Karako-e was one of the most commonly painted designs on Hirado ware, and contemporary Mikawachi ware carries on that tradition (refer to Karako-e on Ayatakado glossary). Karako, whose literal translation in English is Chinese children, represents prosperity and is a popular design to decorate white porcelain in sometsuke (blue and white⁄underglaze blue).
Historically, Karako-e first decorated ceramics wares in the period of Tang Dynasty (618-907) in China and it was imported to Japan in the Edo period (1603-1868), then it was reinvented in Hirado domain. Hirado in the early 17th century was a port city prospered as a trading hub and had connections with China even from earlier times. Karako-e conveys feelings of admiration that the people in Hirado had at that time towards Chinese culture and the lands beyond the sea. It is said that Hirado ware has reserved the proprietary right for the design and Karako-e wasn't painted outside Mikawachi as it was prohibited in olden days Japan. The karako-e that decorated on Hirado ware in the Edo period was painted in accordance with its unique and characteristic style. Traditional karako-e depicted children playing under a pine tree, and number of children painted on ceramic wares represented social status of the users.
Nowadays, however, we see karakos on ceramic wares produced all over Japan and karako is probably one of the most popular designs painted on Japanese ceramic wares. Fujimoto Eriko, the designer and painter of Hirado Tousyo Gokogama, talks about how she views karakos when she paints them, and what she says might give us a clue to understand why it is still popular and widely accepted among the Japanese. She says she doesn't regard karakos as simply Chinese children. She paints them as spirits or fairies living in nature. The Japanese may see some unexplainable charm in karakos. As Eriko says, karakos are probably regarded as an embodiment of lives in nature in the form of playing children who bring happiness to us. Simply watching smiling karakos surely brings happiness to us.
Being free from the restriction of traditional styles, karako-e now diversifies its designs, yet unchanging charming smiles continue to decorate Japanese ceramic wares.
Hirado Tousyo's works
Interview with Hirado Tousyo