Essays and Articles

Japanese Porcelain Origin

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Porcelain production began in Japan during the early 17th century, several hundred years after it had first been made in China and Korea. Following two Japanese invasions of Korea during the 1590's led by the fuedal samurai lord Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Japan saw an influx of Korean immigration with many artisans and craftspeople moving throughout the country in order to find work and to learn new techniques and to teach their skills to Japanese potters.

In 1616, Kaolin, the clay from which porcelain is made was found in the area surrounding the town of Arita; porcelain production quickly sprang up in the surounding area and thus Japanese porcelain was born. Originally heavily influenced by Korean artisans who had already gained advanced technical skills in their homeland, the earliest porcelain pieces made in Japan were blue and white utilitarian items such as cups and plates, oftentimes decorated with naturalistic scenes based on classical Korean themes.

Over the next 50 years Japan's porcelain production continued to grow with wares produced in Arita and its surrounding areas being traded throughout the country via the sea port of Imari, a name by which these porcelain wares would become generically known.

Social unrest and political turmoil in China during the mid 17th century drastically reduced its domestic and export porcelain production forcing the powerful Dutch East India Trade Company "Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie" (VOC) to find a new porcelain producer for their European market. Coinciding with the decline in Chinese porcelain production and aided by Chinese master potters and porcelain painters working Japan, more elaborate motifs and designs rendered in polychrome colours and gold leaf began to feature prominently in the wares made by Japanese kilns.
The increasing technical skills of Japan's porcelain makers had not escaped the eye of the VOC who placed their first large order for Japanese 'Imari' porcelain wares in 1656.

Soon after the arrival of this first order of Japanese 'Imari' porcelain in Europe, the Dutch East India Company would go on to place increasingly large orders over the following years in order to meet the surging demands of a European high society obsessed with a newly created craze for 'Japonism'.

The 18th century however would spell the beginning of the end for many porcelain centers in Japan as China once more began to increase its porcelain production, relying on an already highly trained and skilled network of potters and ceramic artisans to offer designs appealing to European tastes at competitive prices to those made in Japan.

Japanese porcelain outputs dwindled in the latter half of the 18th century before ultimately being revived once more by an influx of tourist interest after the country lifted its self imposed isolationist policy in the late 19th century.


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