The background of the Meiji Imari Renaissance project
-For the purpose of succeeding Japanese great traditional artwork to the younger generation-
[Discontinued Meiji Imari [the tragic Seiji Company] The reason why we decided to reproduce Meiji Imari was that we met Takanori Kamachi, who was the author of “Discontinued Meiji Imari – Tragedy of the Seiji Company” brought back a number of exported Meiji Imari pieces. He suggested that Matsumoto should start a reneissance project as he is related to Chujiro Kawahara.
Looking back at the situation in Arita 5 years ago, the sales went down to a quarter of its piece, during the bubble economy. This means that there is no power in the place. I was worried about the future and wondered if Arita will remain a place where porcelain is produced. Some people jokingly said that by the time we have the 400th anniversary in 2016, we will no longer continue production. We are concerned that If we do not take any measures, we will stop having great traditional skills of the Meiji Imari, which a group of the finest craftsmen built up in the past.
As a small insular country, Japan has introduced various things from the Continent, and then developed them into something of its own. Then, a number of Japanese original beauty and culture styles were born. Meiji Imari was one of the symbolic work. Under the wave of globalization, it would be difficult to survive as a major production place. However, we should still leave this traditional skill as we have great pride in. That’s what we discussed. This is how we started to work on the reproduction of Meiji Imari.
Challenging the technique of sophisticated painting – sticking to the Izumiyama clay which is the origin of Arita porcelain
Painting The most important part for the Imari reproduction is painting, when we bring back the Seiji Company’s technique to the present. We requested the instruction of painting to the professors of traditional craft at the Arita Yogyo University. We asked for people who are both in and outside the company, who wish to go up the career ladder by acquiring the painting skill or who want to learn special technique. About 10 craftsmen gathered and once a week, the professor gave instructions directly. Then it takes 2 years for them to complete “Iroe-takemon Dinner Set”, which decorated Rokumeikan banquet.
The first step of painting is to mix pigment with water. In Arita, we call this mixing process grinding. We take a plenty of time for mixing pigment and glue and grind them in a mortar. At the beginning, it takes one and half hours just to grind painting. The color of the painting differs depending on how much pressure you put when grinding. In the past, there were even craftsmen who devoted themselves for grinding paint only. If they decided to grind red color, then they focus on red for 3 or 4 years. This is the first step to become the Arita craftsman. The technique of painting is quite profound.
A woman, who has been painter for 5 years, has become one of the greatest painters in Arita. Firstly, it is important to wait for training skillful craftsmen. Now we have a group called Meiji Imari Painting Technique Study Group, and painters learn with the group. The Japanese govrnment or such association as traditional tequnique preservtion society should be involved in the educational activities, but a private company is in charge. If anyone does not deal with it, we would not be able to bring up new craftsmen.
We have three steps. The fist step is to reproduct the original pieces as they were. The second one is to add some design to the existing patterns. And then, we would like to reach the third one, which is mixing the acquired techniques and our own inspiration and create something new.
Magnetic field of Izumiyama Another important thing is pot clay. We stick to the Izumiyama clay, as it is essential to Imari and Arita porcelain. The quality of the Izumiyama clay is excellent as it does not require any addings, however, it is hard to deal with. From the chemical standpoint, it contains much sulfide iron, therefore, something black like iron powder appears on the surface. Probably, because of the nature of the clay, the technique such as “nigoshi-de” or “dami” which paints all the surface.
It has been 100 years since we do not use the Izumiyama clay any more. At present, including Arita porcelain, most pottery in the Hizen area, we use Amakusa Pottery Stone from Kumamoto Prefecture. We believe that skills are passed down and accumulated through continuous production. If we try to discover the skill which has not been used for 100 years, it normally requires 100 years. In the knowledge that it is difficult to do it within just several years, we try to find the way by introducing the cutting-edge technique.
For example, it is quite difficult to use Izumiyama clay and make it into a 25 centimeter flat dish. The Izumiyama clay is not strong for heat, and some troubles have been observed such as rim part fells off or a heap part gets collaped. It would be easier to use the support in the same way when they bake a big Western plate, but we do not want to do that as traditional craftsmen. We cannot accumulate any data on computer, so we expect some volume to have extra heap, and then we see the results after baking. We have strong motivation to achieve the hightest standard by producing in authentic way from the Izumiyama clay at any cost.
Royal to the original, reproducing our ancestors’ technique and being reborn into the modern Maiji Imari
This project continues just for 10 years period until the year 2016, which is going to be the 400th anniversary of the birth of the Arita porcelain.. We take time to proceed the project by asking such people cooperation as clay shops, mold shops, painting shops, or other companies. We firstly plan to reproduce the pieces which were once produced by the skillful craftsmen who were related to the Seiji Company, such as the first valuable dinner set in Japan which was completed by the Seiji Company. To put it more precisely, the modern craftsmen challenge the finest piece of Meiji Imari, transcending the time and space and resonating their sprit with the past. We hope that many people find the value of the pieces.