The Japanese use the word yaki for porcelain, pottery and earthenware alike. For centuries and up to this day, yaki has been a vital and successful art form in Japan.
Exports of Japanese ceramics, mainly of porcelain products, have always played an important role. Even during the Edo period (1603-1868), when Japan had isolated itself from the rest of the world, exports of Japanese porcelain to Western countries was a significant business factor.
Until the beginning of the Meiji period, the trade with Japan was dominated by the Dutch East India Company.
Japanese porcelain has been very popular in Europe since the seventeenth century. Famous names like Kakiemon porcelain were even copied in large numbers. And chances to find an old European copy on the art market are better than to find an original.
The production of earthenware in Japan goes back to the neolithic Jomon period (from 10,000 to 300 B.C.). But the beginning of Japanese porcelain as Westerners know it today, started in the early seventeenth century. Japanese feudal lords had invaded Korea and brought with them skilled Korean artisans.
They again, had learned from the Chinese how to produce fine porcelain. One of the Korean porcelain makers was Ri Sampei. He is considered as the "father" of Japanese porcelain.
In the late sixteenth century the cult of the tea ceremony had spread from China to Japan and promoted the development of porcelain manufacturing.
Although Japanese porcelain production has found to its own style, the influence of Chinese and Korean porcelain manufacturing always remained dominant.
The production of ceramics is located in areas where clay with a high percentage of kaolin is available. The ceramics are baked in kilns under high temperature. Porcelain requires higher temperatures than pottery and a higher percentage of kaolin.
The center of the Japanese porcelain production is on the island of Kyushu in the South. The largest city on Kyushu is Arita. Imari is the name of a port near Arita. From here the ceramics produced for export were shipped to foreign countries. Today the word Imari has become a synonym for Japanese porcelain in general.
Old Imari (in Japanese: Ko-Imari) is the name of a style of polychrome enamel with characteristic five color glazes with gold and silver painted on cobalt underglaze bodies. The different styles in Imari ware are named after the region where they are produced or after the potter families who had invented the style.
Author: Dieter Wanczura