Satsuma Pottery – A Collector’s Item

By Mike Sullivan

Satsuma pottery has a rather unusual history due to the fact that there are two distinctive strands, one which was made for domestic use and one which was specifically made to be exported. The reason that there is such a different between these two different types of the same craft is that one has an older history and was made entirely to suit local tastes, and the second one only dates back to the nineteenth century and catered to what craftspeople believed foreigners wanted. Although there is criticism of this second type, today in the clear light of looking at something as a historical item we can appreciate it’s qualities.

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The History of Satsuma Pottery

The origins of Satsuma pottery isn’t well known, but it is unfortunately known that after Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s war in Korea that Korean potters were forcibly brought to Japan and many of them settled in Naeshirogawa and Tateno. By the early seventeenth century there is clear evidence showing the appearance of Satsuma pottery in Kyushu. This pottery characteristically consisted of stoneware with a dark appearance due to the use of iron rich clay and dark glaze. Decoration was rather sparse due to the fact that they were made for their function rather than for any aesthetic reason. So, we can see that this was the first, and one, clear strand of Satsuma pottery. We called 黒薩摩Kuro Satsuma (black Satsuma Pottery).

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A second type of pottery, 白薩摩 Shiro Satsuma, arose after the opening of Japan to the world in the nineteenth century, in the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1867 visitors were able to see many Kyushu crafts, including Satsuma pottery, and they loved them. Initially a number of craftspeople workshops began to produce this pottery in earnest for exporting abroad, but soon craftspeople in other parts of Japan also began making it. Satsuma pottery was no longer a regional craft!

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It is perhaps for this reason that in time a number of craftspeople started making pottery according to the Nishikide Satsuma style in the mistaken belief that it was this kind of pottery that foreigners loved. The previously simply decorated dark Satsuma pottery became full of decorations to the point that they looked overcrowded with symbols, animals, people, scenes from history and mythology, and these decorations were garishly done with bright colours and raised gold and silver.

白さつま(中央三彩は黒)

Japanese people had little interest in this kind of pottery, and the foreign market was flooded with low quality ‘Satsuma’ pottery, which lead to the market for them drying up by the twentieth century.

Satsuma Pottery Today

Today Satsuma pottery has become a collector’s item, although many low quality pieces had been created, at the same time there were high quality ones, some reflecting the original concept and some which formed part of the second type for the export market. There are many people who collect everything they can as long as it is Satsuma, and of course still today you can find craftspeople making Satsuma pottery.

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There are a number of broad types for Satsuma pottery, we hope that you enjoy discovering your own favourite kind.

Photos by

鹿児島県特産品協会 Kagoshima Products Association  (http://www.k-p-a.jp/en/index.html)

Please contact the above association or us if you want to know more about Satsuma ware and Kagoshima Products.