The Chitra Collection: Tea Wares of Japan

The Chitra Collection: Tea Wares of Japan

Although kaolin clay, essential for the manufacture of porcelain, had been discovered in Kyushu in southern Japan in 1616, the Japanese had never valued porcelain in the same way as their foreign customers. The Japanese transition from pottery to porcelain was delayed by the country’s dedication to chanoyu, which laid greater importance on the use of simple, rustic pottery bowls and vases. When the local potteries, mostly small family kilns, did start making porcelain, they were influenced largely by Chinese design and produced simple pieces such as tea bowls, storage jars, and dishes in blue-and-white glaze or in celadon, decorated with flowers, butterflies, crickets, birds, and landscapes. At first, the Japanese porcelains were not considered as fine as those that had previously come out of China, but with growing demand from the Dutch, the porcelain factories in the town of Arita in Kyushu, flourished in the second half of the 17th century and became famous for their overglaze enameled and underglaze blue-and-white wares.

This tea bowl and plate (pictured above) were made between 1868 and 1880 for export to the Western market at a time when Japanese potters were developing new shapes and styles to suit their foreign customers. Although made in the form of a traditional Japanese tea bowl, it is much more elaborately decorated with figures of sumo wrestlers in the interior and various scenes of male and female figures in cartouches on the exterior. Whereas Satsuma wares from the 18th century were decorated with flowers, leaves, and birds, by the late 19th century, animals, dragons, architectural designs, and human elements appeared more and more, and decorations were extravagantly embellished with gold.

Sakaida Kizaiemon was one of the first potters to discover and perfect the art of enameling in the mid-17th century. When he presented the Lord of Nabeshima with an enameled ornament in the shape of a pair of persimmons (kaki), the aristocrat nicknamed him Kakiemon. The name stuck, was carried forward by his descendants, and became famous around the world as the name of the pottery. The name is sometimes used to encompass all porcelain wares from Arita, but the genuine pieces were and still are made by descendants of Sakaida Kakiemon. By the beginning of the 18th century, Kakiemon was in great demand and was being imported into Europe and China where the style was often copied. Kakiemon and other porcelains from Arita are often referred to as Imari wares since the town of Imari on the northwest coast of Kyushu became the shipment port for porcelains made at the nearby kilns.

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