Satsuma-yaki is a Japanese traditional craft from Kagoshima prefecture. In Japan, there are many variety of pottery, and each of them has original and special features. What would be the unique feature that makes Satsuma-yaki distinctive?
Firstly, Satsuma-yaki has two types; “Shiro Satsuma” and “Kuro Satsuma”. Generally each Japanese pottery has only one style or salient characteristics, such as color, touch, and technique. On the other hand, Satsuma-yaki can be divided into two kinds, and each of them has completely different features. It is the one of the fascinating parts of Satsuma-yaki.
Secondly, Satsuma-yaki is developed by five schools that are based on five potteries. Each style has history and features, which also makes Satsuma-yaki very interesting, but first, let us take a close look on the two types of Satsuma-yaki.
Types of Satsuma-yaki: Shiro Satsuma
Shiro Satsuma is also called as Shiromon, and Shiro means ‘white’ in Japanese. As its name suggests, Shiro Satsuma is made of white clay. Because of its beautiful color and finish, Shiro Satsuma was favored mainly by the Satsuma clan, which governed the Satsuma region. Since a very long time ago, white is the symbol of purity and sacredness in Japan, and white creatures, for example white horses, white cranes, and white snakes, were recognized as holy and noble figures. This tendency of the symbolization was particularly strong in ancient Japan, and Shiro Satsuma is no exception to the tendency. Moreover, the Satsuma clan is very feudal and prefers to give much authority on them by discriminating its feudal load from ordinary people, so that Shiro Satsuma itself is the symbol of the authority that the Satsuma clan has.
As mentioned earlier, Shiro Satsuma is made of white clay, and the clay was precious in the very early stages of the manufacture since the clay was only found in Korea, so that the production heavily relied on Korean potters who brought the clay to Japan. As the clay is influenced a lot by volcanic ashes, it contains iron and sulfur. Because of the component of the white clay, Shiro Satsuma is always baked with oxidizing flame to keep the pure white color. If it is fired with reducing flame, the color of the potter gets darker because of a chemical reaction. Since the white clay was only found in limited areas, the production of Shiro Satsuma was difficult to grow. However, the clay was found in present Hioki city later, and the situation of baking Shiro Satsuma got improved a lot. The crucial component of Shiro Satsuma is Ibusuki kaolin. The kaolinites were found in some places in the Satsuma feudal domain, and they were blended well and used especially from the end of Edo period to Meiji period (ca. 1850 – 1910).
Shiro Satsuma is beautifully shaped with utmost care and finished with glaze. One of the special features of it is many fine cracks on the surface. Besides that, Shiro Satsuma has styles called Nishikide and Kinrande. The feature of these styles is magnificent yet delicate painting. Potters use many vivid colors, such as red, green, yellow, purple and gold, for the decoration, and the contrast between ivory pottery and colorful beautiful painting makes Shiro Satsuma look fine and elegant just like porcelain. To acquire the painting skills, the Satsuma clan put a lot of efforts to send potters to Kyoto as a part of policy to revive Japanese traditional culture, and the efforts bore fruits later. In1867, Shiro Satsuma was sent to the Paris World Exposition, and it held the audience spellbound. Shiro Satsuma became widely known as “SATSUMA” after this exposition.
Types of Satsuma-yaki: Kuro Satsuma
On the other hand, Kuro Satsuma has complete different features. In Japanese, Kuro means ‘black’, and Kuro Satsuma is dark-colored pottery as the name suggests. Kuro Satsuma, also called as Kuromon, is made of special local clay. Since Kagoshima prefecture has an active volcano (Sakurajima), the soil has volcanic ash containing a lot of iron. Besides the feature of the clay, Kuro Satsuma is finished with iron glaze and baked with high temperature, so that Kuro Satsuma is quite solid and durable. This sturdiness allowed Kuro Satsuma to become popular pottery for daily use among common households. Since Shiro Satsuma is very famous around the world because of its elegant design, Kuro Satsuma attracts a little bit less attention than Shiro Satsuma does. However, Kuro Satsuma is originally the main stream of Satsuma-yaki. Kuro Satsuma was established by one of Satsuma-yaki potters’ groups, the Naeshirogawa school. (We take a close look at the schools of Satsuma-yaki in the next paragraph.) The outstanding feature of Kuro Satsuma is a special beauty made by glazing. Potters glaze it with two or three kinds of glaze and make delicate color gradations by adding the glaze separately.
