The Chitra Collection: Tea Wares of Japan

The Chitra Collection: Tea Wares of Japan
This earthenware teapot, circa 1880, was made by Kinkozan, a pottery in Kyoto that began to make Satsuma wares around 1875 after the success of the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1867. They produced Satsuma-style pieces for export direct to customers in the West and, in particular, to America. The Kinkozan family produced ceramics from 1645 until 1927 and were the largest makers of Satsuma wares. They perfected the use of underglaze cobalt blue, and their pieces were typically decorated with a blue ground and gilded detail, as on this teapot, which shows representations of dignitaries. However, they also produced pieces in other colors, including brown, green, a lighter blue, and red.

Satsuma wares date back to the late 16th century when Korean potters established kilns in Kagoshima prefecture in southern Kyushu to make pottery from the local clay. After decorating with colored enamels in blue, green, red, and pink, a translucent glaze was applied that gave a crackled finish. Early Satsuma wares were made for domestic use and included tea bowls, water jars, and flower vases. By the end of the 18th century, the decoration had become richer, with gold and silver used to outline flower petals and leaves. During the Meiji period, when Japan had opened its doors to trade with the outside world, manufacturers began to use more and more gold to impress their foreign customers. European and American collectors would go to any lengths to acquire Satsuma pieces.

After the Vienna World Fair in 1873, manufacture spread to other cities such as Kyoto, Kutani, Okayama, Tokyo, and Yokohama to meet the growing export demand. Treasured items included teapots, tea jars, and tea bowls. Although not to Japanese taste and not purchased in the domestic market, they did give an insight into scenes of Japanese life—children playing, craftsmen working, street scenes, sporting activities, festivities, and celebrations—that intrigued Western buyers. In the 1880s and 90s, mass production led to a drop in quality and falling prices, and interest in Satsuma wares began to wane among foreign buyers. However, some independent artists continued to make fine-quality pieces, and production in Kyoto, Tokyo, Nagoya, and Yokohama continues today.

The number of Satsuma and other finely decorated tea wares that feature amongst the many Japanese pieces in the Chitra Collection bears witness to the importance of Japanese porcelain in the export market of the late 19th century when more and more people in Europe and America coveted such beautiful porcelains to show off at their tea parties.


Contributing Editor Jane Pettigrew, an international tea expert, who has written many books on the subject, is recipient of the British Empire Medal. A former tearoom owner, she is a much-sought-after consultant to tea businesses and hotels, a conference speaker, and an award-winning tea educator. Although her travels take her around the globe, she resides in London.

From TeaTimeMay/June 2017

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