Satsuma is the name of a type of earthenware initially made in various kilns in Chosa, Ryumonji, Tateno and Naeshirogawa, in the Japanese prefecture of Kagoshima, on the island of Kyushu. All these places were under the control of the feudal lord of Satsuma.
In the late 1590s, Shimazu Yoshihiro — the lord of Satsuma — returned to Japan after fighting a war in Korea. He kidnapped a group of 22 Korean potters and their families, and put them to work in 1601, making ceramics from the white clay found at Naeshirogawa.
With strict race laws prohibiting intermarriage, these potters and their families were kept completely separate from the rest of the Japanese population. By the third quarter of the 19th century, there were more than 1,400 of these artisans, and all were engaged in pottery-making.
Classically, Satsuma is a light and porous earthenware covered with a cream-colored crackle glaze that offers ivory-brown tones. This glaze is good for enamel decoration, and even the color white looks good against it. All enamel colors adhere to this surface well and sink into the tiny cracks to the point that they seldom flake or peel.
Satsuma wares are most often found with floral decorations, but scenic designs were also made. The best Satsuma wares are elaborately and artistically decorated, while the lesser wares show much less care and artistic merit. Some pieces of Satsuma are indeed worthy of a museum, but most found in the United States are more commercial in nature and are not likely to find themselves displayed in institutions devoted to substantial works of art.
By the way, kilns in Kyoto, Yokohama, Tokyo and on the island of Awaji later manufactured Satsuma-style wares. This is an important distinction, because many of these made outside the original area are of commercial quality at best and are often considered to be lesser products.
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