JAPAN'S EXPORT PORCELAIN
by Helga L. Zipser
All photos are by Randal A. Zipser, La Petite Galerie.
As seen in Antiques & Art Around Florida, Winter/Spring
A rare "Black Ship" bowl from the Taisho period.
Notice the Dutch figures. (Inset: Underside of the "Black
The term "Imari", for the Japanese
export porcelain we identify by that name, is strictly generic.
It covers many different porcelains, such as Arita wares which
were mainly blue-and-white, as well as polychrome enamel porcelain
made by an assortment of potters. The wares were shipped through
the Northern Kyushu port of Imari, from where they derive their
name. A Chinese porcelain design made during the Ming period,
and known today as "Chinese Imari," was the inspiration
for the Japanese potters.
The decoration was cobalt blue with touches of green,
iron red, and gold, the Chinese pieces being more sparsely decorated
on a predominantly white background. Most of the ware was utilitarian.
We find plates, cups, serving dishes, and teapots decorated with
floral designs, animals, and scenes of Chinese life. The Japanese
adopted this decoration and made it uniquely their own, as they
did with so many other art objects they took from the Chinese.
An exceptionally well-decorated
the Taisho period. Notice the lavish use of gold decoration.
(Inset: Inside view of the Taisho-period bowl).
Japanese Imari is divided into five time
periods: Momoyama (1615); Edo (1615-1868); Meiji (1868-1912);
Taisho (1912-1926); and Showa (1926 to the present). The earliest
Imari, or "Old Imari", was manufactured during the
Momoyama period in western Japan, as the clay in that region
was rich in iron, making it suitable for firing at high temperatures.
This produced a hard and serviceable ware, perfect for utilitarian
purposes. Most of these pieces were blue-and-white. During the
Edo and Meiji periods, polychrome enamel decoration was favored
by the Japanese aristocrats who were the main buyers of porcelain.
There were five main colors: cobalt blue, iron red, blue, green,
As the Japanese masses prospered, they also
demanded porcelain rather than the wood and lacquer utensils
they used previously, and the high quality of Imari deteriorated
to mass production.
In the late 19th century,
when the Japanese opened their ports to the West, porcelain manufacturers
of Imari and Satsuma introduced their porcelain to the world
at the Exhibition in Paris in 1867. A large jar decorated with
birds and flowers in the polychrome design was the beginning
of our fascination with Imari porcelains.
Vase, made by Koransha. "The
Company of the Scented Orchid." (Inset: Underside view of
the Koransha vase showing the Fukagawa signature).
The Fukagawa Family and Their Porcelain
Koransha was founded in 1875. Ezaiemon Fukagawa
started to produce porcelain for export to Europe and America.
He named his company "Koransha," which means "The
Company of the Scented Orchid."
Sei Ji Kai Sha, which stands for
"The Company of Pure Water," was founded in 1879 by
members of the Fukagawa and other families in Arita
who were at one time associated with Koransha. The company made
dinner ware for the Western market. In 1894, the Fukagawa Porcelain
Manufacturing Company was founded. This company still exists
today and manufactures some of the finest contemporary Imari.
It is still being operated by the Fukagawa family.
Imari And The Collector
Three pieces of typical polychrome
Imari from the Meiji period.
What To Look For
Brilliant colors, clear designs and pleasing forms. Avoid muddy
and poorly-painted pieces. Do not buy restored or damaged wares.
Choose from different designs: floral, animals, birds, tapestry,
and people. Look for different background colors. Chocolate-brown
is a rare and unusual color to collect. Buy a piece of Fukagawa--there
is no finer Imari!
Bird, fish, boat and fan designs are fun. Try to find a Black
Ship piece, commemorating the Dutch traders and their sailing
vessels. These are rare (and pricey)!
Imari porcelain is still affordable, although some of the unusual
pieces are expensive. Small trays and plates, saki cups, and
bowls can be purchased for under one-hundred dollars.
When In Doubt
A rare piece of brown-background
or "chocolate" Imari, made by Fukagawa.
Its best to consult an expert. There are many reputable dealers
who specialize in Oriental porcelain. They will be happy to assist
There are several good books on the market about Imari. Famous
Ceramics of Japan -- Imari, by Takeshi Nagatake and Imari,
Satsuma and Other Japanese Export Ceramics, by Nancy N.
Schiffer, are my favorites. They can be ordered through any bookseller
or try your local library.
Handle, Hold, and Fondle
There is no better way to get to know the feel of
There must be an antique show, flea market or trip in your future!
Buy just one piece and youll be hooked!
About the author:
Helga L. Zipser has been in the antiques business for over
thirty years. She owns La Petite Galerie, Inc., in Tampa. Note:
All Imari is from La Petite Galerie and my dear friend, Francie,
who was the inspiration for this article.
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