Yayoi period jar
Yayoi period jar

Pottery has been made in Japan since Neolithic times (from before 4,500 B.C.). Early wares employed techniques and styles imported from China, Korea an even as far away as Vietnam. A favoured technique was to cord or woven material onto pots while still soft, giving a ribbed effect. Japanese Jomon period cord pattern wares were among the most accomplished ceramics being made anywhere in the world at the time.

During the Yayoi period, from the third century BC to the third century AD, Japanese potters were using the potter’s wheel to produce a range of objects, including vases and bottles. Many of these objects display horizontal zoning or geometric patters but they were not yet glazed.

During the Tumulus period (from the 5th to the 7th centuries A.D.) potters from Korea introduced grey stoneware with a celadon glaze, known as Sue ware.

During the Chinese Tang dynasty (from 618 to 906 AD), Japan maintained friendly relations with China whose achievements Japan much admired. As a result, Japan attempted to emulate China in many ways. One of these was the adoption of Buddhism; another was the creation of a national capital at Nara modelled on the Chinese capital of Xian; and another was importation and copying of Chinese artefacts.

Imari dish (17th century)
Imari dish (17th century)

Among the artefacts derived form the Chinese were brown glazed stonewares from Fukien province which were adopted for the Japanese tea ceremony. Bowls were often black glazed to show off the frothy tea , which is whisked to a vivid green colour. For the first time, brushwork on pottery became important, with simple and spontaneous calligraphic decoration.

In the 17th century, the first Japanese porcelain was produced at Arita. These early Japanese porcelain wares were heavily influenced by Korean porcelain. They had simple designs of birds or plants drawn in underglaze blue.

When the Ming Dynasty ended in China in 1644, the Dutch traders who were exporting Chinese porcelain to Europe lost their source of supply. The Japanese allowed the Dutch to establish a trade mission on the island of Deshimi near Nagasaki. The kilns at Arita were used to produce wares for export to Europe. These reproduced European shapes and the blue-and-white Chinese decoration with an inky blue covering almost all of the available space. The glaze usually had an orange-peel texture and gilding was often used. These wares became known as Imari from the port from which they were exported.

Kakiemon jar (ca 1650)
Kakiemon jar (ca 1650)

At about the same time, a new style of decoration (for the Japanese market) was developed. These wares were painted in enamel in the traditional style of the Kakiemon family. The main subjects of Kakiemon decoration were flowers, animals and birds; the colours used were turquoise, blue, yellow and red; and the porcelain itself was very refined and white. in contrast to Amari, kakiemon wares exhibit suburb control of space with sparse decoration.. Kakiemon was much admired and extensively copied in Europe and England.

In 1592, the daimyo of Satsuma province had launched an attack on Korea. After six years, his armies returned and brought with them some twenty families of Korean potters . These potters and their descendants produced wares in various styles but mainly restrained monochromes. Around 1800, under the direction of the daimyo of the time, they started to produce wares decorated with polychrome enamels, including silver and gold. Early motifs were simple, elegant interpretations of nature but, from around 1860, warriors, Buddhist disciples and processions began to be incorporated. Satsuma wares were exhibited in Europe for the first time in London in 1862, resulting in an overwhelming demand and expansion of production outside the original Satsuma area.

Satsuma teapot
Satsuma teapot

During the late 19th century, Baron Ichizaemon Morimura recognised the potential for the export of fine china dinnerware to the United States. In 1876, he established a company to ship china and other gift items to America and to operate a shop in New York. In 1904, he established a factory to manufacture his export wares in the village of Noritake near Nagoya. Noritake tableware quickly came to be recognised as a premium quality product. (Throughout its history, Noritake has developed and manufactured industrial products. These include industrial ceramics, grinding wheels, electronic components and kilns. These products realise greater worldwide sales than Noritake china.)
 

Antique Japanese ceramics available now
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