Japanese legends attribute the invention of pottery to Oosei-tsumi, who lived long before 660 B. C., the beginning of the historical period of Japan. Between 660 and 581 B. C., Wakanet su Hiko-no-mikoto, in the province of Yamato, made some vessels of pottery for use in the temples. By order of the Emperor Suinin (29 B. C.), human figures made of burnt clay were buried with deceased members of the imperial family in place of their servants, as had before been the custom. About A. D. 590, a Corean made tiles at Tokio. About 600 the pagoda of the temple of Korinji in Yamato was built of bricks. About 66o the roof of the Imperial temple was tiled. In 724 Giyoki, a priest, introduced the potter’s wheel in the province of Yamato.
In 1225 Kato Shirozayemon went to China, returned and settled at Seto, in Owari, where he made stoneware. Owari or Seto porcelain is made at Seto, six miles from Nagoya, in the province of Owari.
About 1500 Ameya, a Corean, came to Kiyoto and made a black earthenware covered with a glaze containing lead, and called it Raku (enjoyment). His descendants still make small bowls and other objects of the same ware. Both Kiyoto and Mino ware are made at the places after which they are named.
In 1585 Gorodayu Shonsui went to China from Ise, studied there, returned and made the first real porcelain of Japan. He settled in the province of Hizen, and from the first produced the different kinds of porcelain which are to-day made there, viz. the Sometsuki or blue ware, painted with oxide of cobalt under the glaze ; the Kanyu or Hibiki, crackled; the Seidji or celadon, and the Grosai, meaning ” five colors,” enamelled on the glaze. This ware is now called Nishikide. The old Hizen or Imari porcelain, made principally at Arita, is decorated with blue under the glaze, black outlines and red, green and gold. For a short time all the articles were marked Shonsui.
At more recent dates porcelain has been made at Kutani. Kutani is the name of the mountain in the province of Kaga where the porcelain material is found.. The factory is in the village of Yarnashiro.
About 1595 the Prince of Satsuma having invaded Corea, brought home a number of potters with their families, and near Nagoshima in the province of Satsuma established factories. These families were kept isolated until within the past fifteen years. Lately Satsuma ware has been imitated at Kiyoto, Awajisima, Yokohama and Tokio.
Old Satsuma ware is generally found in small pieces, such as bowls, plates, small vases and teapots; but for the exhibition of 1876, modern vases of large size were made. Of the old Satsuma ware the finest and rarest pieces were made in the ” Garden of the Prince,” for his own use, or as presents to his compeers, whose families esteem them so highly that foreigners can rarely obtain examples. The earliest Satsuma pottery was of a delicate soft clay; in color of a creamy yellow shadowed into pale chocolate ; it was covered with a minutely crackled glaze, similar to that now used. When decorations were introduced the human figure was very rarely used ; flowers, vines, peacocks, hohos, hatchings and scrolls forming the ornamentation found upon this princely ware.
The decoration is distinguished by great delicacy of outline ; rich red and green colors and tracings in thick gold lines of a dull color. The finest Satsuma was made between the years 1775 and 1820. No porcelain has been produced at this factory except as an experiment.
Awata or Kiyoto ware was invented a little later than the slightly buff-colored Satsuma ; it has a yellowish tint, and on account of its color is called Tamago-yaki or ” egg pottery.” The decorations originally. were very light sketches in a few neutral tints, but latterly they have imitated both Satsuma and Hizen wares, and efforts have been made to adopt the European mode of painting flowers. An article very similar to the Satsuma and Awata wares is now manufactured on a small scale on the island of Awadji, and a peculiar kind of stoneware called Banko-yaki is made in the province of Ise.
The manufactories we have mentioned are those which produce articles of artistic merit, most sought after by museums and amateurs. Besides these are many small factories where all kinds of earthenware and porcelain are made into objects for household use. We find pieces glazed like the majolicas of Italy with a composition containing a large percentage of lead, some few of which are deco-rated with painting under the glaze ; also objects ornamented with pate sur pate, and occasionally curious pieces made by amateurs, at tea parties given for the purpose, where as an amusement of the evening, each guest tries his skill to produce a work of art in earthenware. We also find the plastic arts represented by small figures, glazed and unglazed, generally of mythological personages or warriors. The finest specimens of these come from Satsuma and Kiyoto. Long experience in Hizen and Owari has enabled their artists to execute very large pieces in porcelain, such as dishes three and four feet in diameter, and vases six and seven feet high. In the province of Hizen only have they adopted a potter’s wheel.
At Arita; in Hizen, they make the very delicate egg-shell pottery almost as thin as paper. The glazes are always composed of a feldspathic material, natural or manufactured, to which is added a certain quantity of wood-ashes freed from alkali by careful lixiviation. The body of celadon ware is the same as that of the common, but the glaze is made from a different mineral. Crackle ware is produced from a peculiar porcelain stone, and the nature of the meshes of cracks depends upon the quality of this stone, and the degree of baking it is subjected to both before and after glazing. This ware is finely rubbed with india ink or other colored liquid to make the cracks more distinct.
The porcelain which is decorated with blue paintings under the glaze called Sometsuki is much used in Japan. The blue is derived from a native cobaltiferous ore, or from a purer material imported from. China.
That which is also decorated with colored enamels goes through a third and entirely different baking at a much lower temperature, and from this fact it arises that many pieces of porcelain and faience originally made at’ Imari, Owari and Satsuma are decorated at Kiyoto and other places.
The principal coloring oxides are copper, manganese, antimony, red oxide of iron, impure oxide of cobalt (for black), a sort of smalt from China, and gold, which for carmine tints is mixed with powdered glass, and for gilding with white lead or borax. These enamels are not melted beforehand, but mixed by the artist and applied directly, so that their color does not appear until after the pieces have been baked.
For centuries Kiyoto was the Imperial City of Japan, the capital of the Empire, the seat of learning, and the nursery of art. There the court resided and the nobles congregated, and there tributes were sent from every province and principality of Japan. Among these yearly tributes were always to be found objects of faience and porcelain from various factories. These objects accumulated under the eyes of the potters of Kiyoto, incited them to artistic efforts, and led them to become what they now are, the most successful artists of Japan. To-day the decoration used by every factory of Japan is imitated only too successfully in Kiyoto. When the ingredients to form the pottery itself are not to be found in the neighborhood, orders for undecorated pieces are sent to the factories, these pieces are afterwards decorated at Kiyoto and sold for genuine. Such frauds, if confined to the imitation of modern work, would not be of much con-sequence, but unfortunately the Japanese perseverance has discovered a method for making their youthful pottery turn gray in a short time. Even the Satsuma ware made in the “Garden of the Prince” has not escaped. At Yokohama the great foreign demand for objects of art of the best periods has led dealers to employ artists to reproduce such objects, and today this city has even outstripped Kiyoto in this fraudulent industry.