Japan is known for creating many unique things in this world. These creations may date as far back as the Heian period and until this very day, they continue to awe the world with the things they come up with. Nowadays the creations Japan make usually revolve around technological things because that is the direction the world is moving towards but before, the majority of the things created by Japan were about art. Amongst the many art forms that Japan shared with the world, the one that becomes immensely popular in places like Europe was the Imari ware.
The City That Imari Ware Came From
There is a city on the island of Kyushu, specifically in the Sage Prefecture, which is known as the city of Imari. As you can see, it has the same name as the imari ware but surprisingly enough, the imari ware isn’t made there. The imari ware is actually made in a neighboring town called Arita but the products of Arita were called Imari ware because the city of Imari served as the port which exported it to the different places all over the world.
Because of the fame brought about by the imari ware that comes from here, it is often overlooked that the city of Imari is the largest Japanese pear producing center found in western Japan. It became a pear producing city when around 100 years ago, the Okawa area brought the knowledge of cultivating the pears to Imari. From then, it spread like wildfire and it presently has about 350 hectares of land devoted to the production of these delicious Japanese pears.
The fact that the city is more known for the ware that comes out of it rather than the delicious produce it offers Japan is quite bizarre because it exported the imari ware before it became a pear producing city. Usually, the newer titles of a city cast shadows on the older things the certain cities are known for but in this case, it was the other way around. It might not be obvious but the fact that this happened is proof of the world-class quality and beauty that the imari ware offers because for an older acknowledgment to outshine a newer one hints that the older acknowledgment was the one that really got the attention of the people of Japan and of the world.
The History of the Imari Ware from Japan and How It Progressed to Things like Vases, Teapots, and Plates
Pottery has been a thing in Japan since the time of the Jomon period. During this period, the pottery style developed was one that made use of hand-impressed rope patterns as the decoration. It was made by coiling clay ropes and then exposing it to open fire to harden the earthenware.
Not much changed during the Yayoi period as it still used the same techniques used in the Jomon period but with different styles of designs. It was only when the Kofun period came that Japanese pottery would taste its first major improvement with the introduction of the anagama kiln which is like an oven that replaces the open fire exposure of the Jomon period pottery methods. Unlike the open fire, the kiln enables potters to reach temperatures as high as 1300 degrees Celsius which was a huge help in making the clay moldable so that more designs could be created with it.
When the Hein period came, the improvement made in terms of pottery was not in the utilities but in the designing of the products. It was during these centuries that the three-color lead glaze technique started to be utilized in Japan despite the fact that China’s Tang Dynasty introduced it to Japan as far back as the 8th century. These ware were named Kamui ware, Atsumi ware, and Tokoname ware.
The Kamakura period shifted the preference of the people regarding the pottery because the unglazed stoneware of that time became popular due to the daily needs of the people. They started to want and need all kinds of jars, bowls, teapots, vases, plates, and all other shapes and sizes of these pottery products for different purposes. For example, the large jars were used for things like storage and funerary jars while the pots were used as kitchen pots and alike.
This period of time was also the time when some kilns improved their technology by creating certain glaze techniques in specific kilns. An example of such a kiln is the Seto kiln found in the Owari Province, which is now the Aichi Prefecture because it was said that they made a new glaze technique in their kiln that originated from the high-fired glazed ceramic they acquired from China.
Through the periods of Muromachi and Azuchi-Momoyama, Japanese pottery stayed pretty much at the same level because the people became more interested in the porcelain products that China was making. This is so because of the growing popularity of the tea ceremony during those times which created a demand for such items. These ceramics and porcelain products from China were seen as sophisticated items that were only used by the upper classes or royalty during their tea ceremonies. This being the case, the prices of these Chinese pottery stocks and objects rose tremendously during those periods.
The Sengoku period was essential for the improvement of Japanese pottery for reasons that you might have never expected. The improvements attained during this time wasn’t not caused by a Japanese citizen but by a Korean potter that was captured from Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s invasion of Korea in the year of 1592. They took potters as slaves to Japan and they luckily captured a man named Yi Sam-pyeong. This man plays a vital role in the said improvement of this period because he was the one that discovered a source of porcelain clay near Arita. With this discovery, he was able to create the very first Japanese porcelain.
This was not the only thing he gave Japan. Sam-pyeong also brought improved kiln technology which involved a kiln that would run up the hillside because that apparently enabled the kiln to reach hotter temperatures as high as 1400 degrees Celsius. He shared this technology with the kiln of Satsuma, Hagi, Takatori, Agano, Karatsu, and Arita.
The Edo period also played a vital role in the development of Japanese pottery because it was during this time that the rebellions in China brought Chinese potter refugees to Japan. The knowledge that these Chinese potters had introduced refined porcelains techniques and enamel glazes to the kilns of Arita. It was because of this that Arita became the heart of the Japanese porcelain industry. Their products became so well-known that the Dutch East India Company even sought out Japan for blue and white porcelain to sell to Europe. Sadly, during those times, the Arita kilns did not have enough power to supply the demand of the Dutch. Luckily, they were able to expand fast enough before the Dutch sought out another source of what they came to Japan for.
With all the new technology that came, the Meiji Era ushered in a number of evolutions for the Japanese porcelain. From the revised Korean-style white and blue porcelains known as “Shoki-Imari”, the knowledge of the Chinese potters helped the Shoki-Imari evolve into the Ko-Kutani. The Ko-Kutani had a description of having vivid green, purple, blue, red, and yellow colors used for the painted designs of the landscapes and nature. The simple blue and white porcelain continued to be produced and was then referred to as Ai-Kutani.
It didn’t take long before the Ko-Kutani evolved into the style known as the Kakiemon-style Imari which went on to be produced for about 50 years in the 1700s. This style was characterized by the crisp lines used in its designs which made it possible to draw things like flowers and other intricate designs as well. This style eventually started using gold enamels as well as other bold colors and this was rare to see in Chinese pottery creations because of the lack of gold in China during those times.
The Imari Ware Marks that Identify the Value and Prove That It was made in Japan
Considering the interesting history Japanese pottery and Japanese porcelain has, it is a no-brainer that items considered to be antiques from previous historical periods can be valued at a very high price nowadays. The continuous creation of these items throughout the centuries doesn’t help as well because it made it more complicated to date which pieces are actually from the older centuries.
There are a lot of sources on the net that provide symbols to look out for when you are purchasing these antiques because it is believed that these symbols are the marks that signify the period it was made in. Sadly, there are also some marks that are fake and a perfect example of such a mark is the word “Imari” that you can find on certain pieces that claim to be antiques.
There is no way that the Japanese porcelain potters would put the English word “Imari” on their work so if someone is selling you a piece with this mark on it, please keep in mind that it is probably a fake antique and you shouldn’t waste money on that. The things you should look out for are signatures of famous Japanese potters because some of them signed their special creations for a sense of commemoration in a way. You should also look out for symbolic marks or kanji characters that say something like “good luck” because these are marks that hint that the pieces are most probably authentic.
With all the information found here, it is clear that Japanese pottery is alive and well in the culture of Japan. It helps that the Japanese culture still values the tea ceremony because this creates a constant demand for pottery products. Aside from the demand created by the tea ceremony, these pottery creations serve as great collector’s items for those with the passion to do so. Just be sure to double check for marks on your next purchase because you wouldn’t want to waste money of a fake work of art.