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Japanese Ceramics

Satsuma Vase

This article gives a brief explanation of some of the names used frequently in the world of Japanese ceramics. We explain Arita, Kakiemon, Fukugawa, Kutani, Satsuma, Banko Earthenware and Satsuma pottery.

Japanese Ceramics: Arita Blue & White

Arita ware is the name for porcelain coming from the area of Arita. Arita ware is best known as Arita blue and white porcelain. Arita Blue & White ware is characterized by a typical inky underglaze blue and elegant, often lively patterns. The general term for porcelain in white and underglaze blue is Sometsuke.

During the seventeenth century Japanese porcelain was primarily Arita blue & white. At times, this style was so high in demand that the Chinese copied and exported the ware to Japan.

Exports of Arita Blue & white by the Dutch started on a broad bases around 1660. Supplies from China had become difficult in the wake of civil wars after the collapse of the Ming Dynasty. And Japanese porcelain manufacturers were eager to fill the gap.


Kakiemon porcelain is produced in the Arita area. This line of porcelain goes back to its founder, Kakiemon I (ca. 1596-1666) of the Sakaida family.

Kakiemon I is considered to be the first to produce porcelain with enamel techniques and overglaze colors in Japan. Kakiemon ware comes primarily in square, octagonal or hexagonal shapes.

Typical colors for Kakiemon ware are red, light blue, yellow and bluelike green colors. In 1971 it was declared an important "intangible cultural treasure" by the Japanese government.


The Fukugawa family produced porcelain in the Arita region since the seventeenth century. After the collapse of the feudal system of the Tokugawa dynasty (Edo era) and a devastating economic recession, the head of the Fukugawa family decided to concentrate on exports to the European and North American markets.

Fukugawa porcelain comes in a wide variety of designs and colors. It can be best characterized as combining traditional Japanese designs with Western style elements

Kutani Ware

Kutani was a leading porcelain center in the Ishikawa Prefecture since the seventeenth century. Early Kutani ware is characterized by a green and brown color palette. Later Kutani has bright colors in green, blue, aubergine, yellow, orange, black and gold.

Satsuma Ware

Satsuma ware is something between porcelain and pottery. It is produced at lower temperatures than porcelain. Satsuma ware originates from the seventeenth century. The prince of Satsuma in the Southern area of Kyushu Island had established a kiln with the help of Korean potters. Satsuma ware from this time was made of brown clay.

In the late eighteenth century Satsuma was so popular that clay from the Kyushu Island was brought to Awata near Kyoto to produce Satsuma ware - now known as Kyoto Satsuma ware. Most of the Kyoto Satsuma ware was produced for export to Western countries.

The characteristics of Satsuma ware are rich decorations with gold and polychrome colors on a soft, ivory-colored, crackled glaze. Typical for the decoration of Satsuma ware is the use of Gosu blue, a highly saturated blue glaze. The technique of Gosu blue was developed in the nineteenth century.

Banko Earthenware

Banko pottery wares have been produced since the nineteenth century both for the domestic market and for export. Banko ware comes usually as teapots and has charming designs of a peculiar style. Some Banko pottery is unglazed while others can be very colorful and abundantly decorated with sculpture-like high reliefs in very imaginative shapes.

Sumida Pottery

Sumida pottery is a heavy, brightly glazed pottery and often has human and animal figures attached as reliefs. This pottery has its name from the Sumida river in an area near Tokyo. The origins of Sumida pottery are in the mist. It is probably a creation of a family of potters from the nineteenth century. Sumida pottery was probably produced mainly for export to the West.

More Japanese Earthenware Names

Kenzan ware is a porcelain style founded by Ogata Kenzan (1663-1743), a poet, potter and painter.

Nabeshima is a very rare and expensive porcelain. Until the Edo period it was not sold on the domestic market and reserved for export and use by the Nabeshima family and the noble classes. Nabeshima wares are finer and thiner than normal Arita ware.

Also Hirado porcelain was not allowed for sale on the domestic Japanese market. Hirado ware is mostly found in milky white and underglaze blue colors.

Literature source used for this article about Japanese ceramics

Dieter WanczuraAuthor: Dieter Wanczura