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Eggshell Porcelain ware
Hirado Tousyo

In Mikawachi, (see also Ayatakado Field Trip to Mikawachi) extremely thin and lightweight porcelain ware was produced in the 19th century. It was called eggshell porcelain. The craftspeople in Mikawachi at that time produced the eggshell porcelain ware with their best skills, and it was valued and popular in Europe, an export destination where people were fascinated with it. Around 1900, however, the number of Mikawachi potters making the eggshell porcelain became smaller due to a change in demand, and eventually no one was left to fire this paper-thin ceramics in the end and its production methods were lost as a consequence.

 About 100 years have passed since the last piece was fired, Fujimoto Gakuei, the thirteenth generation of Hirado Tousyo, succeeded in recreating the eggshell porcelain after his research had restored the lost production methods and techniques. He had scientific analyses performed on old eggshell porcelain shards as well as read old documents and records to identify the type of pottery stone that would be the key material for the production, and then he collected the pottery stone by himself to make the original clay for eggshell pieces. The eggshell porcelain was created for the first time in 100 years after countless test pieces had been made.
 The eggshell porcelain ware, which has only 0.9 mm at the thinnest part of the body, is thrown and trimmed by hand. Highly skilled techniques are also required when paintings are applied on the surface. Ayatakado interviews Fujimoto Gakuei and Eriko about their production of the eggshell porcelain ware.

Fujimoto Gakuei tells us what made him decide to work on creation of the eggshell porcelain and what it means to Mikawachi.

 “We had some pieces of eggshell porcelain at my home. I grew up seeing them but they looked simply pieces of thin ceramics to me then. However, after I had mastered the throwing and firing skills, I realised that they were something very special. I realised how challenging it was for the potters in the old days to create such thin ceramics with firewood kilns which were not easy to control. I could see their spirit and craftsmanship in the eggshell porcelain. That was when I wanted to try to make it, but it was too difficult for me at that time. Then I started researching on it and learnt many secrets, some are about clays but recently I came to know that the throwing skills are the key. Higher handcraft skills can make the eggshell porcelain in higher quality.”

“The eggshell porcelain ware I've seen outside Mikawachi were fakes made by slip casting and even handcrafted pieces were not good in quality. In Mikawachi, however, the craftspeople here made truly brilliant eggshell pieces in the Edo era. That makes our identity that let us know who we are. I think telling the historical stories is one way to preserve our tradition. And then, we have to make our own works based on them.”

Fujimoto Eriko talks about her painting work on the eggshell porcelain.

 “I think the painters in old Mikawachi made effort to apply the trend in designs on the eggshell pieces. The trend at that time was European style so I paint motifs and patterns using gold so that our works can be accepted in Europe. The motifs to be painted on the eggshell should not always be traditional and I look for something new all the time.
 The designs in Tenpyo period (729 - 749), which came from the Eurasian continent, are beautiful and I think the designs in continental style, like the design motifs on the treasures in Shosoin, go well with the eggshell pieces. I feel that the designs on Shosoin treasures look surprisingly modern. I sometimes adopt those exotic designs to paint eggshell porcelain ware.”

With its exquisite beauty, the eggshell porcelain made in Mikawachi in the early modern period became popular among antique collectors. Highly artistic handcrafted eggshell porcelain ware that require proficiency in forming and painting are still being produced in Mikawachi today by Hirado Tousyo.