Seto, located close to Nagoya is one of the Nihon Rokkoyo i.e. one of the six old kilns of medieval Japan. The history of this craft in Seto goes back 1300-years, the longest of any area in Japan.
The location of Seto makes it ideal for the production of pottery and ceramics. The soil around the city contains good quality porcelain clay and silica (used in making glass), and there are forests nearby to provide firewood for fuel.
The history of ceramics in Seto dates back to the Heian period (794-1185), with the creation of Akazu-yaki ware, a type of pottery where the clay could be glazed in a number of different ways before it was fired. Japan's first ash-glazed pieces were also fired in Seto sometime in the 14th century.
Seto became recognized as one one of the six "Nihon Rokkoyo" during the Kamakura period (1158-1333), and it stood out from the other areas as it was the only area to glaze its pottery.
During this time, Seto also became known for producing tenmoku tea bowls, which prior to that time had always been imported from China. However, as the demand for these tea bowls grew, production began in Seto since Seto was the only place in Japan which glazed its products, thus it was also the only place which was able to make black-glazed bowls. As a result, the form, style and color of its products differed greatly from those of the other five "Nihon Rokkoyo".
Early in the Edo era, around 1600 more advanced glaze and porcelain technique - with underglaze cobalt decoration and enamels - was brought into the western Arita area of Kyushu through Korean potters and Seto's ceramic industry maintained, by the production of various items ranging from everyday household items to exquisite works of art.
Development of ceramic ware has been closely connected with that of the tea-cult. The custom of enjoying the tea-cult first came to be observed among the Imperial family around A.C. 815 or so. It has so developed that emperors gave their vassals tea or tea-utensils as Imperial gifts. Tea-utensils accordingly came to be regarded as treasures. In the Azuchi-Momoyama period by the end of the 16th century the tea-cult had become widely spread among the warrior class. With this also followed a large increase in the demand for tea-utensils.
The late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries (Momoyama and early Edo) were one of the great periods of Japanese ceramic production in Seto and the neighboring Mino region. It was the period when individual artisans began to explore their craft most creatively, pushed on by the demands of the tea ceremony and the aesthetics of the tea master Oribe. Many of the most famous Raku and Shino bowls were produced at that time, and even in those days they were hugely valuable. The Jesuit priest Louis Frois wrote that one tea bowl equalled the price of the most precious jewels in Europe. As a result, setomono is as common a term for ceramics in Japan as china is in England.
In the book Tea Ceremony Utensils by Ryoichi Fujioka there's a photograph of an early 17th century Seto tea caddy named Zaichu-an. It's a national treasure and it has a set of eight cloth bags, made from the finest Chinese fabrics, to protect it - and they are treasures also.
While the ceramic history of Seto can be dated back to the end of the ice age, the modern history did not start before the potter Tamikichi Kato who at the risk of his life went to Arita to learn the technique of true porcelain manufacturing with underglaze blue cobalt decoration, as well as kiln technology, glaze and clay preparation, etc. He made it safely back home to Seto in 1807 and is now deified as the founder of Seto Porcelain Industry at the Kamagami Shrine.
The stagnant depression in Arita around the end of the Tokugawa shogunate and a great fire in 1828 caused great problems for the Arita area and Hizen porcelain industry to waver, while porcelain production could begin to flourish in Seto.
Seto is currently the largest producer of ceramic novelties, such as animal and bird figurines, dolls, ash trays, light stands, and flower vases. These items were originally only made for export, but have recently become popular with Japanese customers, as well.
|Seto porcelain - Dai Nippon|
|Seto marks that includes Dai Nippon (Great Japan) in Japanese characters. Marks that includes Dai Nippon in Japanese characters on the whole date to the Meiji (1868-1912) period, reflecting the greatly increased nationalism of that period.|
|1398. Vase, with enamel decoration. Marks in underglaze blue and red enamels. Mark in red: Dai Nippon; Imura Zo. Mark in blue "Seto; made by AICHI KAWAMOTO MASUKICHI SEI".
