A Guide To Collecting Antique Japanese Pottery

Have fun learning the history of Japanese porcelain and the ins and outs of building a beautiful collection. Tips on buying, trading and determining value.

It is believed Japanese pottery dates as far back as 600 B.C. However, Japanese porcelain dates to the early 17th century when porcelain clay was discovered in Arita on the isle of Kyushu. Almost all Japanese porcelain was referred to as Imari, as that was the port city where the porcelain was shipped out. Ri Sampei, known as the father of Japanese porcelain, was a porcelain maker brought from Korea by Japanese feudal lords. The ritualistic tea ceremony performed by Japanese brought on an increased need for porcelain tea sets. The Japanese did not begin exporting their porcelain until the 17th century. It was at that time that a civil war caused the Chinese exporting to halt, prompting the Dutch to convince the Japanese to begin exporting to fill the European demand for porcelain.

Kakiemon porcelain began around the 1640's when Sakaida Kakimon was said to have invented colored enamel. Its delicate porcelain is known for the stark white background with a small sampling of a brightly colored design that brings out the white space. The designs are often of nature or birds. Kakiemon was exported mainly to Europe and had a great effect on English, German and French porcelain.

Nabeshima ware was usually made up of bowls, plates and vases. It was made only for the royal family starting in the 17th century. The porcelain was under great scrutiny and the only pieces sold were rejects that had flaws. Items usually have a blue underglaze that features large designs often in red, green and gold in the foreground.



Hirado porcelain had its heyday during the years of 1751 until 1843 when it was among the best porcelain produced in Japan. Early pieces, which are usually a vase, teapot, hand warmer or figurine, are white porcelain with a blue underglaze, although some have brown underglaze. Later Hirado is often hard to distinguish from other Imari ware.

Fukagawa porcelain was created late in the 19th century and named after its founder, Ezaiemon Fukagawa. His company, Koransha, shipped porcelain that was a combination of oriental and western design to Europe and America. Some porcelain is marked with Mount Fuji behind a stream and some with a red orchid and some with no marks at all.

Many Americans like to collect Nippon porcelain. The name Nippon simply means Japan. It is not a type of porcelain, but rather a time period that porcelain contained the mark of Nippon. Nippon porcelain production began in 1891, when exporting to America was opened. It ended in 1921 when a tariff stating that items had to be plainly marked in English was enacted. Nippon was seen as a Japanese name and therefore could not be used anymore. After 1921, most pieces were simply marked with Japan, although some have Nippon Japan on the bottom. Nippon porcelain was wholly hand painted until 1904. After 1904, piece began appearing with decals and stencil designs. Nippon porcelain can have a variety of different designs. Some pieces are obviously influenced by Egyptian art while others have very American look to them. In its day, the Nippon porcelain was inexpensive and often seen as not worthy of collecting. Today, it is not only popular in America, but also Japan and very expensive to collect.

The history of Noritake porcelain is long even though pieces did not bear the mark of Noritake until 1981. Collectors often intermingle the phrases Noritake and Nippon. This is because Noritake was originally produced in the town of Noritake at a factory named Nippon Toki Kaisha in 1910. Noritake is responsible for the introduction of lusterware. Lusterware is a piece, usually dinnerware that has a single colored glaze with a coat of metallic film. This gives the piece a shine that is iridescence. Nortiake pieces can have many marks including a wreath with an M in the middle and the words "Occupied Japan" during the Allied Forces occupation following World War II.

One problem collectors run into is how to tell if porcelain is Japanese or Chinese. It is important to familiarize yourself with the different styles. Check the marks on the bottom to tell the difference. Toward the end of the Ming Dynasty, porcelain was fired in sand, leaving a sand ring around the bottom. Japanese 18th and 19th century porcelain was fired on metal trivets, leaving small bumps called spur marks.

Finding Japanese porcelain is easier today than ever. With the invention of eBay, users all over the world can pore over antique porcelain as never before. However, you must be wary of reproductions. You can also scour antique stores and estate sales for beautiful items. Your best defense against paying too much or getting a reproduction is to educate yourself through online and library research.

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