400 years of tradition and innovations

There is probably no other ceramic ware today that can rival the fine craftsmanship of white Satsuma ware.   The Satsuma nishikide (a kind of multi-coloured porcelain) with a perfect balance of painting on the base clay and carving techniques is a type of white Satsuma ware with kan’nyū (crazing). Made with transcendental techniques, this elegant ware has a commanding presence yet serene. Such is white Satsuma ware.
The surface of white Satsuma is covered with fine crazing in glaze. These refract light coming from all angles, providing depth to the warm-ivory-coloured porcelain surface. 

Motifs are skillfully, and at times intricately, painted using gold paint made from pure gold, as well as colours like red, green, yellow and blue.

Delicate patterns are meticulously hand carved to a regular design resembling that of metalwork, but at the same time producing warmth that is not achievable with metalwork. The elegance of the balance between the painting on the clay surface and the carving is unique to white Satsuma ware and symbolic of Satsuma nishikide.
White Satsuma ware was created 400 years ago, about two decades after Satsuma ware was first made. The white clay produced by the volcanic geology of Kagoshima and weathered by the hot spring water is the raw material for white Satsuma ware. Potters from the Korean Peninsula discovered the white clay after being ordered by feudal decree to make white pottery ware. These potters were the ones who created Satsuma ware in Kagoshima by using advanced foreign techniques to make glazed wares.
Unlike Arita ware made in Saga, northern part of Kyushu Island, precious white clay used for making white Satsuma ware can only be found in certain places of Kagoshima. As a result, white Satsuma wares were treasured by the feudal clan and used as official items. In time the potters would achieve the technique to create tiny cracks covering the warm-ivory-coloured surface.
Among the different types of white Satsuma ware, an elaborate white ware called shirayaki was exceptionally high in quality. It was around mid-18th century when the nishikide technique of painting designs on the white Satsuma surface using vibrant paints of gold, red, green, yellow, purple and other colours was established. This was a ceramic ware of high rank that could only be used by the feudal lords as a gift to a shogun family or a daimyo, so much so that no Satsuma nishikide ware was ever seen by the commoners during the Edo period.
In the 19th century Western powers such as the British empire and France began to arrive in Japan by ship. Sensing crisis and pressure from the outside world, feudal lord Shimazu Nariakira (in office 1851-58) took lead to become the first in Japan to promote the “Shūseikan undertakings” of modernization using the latest western techniques and technologies.   Sensing the arrival of an era where Japan would trade with foreign nations, Nariakira began working on improving paint to make Satsuma ware suitable for trading. He succeeded in creating pigments that were once only available overseas, while improving on the creation of gold, silver and purple pigments, achieving outstandingly vibrant colours.
Nariakira’s vision toward overseas finally bore fruit. The Satsuma nishikide items exhibited by the Satsuma feudal clan at the second Paris World Exposition in 1867 won great popularity. In 1873 the Meiji government put its prestige on participating at the Vienna World Exposition, where the large nishikide vase created by 12th-generation Chin Jukan was highly praised, thereby establishing Satsuma nishikide as an international commodity. With Japonism in motion in the latter half of the 19th century, Satsuma nishikide became an export commodity sought by people around the world.
Plain white Satsuma porcelain before being painted. Large, decorative porcelains were particularly popular overseas at the beginning of the Meiji period.  From the Chin Jukan Museum collection.
With the collapse of the shogunate system, official kilns became privatized and Satsuma nishikide that was once restricted only for official production and use was now available to everyone. It became a ceramic ware that could be made and owned by anyone. During this era of privatization it was 12th-generation Chin Jukan who took lead in the production of Satsuma nishikide, by establishing a pottery factory (the Chin Jukan Kiln today) at Mt. Gyokō in 1875, taking in potters who had lost protection from the feudal clan.
Shipment of wares to Tokyo began as early as the year following the establishment of the kiln, and in 1880 a branch was set up in Tokyo to accommodate international trading. The sales channels of Chin Jukan Kiln by around 1902 had expanded to Europe, Russia, the United States, Australia and Southeast Asia. In addition, the pottery led the production of Satsuma Ware in Kagoshima, winning many awards at expositions in and outside of Japan along the way.
The international popularity of Satsuma nishikide led to the production of ceramic and porcelain wares in the style of Satsuma ware in various production areas in Japan, namely Kyō Satsuma, Yokohama Satsuma, among others. With these spinoff wares also recognized as Satsuma ware overseas, competition within Japan became fiercer. To ensure his kiln would be the best, 12th-generation Chin Jukan sought the unique beauty in Satsuma ware and focused on developing techniques. As a result, he established the prototype for modern Satsuma ware.
The unique beauty of Satsuma
The unique beauty of Satsuma ware 12th-generation Chin Jukan pointed out four aspects that were vital to the unique beauty of Satsumas ware: the solidly fired hard clay, the fine cracks, the rich and pure-gold paint, and the painting in harmony with the clay surface. The tradition of white Satsuma ware production in pursuit of the beautifully fired clay since the Edo period lives on today.
Skillful carving technique
Satsuma ware openwork was invented by 12th-generation Chin Jukan around 1879. He uniquely created the technique to apply fine openwork over the entire porcelain, sometimes combining this with painting as well. The sophisticated technique and the refined beauty of his works won him high acclaims at expositions and other events. Today, this technique remains one of the representative techniques of Satsuma ware.
Decorative pieces such as figurines in Satsuma ware are called hinerimono, and the majority of such figurines made in profusion were deities and saints like the Kannon. This was the result of the sophisticated sculpturing techniques developed from the Edo period. After the 20s of the Meiji period (1887-) the hinerimono created at the Chin Jukan Kiln were given natural, vivid, and life-like expressions depicting a moment in daily life or an instant movement of an animal.
The heart of the beauty of white Satsuma lies in the pottery making that celebrates the possibilities of handicraft developed over 400 years. Today artists of white Satsuma ware carry on the tradition, while continuing to innovate freely to make more intricate works.
The Chin Jukan Museum
The museum is located inside the premises of the Chin Jukan Kiln. Here, visitors can view Satsuma ware pieces from the Edo period and works by the generations of Chin Jukan potters, understand the plainly explained history of Satsuma, watch potters at work, and purchase products made at the Chin Jukan Kiln at the Gallery.
Kyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory
Credits: Story

Direction and text:
Fukaminato Kyoko, Kagoshima Prefecutural Museum of Culture REIMEIKAN

Information and images provided by:
Chin Jukan Kiln
Kagoshima City Museum of Art
Satuma-Denshokan Museum

English translation:
Eddy Y.L. Chang

This exhibition is created by:
Ishikawa Mami, Kyoto Women's University

Project Directors:
Dr Maezaki Shinya, Kyoto Women's University)
Dr. Masako Yamamoto, Ritsumeikan 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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