Generally when this happens it could mean the blank pot was made by Kawamoto from Seto and that the painting in enamels were made by a Kutani artist (Imura). The way it is signed and the design of the painting suggests that a Kutani artist decorated this Seto made vase in Yokohama for export. Date 1910 to 1920, matching Yokohama activity which ended in 1923 with the great Tokyo earthquake.
|374. Vase. Mark reads: Dai Nippon Ike [unclear] sei, Late 19th/early 20th century. High quality decoration. It is generally accepted that marks that includes "Dai Nippon" in Japanese characters on the whole date to the Meiji (1868-1912) period, reflecting the greatly increased nationalism of that period.|
|969. Mark: Dai Nippon, Seto Kato Shigeju zo meaning: Made by Kato Shigeju of Seto, in Japan. Date: Meiji (1868-1912) period (perhaps last quarter of 19th century).|
|1348. Mark: Dai Nippon, Seto Kato Shigeju zo meaning: Made by Kato Shigeju of Seto, in Japan. Date: Meiji (1868-1912) period (perhaps last quarter of 19th century).|
|1238. Mark: Dai Nippon, Seto ... zo meaning: Great Japan, Seto, ... Made. Date: Meiji (1868-1912) period.|
|1314. Vase. Mark: Dai Nihon Seto, Jikan saku sei meaning "Great Japan, Seto, Made by Jikan".|
|1237. Mark: Nippon Seto To Ka (unknown) Tsukuru meaning: "Japan Seto Made by To ka ...." Date: Mid 19th century, early Meiji (1868-1912) period.|
|1252. Pair of vases with cloissoné on porcelain. Mark: Dai Nippon Sei Zo, Shippo Gai Sha (Great Japan, cloisonne manufacturing company), Ko Jin (personally made) Takeuchi Chubei, 994.|
|Seto porcelain - Hand drawn marks|
|Hand drawn Seto marks that does not include Dai Nippon (Great Japan). Marks could be both earlier and later than the Meiji (1868-1912) period, when this was the norm.|
|1308. Mark right column: Seto, left column Kawamoto Masukichi Made Date: Meiji (1868-1912) period.|
|1204. Mark: Ai To Japanese reading = Ai To ('love' of 'ceramics'), usually indicating Aichi Prefecture (Nagoya), Seto ware, modern, contemporary.|
|Seto porcelain - Dai Nippon. Stamped or printed marks|
|Printed Seto or Seto area marks that includes Dai Nippon in Japanese characters. These marks are on the whole considered to date the Meiji (1868-1912) period, reflecting the greatly increased nationalism of that period.|
|933. Mark: Dai Nippon Nakajima Sei meaning: Made in Nakajima Japan. Japan had many small potteries which made and decorated their own wares, but also those that sold wares to major decorating centers such as those in Nakajima. This plate's decoration was made using a stencil transfer - thus the fine lines which comprise the design - with a little bit of pink enamel wash in some of the petals. Koop's 'Japanese Names and How to Read Them' cites Nakajima both as "an administrative division of Owari province" but also as the "family name of a painter." Owari Province is modern Aichi Prefecture, with the famous town of Nagoya slightly south of Seto.|
|917. Mark: Dai Nippon (great Japan) is the right to left character meaning across the top. Also, underneath that are two characters, also written right to left, meaning Seto, which identifies this piece as Setoyaki from Nagoya. The bottom marking consists of what looks like a roof over a house, which is excatly what it is, identifying a trading shop designation in shorthand. Date: sometime after 1900.|
|Seto porcelain. Stamped or printed marks|
|Printed Seto or Seto area marks that does not include Dai Nippon in Japanese characters. These marks dates to after the Meiji (1868-1912) period.|
|888. Mark: Imperial Seto Yaki - OKAN". Japanese porcelain. Tentative date: mid 1940s.|
|1057. Mark: "Aichi Seto Japan since 1818". Aichi Prefecture is the old name of the Owari Province where the Seto village and industries are. Tentative date: mid 1940s.|
|1061. Sa'ke bottle. The woman's face on the base is called a "Lithophane". Pieces like this was made between the late 1930s and into the late 1950s/early 1960s, mostly for export. Many pieces dates to the "Occupied Japan" period (1945-52) and could thus be dated from this, if they carry a mark saying so. Most of this porcelain appears to have been made by the Kutani factory in Japan, and thereafter being decorated at lesser decorating firms, based from the multitude of different marks they can be found with. Since this piece carry the additional mark of "Nagoya" this could indicate that the Seto ceramic center slightly north of Nagoya might be the actual birth place of this set, however that is impossibly to tell for sure. Nagoya is the commercial and industrial metropolis of Owari, and the greatest ceramic center in Japan so far as the amount of products are considered, and they could have worked with porcelain from all over Japan however plain logistics are speaking in favour of something local.|
|913. Mark: "SETO - Made in Japan". Date: 1920-1940s.|
The gotheborg.com marks section was originally initiated by a donation of marks from the collection of Karl-Hans Schneider, Euskirchen, Germany in July 2000. The section have since then been greatly extended by a large number of contributing collectors.