March 16, 2021

Article: Production and Distribution of Early-modern Ceramics as Political Items

Affiliated researcher on the Aftermath project, Prof. Watanabe Yoshirō has written a new article on the early modern political uses of Satsuma pottery, an industry which had been established in the early seventeenth century by Korean captives taken to the Satsuma domain during the Imjin War. Prof. Watanabe’s article, “Seijiteki aitemu toshite no kinsei tōjiki no seisan to ryūtsū” 政治的アイテムとしての近世陶磁器の生産と流通-薩摩藩を中心に-[Production and Distribution of Early-modern Ceramics as Political Items – Mainly in Satsuma Domain –], 『鹿大史学』68号(2021.03), pp.1-9, may be viewed online via the Kagoshima University Repository:

While many early-modern ceramics in Japan were produced and distributed as goods, there are also ceramics as political items closely related to the social class system at that time, such as tributary gifts and presents. In this paper, the production and distribution of the latter was examined using the case of early-modern Satsuma ware production and the distribution of ceramics in the Nansei Islands. Satsuma ware as a political item included cha-ire (tea caddy), white Satsuma, Iro-e (color painting) Satsuma and Sawankhalok style pottery (copies of Thai pottery) produced in Tateno kiln of Satsuma Domain, and they were presented to the Shogun’s family and the Konoe family (a family of nobles in Kyoto). It is also possible that Sawankhalok style pottery was used as one of the “external image strategies” of Satsuma Domain. In the Nansei Islands in the early-modern times, porcelain fired by the official kilns of Qing dynasty,  Nabeshima ware, and pottery made in the Tateno kiln were distributed as political items among the top class strata of society, such as the Emperor of the Qing dynasty, the King of Ryukyu, the Shimadzu family, and the Konoe family, and they were also used as a tool by the Satsuma Domain to rule Amami islands. From the above examples, it can be said that the production and distribution of early-modern ceramics as political items had different levels in terms of spatial and social strata: (1) international level, (2) international/domestic level, (3) domestic level, and (4) intra-domain level. The distribution of (1) and (2) is considered to be a sign of the originality of the Satsuma Domain, which played a role of “Ryukyu-guchi” (Entrance to Ryukyu) as one of the counters for foreign negotiations in early-modern Japan.