Yukirinsai is one of the most painstaking pottery techniques. First, the glaze of the base color is applied to the surface of the vessel to be fired. Then gold leaf id applied onto it and it is covered with another layer of the transparent glaze and further fired at higher temperature so that the gold leaf is effectively sandwiched between two layers of glaze.
This adds to the durability of the gold decoration and makes the glitter of gold more contained and elegant. As the beauty of the finished work solely depends on the simple combination of the gold leaf and transparent glaze, careful attention must be paid to the hue of the base color and the layout of the gold leaf. It also requires a highly specialized technique to ensure that the gold leaf doesn't roll up or melt into the glaze during firing.
All these meticulous care comes into fruition of a highly elaborate work with the gold leaf decoration looking as if it emerges up to the surface of the vessel. Although most of the pottery techniques used in Japan were introduced from China, this Yurikinsai technique was invented by the hands of Japanese potters. What covers the glitter of gold may be the Japanese veneration for modesty.
When Naoshige Nabeshima, who later founded the Saga Clan, returned to Japan following the invasion of Korea in the late 16th century, he brought with him a group of Korean potters. One of them was Ri Sampei (Korean name Lee Cham-Pyung), who discovered kaolin and succeeded in making porcelain for the first time in Japan in 1616. This first porcelain was later developed into the three types of porcelain ware: Ko-Imari, Kakiemon and Nabeshima, which came to establish Arita as the birthplace of Japanese porcelain.
Ri Sampei is enshrined at Toyama-jinja Shrine in Odaru, Arita-cho. Behind the main shrine and situated at the top of Mt Renge-Ishiyama, stands a monument to Ri Sampei. This is also a good spot to get a panoramic view of the town of Arita.
The monument to Ri Sampei was erected in 1916 (Taisho 5) on the 300th anniversary of Arita ware. Since then, the Toso matsuri festival, celebrating the founding of porcelain, has been held each year on May 4th.
“Saiyu” is a technique of overglaze enamel painting that involves the application and firing on of colored glaze to a previously high-fired porcelain body. When the whole surface is covered in glazes of different colors, they fuse together to create a gradated effect.
Saiyu porcelain was developed in Ming Dynasty China in the 14th century. The techniques of Saiyu were introduced to Japan during the Edo period (1603-1868) and were adopted and developed in Arita and Kutani porcelain.
One of today's best Kutani Saiyu masters is Tokuda Yasokichi III. He has made great efforts to develop his Saiyu technique based on the Old Kutani color glaze enamels. Backed by the highly elaborate techniques, he expresses the beauty of the color combination and the delicate gradation of colors. Tokuda’s Saiyu porcelain is characterized by delicate shading and beautiful contrast of the colors of the enamel glaze. Using this original technique, he has created his own world.
Iro-Nabeshima (Colored Nabeshima Ceramics) is a kind of Imari-Arita ware. It is characterized by delicate and elaborate pictures with the motifs of Kachofugetsu (flowers, birds, wind, and moon).
The origin of Imari-Arita ware dates back to 1604 (the early Edo period), when a Korean potter, Li Sanpei discovered fine porcelain stone at Mt. Izumi in Arita. Later in the 1640s, the hand-painting techniques were introduced to this region from China, and Imaemon I started to make hand-painted porcelain in Arita.
The kiln of Imaemon I became the feudal property of the Nabeshima domain, where the products solely used for the Nabeshima family and as the gifts to the Shogun or the fellow daimyo were being made. Directly controlled and supported by the Nabeshima family, the porcelain produced at this workshop developed into refined ceramic called Iro-Nabeshima.
In around 1874, when the feudal restrictions were removed after the Meiji restoration, Imaemon X started handle all the production steps, not limited to overglaze painting and established the advanced akae (overglaze painting with red pigment) techniques. Keeping conformity to traditional standards and elegance, Imaemon XIII was eager to create works that fit modern living settings and was designated as a Living National Treasure in 1989. Today, the traditional forms and creativity of an artist living in this modern world is exquisitely blended by the hands of Imaemon XIV.
Himetani Ware is one of the three earliest Iroe (decorated with colorful underglaze painting) porcelains in Japan. Others are Imari and Kutani wares. This porcelain was made by a small number of potters including Ichiemon for only a short period of time in the late 17th century.
It is characterized by the colorful patterns painted on the surface of thin white porcelains, leaving enough margins. The motifs include red maple leaves, a peony flower on a branch or Sansui landscape painting with a flying goose. The paintings look all the more beautiful for the simple composition and plain brushwork.
This Wabi and Sabi aesthetics is favored by the art collectors today. Its excellence was acknowledged and designated as a Hiroshima Important Cultural Property in 1971.
Koishiwara Ware is a pottery made in Koishiwara Village, Asakura-gun, Fukuoka Pref. It is a traditional handicraft with a history of 400 years. The kiln set up by the feudal lord of Kuroda Province in 1682 during the early Edo period was the first kiln in Chikuzen area (present northern Kyushu). It was originally called Nakano Ware and large porcelain urns, jars, and sake flasks were mainly made. In the middle of the 18th century, pottery began to be made under the name of Koishiwara Ware. It is characterized by a number of geometric patterns applied by unique techniques such as chattering (a curved metal tool is allowed to jump and cut into the surface), the application of a brush mark pattern, and combing. In many cases, biscuit firing is not given and the glaze is poured onto the main surface of the piece to produce a variety of random effects. Koishiwara Village used to be a small and quiet pottery village, but since the late Showa 30s Koishiwara Ware, taking advantage of the pottery boom, has attained national eminence. There are as many as 50 kilns in the village now, the oldest of which has a history of 300 years.
Izushi ware is transparently white porcelain handed down in Izushi-cho, Hyogo Pref. Making of this porcelain ware dates back to 1784, when the first pottery was fired in this area. Later in the same period, with the discovery of large quantities of kaolin in the area, the feudal lord at the time gave support to this craft and invited skilled potters from Arita to help the local workmen, which marked the beginning of porcelain making in the castle town of Izushi. Its pure white porcelain that cannot be produced in any other area together with its high-standard techniques of sculpting exquisite patterns enhances the beauty of this craft work. During the Meiji period it was exhibited at World Expos held at Paris and Tokyo and it gained fame at a burst. After the World War II, the work of an artist potter of Izushi won the first prize at Nitten (the Japanese Fine Arts Exhibition), which encouraged artistic production as well. In 1980, Izushi ware was designated as a National Traditional Craft Product. This silky pure white porcelain can be referred to as the best “porcelain art” created by honed skills of the potters.
Seto Underglazed Ware is porcelain made in Aichi Pref. At the beginning of the 19th century, Tamikichi Kato and other local potters, who had studied pottery in Kyushu, returned to their hometown with the techniques for firing porcelain. Later they also learned techniques of an artist painter and began to produce the porcelain ware decorated with Southern Sung Dynasty style of painting, by which the name of this porcelain became popular and great developments were made to establish the basis for the present skills and techniques. The feature of Seto underglazed ware lies in the way the patterns of scenery, birds, and flowers in indigo blue are applied directly onto the surface of the unglazed white clay. The technique of firing called “Nerashi,” in which high temperature is maintained for a fixed length of time is used to mellow the applied glaze. All the processes are done by hand including painting with Gosu-paint. At the present time, tableware, tea utensils, and interior decorations are being made.