THE CERAMIC ART OF JAPAN.The first historic notice of the ceramic art in Japan is that of the terra-cotta figures set ill the earth in a circle round the dead, in place of the living victims formerly buried up to their necks. After death by starvation, a circle of skulls marked the site of the illustrious dead, like the cairns of Britain. Ancient graves occasionally opened in the vicinity of Nara and Kiōto are found surrounded by a circle of clay images. At the death of the wife of one of the ancient mikados, who had been grieved at hearing the groans of the dying victims buried alive to their necks with the dead Prince Yamato hiko no mikoto, he permitted his adviser to bring a hundred workmen in clay from Idzumo, who made clay images of men, horses, and other things, which were buried in lieu of men with the empress. Potters, brick and the makers, came over from Corea with other artificers (p. 83) in the seventh century; and in A. D. 724 progress in the ceramic art began by the introduction of the potter's wheel, and continued for five centuries in the working of faience only, pure Japanese porcelain being unknown till the time of Hidōyoshi. In the days of the Hōjō, Kato Shirozaëmon having visited China to study the art, came back and erected his wheels and kilns in Séto, Owari, making, however, only pottery of an improved sort. "Séto-mono" (Séto ware, or séto, like our term, "china") is the common name for household crockery in Japan. The making of real porcelain in Japan was begun by the Corean potters brought into Japan by the Japanese who invaded Corea (1593-1597). These captives were settled in Buzen, Higo, Hizen, Ōzumi, and Satsuma, in Kiushiu, where are still the oldest seats of the ceramic industries, and at Yamaguchi, in Nagato, and near Kiōto. About the same time a Japanese front Isé, who had studied the clays, pigments, and methods of the Chinese, settled in Hizen, where he found beds of clay with the varied qualities necessary to produce the famous Hizen wares. It is only in very recent times that the potteries of Owari, Mino, and Kaga have become celebrated; and those near Tōkiō and Yokohama only within the last decade. At present it is notorious that the "old" Satsuma, Hizen, and Kiōto wares are imitated in scores of kilns all over the country. Very few pieces of the highest artistic merit have been produced since the Restoration, as the making of porcelain and faience in Japan has since 1868 degenerated from an art to a trade. In the days of feudalism, masterpiecos of the ceramic art were made for princes and lords, for presentation to fellow-daimiōs, the shōgun and court nobles. Such things were not bought and sold. There were, properly speaking, no shops for their sale. Only household crockery was seen in the shops. Fine pieces were not in the trade: a fact which explains what foreigners have so often wondered at; namely, that until eight or ten years ago the rarest porcelain was made in Japan, and occasionally found its way to Europe, yet the keenest-eyed visitor in Japan never saw it on sale. Formerly the artisan was an artist, and worked for low wages and honor. He lived on a few bronze cash per day, yet enjoyed the presence and friendship of his lord. The daimiō visited the potter at his wheel, and the potter sat in honor before his master on the mats of his palace - a place, in which the richest trader in the province could not so much as enter. To imprint his stamp, or to scratch with his little finger-nail his name or mark on the bottom of a tea-bowl, or "clove-boiler," or vase, over which he had spent a year or three years, and which should adorn for generations the tokonoma, or nooks of a daimiō's chamber, was sufficient reward to the workman already proudly happy in his own work. Of this contented happiness in work which found its reward in honor, not gain, I was more than once a witness. It is to be hoped that the efforts of the government and native art-lovers, and the proper foreign influence, will be able to arrest the downward tendency of Japanese art in ceramics, and restore it to its former glory, even though the social atmosphere and environment are now so wholly changed.
The villages in which faience and porcelain are made, whose names are household words in America and Europe, look like any other Japanese villages. In the dingy, weather-beaten cottages, made of wood, mud, reed, and thatch, the potters work before their paper windows, the force in each "establishment" usually consisting of father and son, rarely of more than three or four men. The kiln or kilns are the common property of a village, built up the sides of a hill, and fired with pine wood, the workmen taking turns in nothing the temperature and watching the melting of sample enamels on bits of clay set near the plug-hole.
Often the biscuit is made in one place, and the glazing done at another. Many potters now sell their baked wares to artists in Tōkiō and the large cities, who lay on the colors, decorate, and fire in their own furnaces - a process I have often watched in Tōkiō. New designs are wrought by the artist from a drawing, but stock subjects (p. 581) are laid on from memory, and for the cheaper wares dabbed on. In the potteries the principle of division of labor is well understood, one man making bodies another spouts, another handles or ears, his specialty. Of late years companies employing capital have centralized labor, and collected workmen in large establishments, improving their fortunes, and, in rare cases, the art.
