Vessels of Trade: Porcelain as Commodity in Early 17th-century Japan

External event - SOAS

Saturday 21 September, 2013
11:30am BST - 12:00pm BST

Japan 400 Conference | Japan and Britain, 1613: Parallels and Exchanges

SOAS, 10 Thornhaugh St London WC1H 0XG


Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere (Curator, The British Museum; Research Director, Sainsbury Institute)

About the Lecture

2013 marks the 400th anniversary of both British-Japanese international relations and of the birth of Japanese porcelain. This paper addresses the ever increasing numbers of Chinese predominantly underglaze cobalt blue decorated porcelain entering Japanese shores from the end of the 16th through the early17th century and the subsequent formation of a domestic industry that within a few decades had supplanted its Chinese counterparts. The circumstances and characteristics of that transition will also be explored.

Particular attention is placed on early seventeenth-century Chinese porcelain fired at the Jingdezhen kilns and tailored for the Japanese markets and the lower cost porcelains from the southern Chinese kilns such as Zhangzhou. Recently a number of these wares have been excavated from such diverse contexts such Deshima, Aikawa in Sado Island and Edo Castle, making it possible to attempt to reconstruct the shifting cultural contexts to which these wares belonged.

The nascent Japanese porcelain industry was born not only for domestic economic reasons but also as a direct result of the international trade routes and the goods exchange in ports such as Nagasaki. Japanese porcelain production began in the early 1610s in the Saga domain and within a few decades with Nabeshima daimyo patronage was able to begin to challenge some of the Chinese markets for lower cost wares in Japan and Southeast Asia. By the 1650s, Japanese porcelain was replacing its Chinese counterparts both domestically and internationally as a result of both a drastic reduction in the Chinese porcelain trade and a large infrastructural push by Saga domain to improve the quality and consistency of the ware. This paper will also discuss a comparison of specific incidents in the formation of the Japanese porcelain industry with events occurring elsewhere in Japan, such as the construction of Deshima to reveal a seemingly conscious plan by the Saga domain to capitalise on the taste for Chinese porcelain both internally and abroad.

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