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Ayatakado Readings

Seto, a destination and departure point of sometsuke

14 November 2015

 Technology is transferred from one place to another across borders and then localised in each destination, blending with local ingredients and cultures. Long ago, Sometsuke (blue and white⁄underglaze blue) and porcelain made their way to Japan from China where the most-advanced ceramics production technology was developed by way of Korea, and the very first Japanese sometsuke porcelain was fired in the early 17th century Arita, in which Ko Imari (Old Imari) ware was produced. The ceramics industry in feudal times Japan was protected by local governments and in some feudal domains, like Nabeshima where Arita was located, the sometsuke porcelain production technology and techniques were classified as confidential.

 At the beginning of the 19th century, a man named Kato Tamikichi, who was born and grew up in Seto, went to Arita to learn sometsuke porcelain production. Even Seto where the history of ceramics started in the 9th century hadn't succeeded in porcelain and sometsuke production before that time. He returned to Seto after he spent years in Arita and completed his mission, and that was when sometsuke porcelain production technology and technique were transferred to Seto. Sometsuke brought prosperity to the region.

 Seto sometsuke reached its golden age in the Meiji period (1868-1912) when Japan's feudal system ended and a unified nation was established.

 Detailed picturesque designs characterised Seto sometsuke produced at that time. As Japonism was in fashion and praised as a decoration style in that period of Western history, most of the decorative porcelain pieces were produced mainly for export. Experiences and skills were required to create decorations with highly ornamental designs to meet the needs in overseas markets. Craftspeople engaged in ceramics industry at that time competed with each other to achieve higher skills and proficiency. The sometsuke pieces made in and exported from Seto also represented superlative craftsmanship, and Seto sometsuke pieces with exquisite designs were admired overseas. Not many fine pieces from those times were left in Japan because excellent ones, not only Seto sometsuke but artifacts in general, were all exported and many of them are still owned by foreign museums and collectors.

 The technology of sometsuke production travelled long way to a destination of Seto centuries ago and prospered there. Although not as many as in its prime time, present day Seto has painters who preserve sometsuke technique as a tradition handed down from those times and produce pieces by hand.

Isomura Yasuo talks about Seto sometsuke

Isomura Yasuo's Seto sometsuke works