Meiji Imari Renaissansnce Project : The definition of Meiji Imari and style

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What is the definition of Meiji Imari and its style?

Meiji Imari – the discontinueed masterpieces that skillful craftsmen employed all their technique

Iroe (overglaze enamel) Nejiri-wari Jimon Karakusa (arabesque) mon (pattern) bowlIroe (overglaze enamel) Nejiri-wari Jimon Karakusa (arabesque) mon (pattern) bowl Arita porcelain is classified into three categories – Ko-Imari (early Imari), Kakiemon and Nabeshima. You might have often heard the name, Ko-Imari, because it is collective term for Arita which was made by the end of Edo era except for Kakiemon and Nabeshima style.

Another kind of Arita porcelain is Meiji Imari, which is highly regarded among the Western antique fans.

More and more foreigners came to visit Japan in addition to Dejima, in Nagasaki Prefecture as a result of the arrival of the black ships of Commodore Perry. They paid attention to a number of Japanaese excellent traditional crafts, and one of them was Imari porcelain. And then, foreign merchants began to make such requests, “Can you make Western style dishes?” or “Can you make this one?” Then, what we call “producers” in other words, wealthy merchants began to take charge of deals: they listened to the requests from foreign peopole and then brought the samples and urged Japanese craftsmen to produce them. Until then, craftsmen were producing ones with Japanese style, but they drastically changed the shape or paintings upon their requests.
Iroe fuchi (rim) Madori Karakusa mon soup bowlIroe fuchi (rim) Madori Karakusa mon soup bowl Eventually, after the Meiji Restoration in 1868, and the Establishment of Prefectures in place of feudal domains in 1871, Japan went through “civilization and enlightenment” and early days of Japanese modernization. Massive information from other countries was poured into Japan, and as a result, Japan was changing at greater speed. Therefore, Japanese art greatly increased sophistication from the late Edo period to Meiji era, especially in the field of craftwork.

However, on the other hand, the Nabeshima clan fell apart because of the Establishment of Prefectures in place of feudal domains. The craftsment who were protected by the Nabeshima clan all at once fell into tragic situation. Amazingly, a group of craftsmen who had experienced the full maturity of Edo culture put their heart and soul to produce masterwork to challenge the world with all their skills. This is how Meiji Imari was produced, which is full of craftsmen’s energy and urge. They stopped having their own kiln anymore, they were released from any rules they followed, and they did not know what would happened tomorrow. And they expressed all they had acquired in the past – what they have learned about Edo paintings, history, etc. The essense of Meiji Imari is the burst of their energy.

Iroe akadami-cho (dark red butterfly) mon comportIroe akadami-cho (dark red butterfly) mon comport There are a number of pieces with exquisite painting. And we feel it is not possible to follow the style. No matter how difficult the order was, they would not say, “I have not done this before,” but they actually did it. That’s why I feel their energy and urge.
Iroe Kabuto Karakusa Rensa (chain) mon Western dishIroe Kabuto Karakusa Rensa (chain) mon Western dishAnother feature of Meiji Imari is that the size could be gigantic. They made huge pieces because they did not want to lose by China. Before that, they did not have the same kind of spirit during Edo period. They were pushed into the corner and then suddenly grew the spirit of challenge.

This Meiji Imari drew a lot of attention in Europe where “Japonism” was greatly popular. In any World Exposition, it attracted Europeans more than any other traditional cdrafts.

The Seiji Company which blended remarkable traditional technique and cutting-edge modern technology

The stamp of the Seiji Company The stamp of the Seiji Company After the collapse of the Nabeshima clan losing kiln, what happened to the craftsmen who lost their leaders? They had just two choices – starting from the scratch or stopping producing. A group of excellent craftsmen in Arita gathered and established Koransha (1875~), which was the first corporate organization in Japan. Several kiln and merchants were merged.

In 1876, the following year of their establlishment, Koransha made a successful debut at Philadelphia World Exposition which was a 100th year of National Foundation. However, craftsmen split into two groups, due to the different opinions on manufacturing and sales on their artwork and daily tableware. And then, in 1879, able craftsmen who was separated from Koransha started their own company, which was the Seiji Company.

The character “Sei” standed for heart and soul, and as its name implies, they left many exquisite and soulful masterpieces. The other great achievement of the Seiji Company was that they developed a daily fine Western table ware and introduced the cutitng-edge French style equipment for ceramics, and then they endeavored to blend excellent traditional techniques and most-advanced modern technology.

The products of the Seiji Company won a Gold medal at Amsterdam (Dutch) World Fair in 1883. In addtion, in November 1883, at the social club called “Rokumeikan” which was opend in Tokyo Kojimachi Yamashitacho (presently Chiyoda-ku, Ichisaiwai-cho), the feasts were served in the tableware made by the Seiji Company every night, which amazed noble people from overseas.

In fact, the most pieces produced by the Seiji Company were produced for exporting. Therefore, domestically, people cannot purchase them in the market. The only places for delivery is state guest houses or Imperial Household Agency’s “Enryoukan) which is adjacent to Hamarikyu Garden. That is why it is so difficult obtain them and it is called discontinued Arita porcelain.

However, the Seiji Company closed down after decade-long period. It is said that worldwide depression was one of the causes, but it might have been quite difficult to collect a number of professional craftsmen.

In fact, they left excellent pieces. Mr. Kamachi showed pieces of work produced by the Seiji Company, which were amazing. The reproduction project started because of the excellence of their work. We thought if we can do this now, then the Arita traditional technique will survive.

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