The History of Satsuma-yaki
From 1529 to 1598, Japan had Bunroku•Keicho no eki (Japanese Invasions of Korea). This war is also called as “Yakimono Sensou”, which means ‘the war for pottery’ in Japanese. The origin of the name of the war comes from an event that Yoshihiro Shimazu, the 17th feudal lord of the Satsuma clan, brought Korean potters – Kinkai, Heii Boku, and Houchu Ben – to Japan. They landed at Kushikino and Ichiki (present Ichiki Kushikino city), and these three potters were in charge of teaching their skills to over 80 potters, who were also brought from Korea. It is considered that the beginning of Satsuma-yaki is when many kilns were started to build all over the Satsuma domain. Each kiln has individual features because of the location and the style of potters, and each of them developed variously. Those kilns were divided into five big schools later – the Tateno school, the Naegashirogawa school, the Ryumonji school, the Hirasa school, and the Genryuin school.
The Tateno school is the main stream of Satsuma-yaki, and the early stages of Satsuma-yaki from the Tateno school were called Kosatsuma (means ‘old Satsuma’), and it was the base of Satsuma-yaki. In 1601, Kinkai – one of the three Korean potters mentioned above, started to bake Hibakaride, which is the prototype of Shiro Satsuma and made of Korean ingredients with Korean technique. After that, pottery made by the Tateno school was used as a gift or an offering to a federal load, and the pottery got supports from the Satsuma clan. At the beginning of Meiji era (ca. 1868-), this school once ceased to exist because of modernization in Japan. In 1899, however, a pottery-paint artist inheriting the Takeno style built kilns for baking Kuro Satsuma and endeavored to make the style to revive.
The Naegashirogawa school was started by Heii Boku in Kushikino where the other Korean potters landed, and it moved to another region, which is the origin of the name of this school – Naegashirogawa. At the early stages, they baked both Kuro Satsuma and Hibakaride. After the finding of white clay in the region, this school focused more on acquiring techniques for Shiro Satsuma. In 1844, they succeeded to develop Nishikide and Kinrande (see the section of Shiro Satsuma). Since kilns of both the Tateno and the Naegashirogawa belonged to the Satsuma clan, only by high rank people, who were related to the clan, had chances to get the pottery from these kilns.
The beginning of the Ryumonji school was in 1608. Houchu Ben, the last person of the third potters mentioned above, is the originator of this school. The Ryumonji school is good at Kuro Satsuma, and potters from this school learned techniques of other regions. This allowed the Ryumonji school to develop the varieties of glazing and skills to shape pottery to beautifully balance. These three styles – the Tateno, the Naegashirogawa, and Ryumonji, are the schools that still remain today.
The pottery from the Hirasa school is also called as ‘Hirasa-yaki’. Hirasa-yaki is started in 1776, but it closed down after a few years. A chief retainer of Hirasa region mounded it and made the vassals of Hirasa to rebuild kilns. Since potters from Arita region were invited at the early stages of Hirasa-yaki, the pottery was made with the same ingredients as Arita-yaki and similar techniques to it.
The Genryuin school is started in 1663. The outstanding feature of this style is that the glaze is in layers. Unfortunately, the Genryuin kilns were closed down. It is considered that potters of this style moved to the Ryumonji kilns.
As mentioned earlier, it is quite unique that one kind of pottery establishes two outstanding and distinctive featured styles like Satsuma-yaki does. It is fascinating to compare these two completely different and separately developed pottery – Shiro Satsuma and Kuro Satsuma. Furthermore, nowadays some potters try to blend techniques from both styles and put effort to establish a new type of Satsuma-yaki to suit present lifestyle. Satsuma-yaki still has been developed.