Japanese porcelain or faience takes its name from the name of the trading town, the place of manufacture, the port whence it is shipped, the name of the province, or the place where it, is decorated. The following wares are the most celebrated:
SATSUMA. - The oldest specimens have no colored decoration, and date from about 1624, those of the latter part of the century being but slightly adorned in colors. From the beginning of the eighteenth century, appear figure, landscapes, and the general style of decoration in gold and bright tints called nishiki (flowered silk, or brocade). The rich gilding, the harmony of colors, and the delicacy of drawing, have united to give "old Satsuma" ware, which is mostly in small pieces, its renown. Most of it is crackle, called hibiki (snake porcelain), the cracks imitating a serpent's skin. The body of nearly all fine Satsuma ware is white, or cream, or buff color, though red, green, chocolate, purple, blue, white, and black glazes, made of native minerals and metallic oxides, are used. All sorts, qualities, and colors are now made and exported from Satsuma. Nearly all Satsuma ware is faience, semi-porcelain, or stone-ware - not true porcelain.
HIZEN. - Arita and Karatsu are the chief places of manufacture in this province, Arita alone having over two hundred kilns. The wares made for home use are called Sométski (dyed in patterns, or figured), which has blue paintings under the glaze. The whole design is traced by the artist in black lines, the shades being indicated merely by a stroke. The colored enamels are then laid on; thin when opaque, thick when to be transparent after fusion. Usually the entire decoration is fused at one firing. Hizen porcelain and faience have usually lively tints in the style called saishiki (many-tinted). Imari is the sea-port.
OWARI and MINO. - Most of the work of these two provinces is Sométski porcelain or blue ware. The finest deep cobalt glazes are from Owari. Vases, flowerholders, tables, wall-pieces, screens, fan and poem-plaques, and large pictures are wrought in faience, coated with a film of finest kaolin, on which artistic symbols and figures are wrought. Séto is the chief place of manufacture, and Nagoya of sale. Owari also is famous for its cloisonné work, both on copper and porcelain. The application of this delicate art of applying enamel in cells or between threads of metal, producing the effect of shining silver or gold among dead tints of minerals, or of metallic outlines with opaque shadings in color, to porcelain, is, in its development, at least, a recent Japanese art.
KAGA. - The characteristic color of Kaga ware is red, produced by rouge or oxide of iron, with hands and lines of gold, and much figure decoration. Five miles from the town of Térai are the clay beds of Kutani (nine valleys), whence the ware is marked and named. The colors and paintings are not done by one firing as in Hizen, but the clay form, the black tracing of the design, the red glaze, and the gold lines receive each a baking.
KIŌTO. - At Awata, a village in the suburbs of Kiōto, faience having a yellower tint than the buff wares of Satsuma, but crackled, is made, called tamago yaki (egg-pottery), the decoration being usually a few sprays of grasses or flowers, with birds and insects. Eraku ware has gold figures of poets, warriors, Chinese sages, or mythical heroes and creatures, upon a red glaze or dead surface. All kinds of faience and true porcelain are made in Kiōto, the "pierced," the "netted," "sieve," "rice-grain," "egg-shell," "moku-me," "watered," "wood-grained," "marbled," "wicker-work," "woven," "veined," "shell-pink," cloisonné, celadon, lacquered, figured in high relief, and in imitation of inlaid gold and bronze work, called zogan, etc., etc. "Yaki" is the general native term for baked clay. On Awaji island are made delicate buff crackle and celadon faience. Bankoyaki is made of a tough brown clay in Isé, taking its name after the inventor. The ware (usually teapots and small utensils) is very light and thin, having sprays and splashes, and perfect designs in opaque colored enamels slightly raised from the surface.
Tōkiō and YOKOHAMA. - Very little work is produced in the neighborhood of these places, except imitations, though some are very fine, and will puzzle any one, except a real expert, to tell them from "old Satsuma," or "old Hizen" wares. Scores, if not hundreds, of artists and decorators live in these cities who buy baked ware from Owari, Mino, Hizen, Kaga, and local potteries, and decorate and sell it to foreign customers. Most Japanese pottery and porcelain is stamped, scratched, or marked in color with the name of the place where made, the name of the decorator, or the company which sells it. There is an excellent native work of Japanese faience, in live volumes, by the learned antiquary Ninagawa Noritané. For some good notes, see Official Catalogue of the Japanese Section, International Exhibition, Philadelphia, 1876. A work on the History, Ideals, Symbolism, and Technique of Japanese Art is in preparation by the author.