Room 3

Technology

In this room, we will look at sources from Arita, Satsuma, and Karatsu in order to examine some of the most significant new technology introduced by Korean potters after the Imjin War. What impact did they have on the techniques used by the Japanese ceramic industry?

Climbing kilns

New types of kiln technology introduced by  Korean potters in the late sixteenth century improved the manufacturing process.

A new type of multi-chamber climbing kiln (Fig.27) was introduced to western Japan in the late sixteenth century by Korean potters.

Although it is difficult to determine from which part of Korea the climbing kiln technology originated, there are obvious links between the structures of Hizen kilns and those of porcelain kilns from seventeenth century Chosŏn Korea. 30

Fig.27. Diagram of a multichambered, stepped climbing kiln ("noborigama").
Fig.27. Diagram of a multichambered, stepped climbing kiln ("noborigama").Gifu Kani City. http://www.minomomoyamato.jp

Prior to the introduction of the climbing kiln, a structure called a “great kiln” (Fig.28) – a large single-chamber kiln – was used in Mino and Seto, a region that had produced glazed ceramics before Kyushu.

Fig.28. Diagram of an ōgama (“great kiln").
Fig.28. Diagram of an ōgama (“great kiln"). Gifu Kani City. http://www.minomomoyamato.jp

The introduction of the climbing kiln was a watershed moment in the development of Kyushu ceramics. Climbing kilns are more efficient than earlier kiln structures, because heat created during firing in the lower part of the kiln preheats the chambers above. This improved heat efficiency in turn allows for production on a larger scale 31

Fig.29. Climbing kiln at Naeshirogawa. Sangoku meisho zue (1905 reprint of 1844 original), vol.8
Fig.29. Climbing kiln at Naeshirogawa. Sangoku meisho zue (1905 reprint of 1844 original), vol.8National Diet Library of Japan

From the 1630s, Hizen potters made modifications to their climbing kilns, constructing a longer and wider structure with arched roofs of stepped chambers inspired by Ming-dynasty kiln technology (Fig.30). 32 This was probably a practical decision to further facilitate mass-production.

Fig.30. Ming-dynasty climbing kiln pictured in Tiangong Kaiwu (Creations of Heaven and Human Labor), 1637.
Fig.30. Ming-dynasty climbing kiln pictured in Tiangong Kaiwu (Creations of Heaven and Human Labor), 1637.National Diet Library of Japan.

Firing Techniques

Korean techniques for stacking vessels in the kiln made mass production of pottery pieces more feasible.

We can see some of the Korean techniques that improved Japanese firing methods by looking at examples from Hizen stoneware, which displays characteristics consistent with Korean methods used in stacking and firing ceramics. The two main methods of stacking the vessels are worth noting here. In the first, small balls of clay (Fig.31 and Fig.32) are used to separate stacked pots, preventing them from sticking to one another.

Fig.31. Three bowl fragments waster, Karatsu, 1598-1650.
Fig.31. Three bowl fragments waster, Karatsu, 1598-1650.Freer Gallery of Art Study Collection, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC: Gift of John A. Pope, FSC-P-1591. To view image click here
Fig.32. Small balls of clay, Chosŏn dynasty.
Fig.32. Small balls of clay, Chosŏn dynasty.National Museum of Korea.

In the second method of stacking vessels for firing, small clusters of sand (Fig.33 and Fig.34) are placed on the interior center or base of a vessel to prevent sticking.

Fig.33. Base fragment, Karatsu, 1630-1640.
Fig.33. Base fragment, Karatsu, 1630-1640.Freer Gallery of Art Study Collection, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC: Gift of John A. Pope, FSC-P-1580. To view image click here
Fig.34. Sherd, Korean earthenware, 16th century.
Fig.34. Sherd, Korean earthenware, 16th century.Jinju National Museum.

In addition to preventing pieces from fusing together during the firing process, the technical importance of stacking also lies in the way this facilitated mass-production by allowing larger numbers of pieces to be fired at the same time, stacked one on top of the other. These Korean-style firing techniques appear in the Hizen area as early as the 1580s and it is likely that Korean potters, who arrived in Kyushu after the Imjin War, continued to utilize these early Korean techniques and contributed to their establishment in Japan. 33

Tools

The influence of Korean ceramic technology is also evident in the tools used for making pottery in Kyushu, many of which have names with Korean origins.

One example of a Korean tool that became commonplace in the Japanese pottery industry is a type of anvil used in the paddle method of forming pots (Fig.35, Fig.36). This anvil is used to support the inner wall during the paddling of the outside. A Study of the Names of Korean Ceramics, 1931 illustrates this tool and gives its Korean term, togae. 34 Although there is no textual source given for the origin of the term, the study shows that the beating anvil has been called “tokya” in the Hizen area up to the present day, a Japanese approximation of the Korean word “togae“.

Fig.35. Anvil (togae in Korean)
Fig.35. Anvil (togae in Korean)National Folk Museum of Korea.
Fig.36. Anvil (togae in Korean). Alternative view.
Fig.36. Anvil (togae in Korean). Alternative view.National Folk Musem of Korea.

