Koseki was one of the Korean potters brought to Japan during the famous “Pottery War” in the 16th century.
In 1633, the son of Koseki, Sannojo Imamura, found high-quality pottery stone in the nearby island (Hario). The Feudal Lord commanded Sannojo to be the Director of Pottery Administration and established Mikawachi as the designated clan-patronized kiln. The remoteness was also ideal when pottery techniques can be guarded as top secrets by the clan. Potters were not allowed to leave the mountain without special permission. Today, the ruins of the gate can still be seen.
The son of Sannojo, Yajibe Imamura, continued the work in developing and producing fine porcelain ware, the main styles and technique of Mikawachi ware was developed under his leadership. His achievement led to the endowment of a new name 今村弥次兵衛「如猿」 Yajibe "Jyoen" Imamura by the feudal lord. "Jyoen"(如猿) translates as “monkey-like” for Yajibe’s skin was tanned like a monkey. With such honor, Yajibe made this intricate doll based on a monkey character from Noh play and presented it to the lord. The Feudal Lord found it very interesting and ordered the toy to be produced and exported. It became a huge hit even Napoleon’s wife bought one from the Paris World Expo. Yajibe Jyoen has since been honored as the patron saint of Mikawachi-ware at the hilltop Pottery Shrine, overlooking the pottery village.
is the name of the figurine. It measures about 85mm tall. The entire unit is made and fired as one unit, where the tongue is left mobile. It takes impeccable skills to produce them as porcelain is a very delicate material. The tongue could easily broke-off or welded with the glaze around it. The technique in making the Jyoen monkey porcelain figurine toy is being preserved by Kakufusa Kiln in Mikawachi today.
Nowadays, Mikawachi remains quietly hidden but distinctive as compare to popular neighboring Arita and Imari.
Hama is a small porcelain disc made as a padding for firing where the greenware would sit on top. The function of this small disc is to prevent the delicate porcelain work from warping due to shrinkage in high temperature. A Hama can only be used once. Some porcelain pottery towns recycle used Hama as paving gravels, and many are discarded and ended up in local rivers.
Hamazen festival is the day where potters would pay tribute to the Hama object at the shrine, appreciating it for serving its “life” to create beautiful porcelain work. In Shinto belief, everything is a living thing and needs to be respected. (read more about… here). Mr. Imamura, as the descendent of the Imamura pottery family, would make hama with fresh clay at the shrine and pay tribute every year. This is also the best time to visit this quaint little pottery village, to learn about the origin of Mikawachi, and see the works from the local kilns.
Koun Kiln and the Whales
Mr. Imamura did not not just pick up whale painting out of the blues. In fact, a small island nearby called Ikitsuki Island, once had the biggest whaling industry in the early Edo period (16th century). The industry had supported the entire region’s economy as well as the forbidden Christian community then. It was an important heritage to the locals.
While Mr. Imamura was attracted by the beauty of whales, he was also inspired by a series of whale-hunting drawings from an 18th century painter Shiba Kokan.
Recognizing an important part of the history of the region, Mr. Imamura shows innovation and courage of people from the Edo times.
Whaling in the region
The prime time of Japan organized whaling industry dated back to the late 1500s and carried into the 20th century. Many drawings depicted scenes of whaling, including tools and technique of the time.
Commercial whaling remains controversial in modern times, when Japan government uses cultural heritage as a reason to continue this practice. Debate aside, the country has comprehensive documentary about this activity of extensive history.
Shiba Kokan worked in a range of subject matters in oil painting, drawings, wood-block prints and ink. While he was on a sketching trip in the south, he was invited to visit and observe whaling activities in the Hirado region (next to Mikawachi). He stayed with the major Whaling company on the island for a month to observe the operation. Shiba was intrigued by the action and operation. At that time, the whaling industry supported the entire region’s economy as well as the forbidden Christian community.
Drawing by Shiba Kokan
Drawings by Shiba Kokan
Extensive documentation of whaling is archived in Tokyo libraries and whaling museum on Ikitsuki Island. (photo credit: National Library of Japan Digital Archive)
Drawing by Shiba Kokan
Drawings by Shiba Kokan from his stay at the Ikitsuki Island in 1788-1789
Photo: Tokyo University Department of Zoology Digital Archive
Mikawachi porcelain-ware Signature Techniques