture in Japan started from the beginning of 17th century. The Edo-period of Japan (1603-1868) witnessed Japan isolating itself from the rest of the world. But this didn’t affect the export of Japanese ceramic ware. Some European companies like the Dutch East India Company and Chinese merchants engaged in licensed trade with the port of Imari. During this period in Europe Japanese porcelain ware was considered as symbols of excellent craftsmanship and a valued possession.
Arita is the cradle of Japanese porcelain culture. We can classify the Arita porcelain ware into three groups.
Ko in Japanese means old and Imari is the port from which porcelain was loaded on ships in the feudal Japan of the Edo-period. The porcelain in this category is characterized by the profusion of golden and silver color in the decoration of the picture patterns on the surface of the pottery. The subject of the pattern was mostly dragons, peonies, bamboo trees, plum blossoms and the like. The sheer brilliance of these works is one of the reasons why Japanese porcelain was imitated even by the Chinese.
The origin of Meissen porcelain of Europe can be traced back to the village of Arita. Fascinated by the beauty of Arita yaki (Japanese word for porcelain) Augustus II of Poland entrusted Johann Friedrich Bottger, a famous alchemist, with the task of making such porcelain. After a few initial setbacks he succeeded in his mission.
Kakeimon style was perfected by Japanese potter Sakaida Kakiemon. The style uses a unique palette of soft red, blue, yellow and green for its decoration. The designs are drawn against milk white back ground. The kakeimon style was highly popular in the Europe and the Meissen porcelain makers tried to emulate the decorative patterns.
Nabeshima is the royal member among porcelain ware. Pottery of this genre is not made for commoners; they are made for kings and rulers. The ware got this name because they were commonly used by Lord Nabeshima, overlord of the area where the porcelain was produced. They are paragons of artistic beauty and still retain their royal elegance.
Japanese porcelain is an evolutionary art. Though first introduced by the Korean potters, in course of time, they imbibed genuine Japanese culture and produced a unique category of porcelain. It also incorporated all the influence it got from the Chinese and the Europeans and perfected the craft.