Satsuma-style ceramics made in Kyoto with luxuriant colors, superb technique, and minute decoration

Kyō Satsuma (Kyoto Satsuma) ware, known for its gorgeous colors, meticulous technique, and ornately detailed painting, was first developed born some 150 years ago in the early Meiji period (1868–1912).
Kyō Satsuma ceramics have elaborate, detailed paintings beautifully done in multicolored glazes and glittering gold on a crackled white ground. The name reflects their being made in Kyoto (Kyō) but originating from a style developed in Satsuma, present day Kagoshima prefecture, Kyushu. Satsuma ware astounded Westerners at the Paris International Exposition of 1867 and at the Vienna International Exposition of 1873, leading to a rage for what became known simply as "Satsuma." News of the fame in the West of gold-patterned (kinrande) Satsuma soon reached the Awadaguchi area of Higashiyama in Kyoto, which has a long history of ceramic production reaching back to the Edo period (1615–1868). It inspired them to start producing their own “Kyō [Kyoto] Satsuma.”
The painting technique used in Kyoto’s Satsuma-style ware is said to be the invention of the sixth generation Kinkōzan Sōbei (1824–1884). The Kinkōzan were a famous family of Kyoto Awataguchi potters who made ceramics that were used at Shōren'in, a temple closely tied to the imperial family, and by the shoguns of the Edo government. In fact the shogun is said to have granted them the name Kinkōzan. With the upheavals at the end of the Edo period, however, and the reforms of the subsequent Meiji government, the potters lost their traditional patrons and had to develop new markets.
Just at that time, the visit of a certain Westerner is said to have decided them to embark on overseas trade. By 1870, they had perfected Kyō Satsuma’s glazing technique and by 1872 they began their export in full scale. The Kyō Satsuma techniques invented by Kinkōzan Sōbei VI were then passed down to his son, Kinkōzan Sōbei VII (1868–1927), who further developed the ware.
Kinkōzan Sōbei VII (1868–1927)
The Kinkōzan continued to enlarge their business throughout the Meiji period to the point where the production of Kyō Satuma exceeded the original Satsuma made in Kagoshima.
Kinkōzan's climbing kilns
At the point of peak production, Kyoto's Satuma kilns boasted over 700 workers within a production complex over 4000 square meters in size. The ceramics were produced from two types of local clay taken from the outskirts of Awadaguchi and two types of clay from Koga in the neighboring Shiga prefecture. Painting, packing, and selling were taken care of within Kinkōzan workshops. At the time, Awataguchi was so crowded with ceramic workshops—including Obiyama, Yasuda, and Kusube—that it was said that the flames of the Awadaguchi kilns burned through the day and night.
The numerous collections of Kyoto Satsuma in Europe and the U.S. bespeak the success of Kyō Satsuma on the export market. Among the numerous museums with Kyō Satsuma holdings are the Victoria and Albert Museum in the U.K., the Guimet Museum of Asian Art in France and the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the U.S., which house Kyō Satsuma vases, incense burners, bowls, and dishes in their collections.
Kyō Satsuma production was initiated with an eye on the international market, and it reflects the trends of the late 19th century soon after Japan had reopened its doors, depicting Japan as the West wanted to see it. The heavy use of gold, the typical Japanese paintings of genre scenes or birds and flowers, and the many coffee cups and teapots produced all catered to Western preferences and life styles. Pairs of vases were frequently used as lamps or as decorations for fireplaces.
Then in the Taishō period (1912–1926), the war in Europe and the mass production of inferior goods had a negative effect on exports of Kyō Satsuma. In the late 1930s as Japan turned towards war, the demand for Kyō Satsuma ware ceased, and the flames of the Awadaguchi kilns died out.
Time passed, however, and one ceramic painter on seeing the superlative skill of Kyō Satsuma could hardly believe the paintings to be drawn by human hands. She was so moved that she embarked on recreating the techniques. The ceramics themselves were her teachers: she studied them for their designs, pigments, and brush techniques. After laborious trials and errors, Kyō Satsuma was revived for our time. This is similar to the way the Rinpa painter Sakai Hōitsu (1761–1828) learned his art from the paintings of Ogata Kōrin (1658–1716).
With Meiji-period Satsuma ware as a base, Kyō Satsuma is now being updated to fit the life style of contemporary customers, such as using porcelain as well as earthenware. Today the production of Kyō Satsuma ware continues to evolve with various works being created in the Cu-nyo Workshop located in Tanbabashi, Kyoto.
Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum
Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum, located on the street leading up to Kiyomizu temple, permanently displays Kyō Satsuma masterpieces.
By: Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University in collaboration with Kyoto Women's University
Credits: Story

Information provided by Kiyomizu Sannenzaka MuseumCu-nyo

Text written by Matsubayra Fumi, curator, Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum

Movie by:Takayama Kengo, A-PROJECTS

English translation by Miyo Kurosaki Bethe

Edited by Melissa M. Rinne, Kyoto National Museum

Website created by Murata Ai, Kobayashi Yuka Kyoto Women's University Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Directed by Maezaki Shinya, Kyoto Women's University

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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