Further supporting a Korean origin for this tool, according to a document from Satsuma (Fig.37), this type of anvil had a Korean name among Satsuma potters.  They wrote its name using the Korean alphabet, Hangul, as “도겨”, glossed with  the Japanese characters “トケ”to indicate pronunciation. 35

Fig.37. Anvil labeled in Hangul and Japanese (bottom left), Kōraikoku den tōki kigen seizōsho, 1867.
Fig.37. Anvil labeled in Hangul and Japanese (bottom left), Kōraikoku den tōki kigen seizōsho, 1867. National Diet Library of Japan.

Porcelain stone

In order to select a suitable location for their kilns, it was essential for the Korean potters in Japan to find suitable raw materials, such as clay and glazing stone.

One of the milestones in Japanese ceramic history was the discovery of porcelain stone in Izumiyama (Fig.38), near the town of Arita, in the 1610s. Using this clay, potters succeeded in producing porcelain, and so begins the history of Hizen porcelain.

Fig.38. Izumiyama Quarry, Arita, Saga Prefecture.
Fig.38. Izumiyama Quarry, Arita, Saga Prefecture.© Seung Yeon Sang.

Scientific analysis of the chemical compositions of Arita porcelain indicates that the search for porcelain stone was made with a view to following Chinese models rather than Korean techniques, even though many of the potters were Korean in origin. 36 Arita porcelain has proportions of elements similar with that of Ming-dynasty porcelain produced in Jingdezhen. For example, they both contain 0.7–0.9 percent iron whereas Chosŏn porcelain has a higher iron content (Fig.39).

 

SiO2 CaO AI2O3 K2O MgO TiO2 Fe2O3 MnO Na2O
China

(Jingdezhen)

72.9 0.75 19.03 3.54 0.30 0.28 0.60 3.54
Japan

(Arita)

74.4 0.16 17.04 6.66 0.08 0.08 0.58 0.94

Fig.39. Chemical Composition of 17th-century Jingdezhen and Arita Porcelain Sherds. 37

Porcelain stone with this kind of low iron content turns white when fired and lends itself to the kind of painted decoration found in Ming porcelain. While enameled porcelain enjoyed great popularity in China, Japan, and the rest of the world, unadorned white porcelain remained the focus of the official court kilns in Chosŏn Korea. 38 This is consistent with Neo-Confucian ideals of restrained and simple beauty.

Fig.40. Dish, Chosŏn dynasty.
Fig.40. Dish, Chosŏn dynasty.National Museum of Korea.
Fig.41. Dish, Chosŏn dynasty (Underside view of Fig.40)
Fig.41. Dish, Chosŏn dynasty (Underside view of Fig.40)National Museum of Korea.

During the first half of the seventeenth century, kilns in the Hizen area manufactured low-quality porcelain meant for local consumption. 39 Dishes of a flattened profile (Fig.42 and Fig.43) are commonly found when excavating early Hizen porcelain-producing kilns. The shape of these flat dishes is reminiscent of Chosŏn counterparts (such as Fig.41) and it is probable that they were made by Korean potters brought to Hizen province after the Imjin War. As Hizen porcelain production increased, the potters quickly adopted Chinese-inspired techniques for mass-production. 40 As a result, the influence of Korean ceramic technology on Hizen porcelain waned after the 1630s.

Fig.42. Dish, Porcelain, Imari. Japan, Edo period, 17th century.
Fig.42. Dish, Porcelain, Imari. Japan, Edo period, 17th century.Tokyo National Museum. ColBase (https://colbase.nich.go.jp/)
Fig.43. Dish, Imari, 17th century (Underside view of Fig.42)
Fig.43. Dish, Imari, 17th century (Underside view of Fig.42)Integrated Collections Database of the National Museums, JapanIntegrated Collections Database of the National Museums, Japan. https://colbase.nich.go.jp/collection_items/tnm/G-5789

Due to the political turmoil in China at the end of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), which affected the south where the porcelain kilns in Jingdezhen were located, Chinese porcelain (Fig.43) became hard to procure in Japan after 1644. 41 The fledging Japanese porcelain industry took advantage of this situation and Hizen porcelain was widely circulated in the domestic market as a substitute for Chinese imports.

Fig.43. Dish with Buddhist Monk-Poet Hanshan. Chinese (for Japanese market), mid-17th c.
Fig.43. Dish with Buddhist Monk-Poet Hanshan. Chinese (for Japanese market), mid-17th c.The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Seymour Fund, 2011.

By the mid-seventeenth century, with larger-scale production and improvements in quality, particularly in wares produced by the Kakiemonkilns (Fig.30), Hizen porcelain came to occupy a leading position in the international markets. 42

Fig.44. Figure of a boy sitting on a go board, Porcelain, Kakiemon. Japan, Edo period, 1670s-1690s
Fig.44. Figure of a boy sitting on a go board, Porcelain, Kakiemon. Japan, Edo period, 1670s-1690sBritish Museum. https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/A_Franks-1065.

In the next room we will examine the different kinds of ceramics produced by the Korean potters as they responded to their new environment and market conditions.

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