Mikawachi ware Photo:Mikawachi ceramics industry cooperative

Mikawachi ware Mikawachi yaki

A beautiful blue world
made of fine details


What is Mikawachi ware ?

Mikawachi ware is a form of porcelain produced around the city of Sasebo, in the Nagasaki prefecture. Mikawachi ware has long been regarded as a high class item thanks to its characteristic blue dye on white porcelain using asbolite pigment, and its use of simple yet eye catching vivid blue.
The pattern often used in Mikawachi ware is a pattern based on pictures of Chinese children playing. The soft, round brush generates a sense of warmth. Mikawachi ware was originally derived from China's Ming dynasty with young boys represented so these articles were first painted as talismans with the implied significance of prosperity and happiness. Individual pictures have been drawn since the Meiji period (1868-1912).
The characteristic of Mikawachi ware is its production, which is delicate yet lively with techniques such as fretwork known as sukashibori or hand forming known as tebineri. This form of pottery, which is carefully crafted by hand one piece at a time, is popular not only as articles for daily use such as tableware, but also as gifts.


Mikawachi ware - History Photo:Mikawachi ceramics industry cooperative

The leading theory is that Mikawachi ware has its roots in the Imjin war fought by Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI around the years 1592 to 1597. According to this theory, Shigenobu MATSURA, the lord of the Hirado Domain governing the area around Sasebo City at that time, brought back around 100 Korean koseki potters and had them open kilns. They mainly produced pottery at the beginning, but around the year 1640, white porcelain ore was discovered by Sannojo IMAMURA, a descendant of the koseki, which started the gradual change to modern white porcelain.
Around the year 1650, the system of official business kilns was established, and the Hirado Domain itself actively conducted patronage of Mikawachi ware. This form of ceramics and porcelain is also said to have been presented as gifts to the Edo shogunate (government during the Edi period), and in the second half of 17th century it attracted such attention domestically and overseas that it was exported to territories such as China and Europe.
Mikawachi ware drew a line through the lives of common people, and has been widely used and loved by many since the Meiji period (1868-1912).

General Production Process

Mikawachi ware - General Production Process Photo:Mikawachi ceramics industry cooperative

  1. 1. Stone crushing Mikawachi ware uses Amakusa potter"s stone, which is collected in the city of Amakusa, Kumamoto prefecture. This Amakusa potter"s stone is the source of the whiteness. The ore is finely ground in one day using a special machine until it becomes a powder.
  2. 2. Precipitation Since even crushed rock has different sizes and contains grains that are too large to use for porcelain, the grain sizes must be separated.
    When placed into water, grains of a larger size sink more quickly than smaller grains. Using this property, rubble is dropped into a water tank and a filter tank is used to collect only fine-grain particles.
    The collected fine grains are placed in a machine called a vacuum drain, which thoroughly removes air and produces clay.
  3. 3. Casting The clay formed by precipitation is formed on a potter"s wheel or by hand. Casting is an important factor in determining the form of porcelain.
    There are various techniques applied during the casting stage when finishing the pieces as ornaments. Techniques often used in Mikawachi ware are sukashi bori to curve and bore holes, tebineri to express lively animals and vegetation with high craftsmanship and pasting called haritsuke to attach the items to other pieces of unglazed pottery.
  4. 4. Drying The cast potter"s clay is then thoroughly dried in the sunlight, and the rough parts of the surface are ground to produce a smooth surface.
    With extra effort, Mikawachi ware can be even more stunning.
  5. 5. Bisque The bisque firing is carried out for around 7 hours at a high temperature of 900℃, before the glost firing.
    Bisque firing is carried out in order to make it easier to perform the next process, which is decorative coating.
  6. 6. Undercoating After the bisque firing, ceramics are not necessarily clean. If dust is attached to the surface, it will be mixed up with the paint and there is a risk that the article will be spoilt. Therefore, dust is removed by thoroughly polishing with a dry cloth as preliminary work to undercoating,
    In this stage, an asbolite pigment is used. Painting is performed with care using a writing brush. Asbolite has a grayish color at the undercoating stage, but when fired it becomes a marvelous vivid blue dye.
    After the undercoating, a thick brush is used to apply dark asbolite called dami in order to express shading.
  7. 7. Glazing After applying an undercoat, the glaze known as enamel is applied all over. By applying the enamel, a glass-like transparency is produced and strength is reinforced.
  8. 8. Glost firing Then, once the enamel has been thoroughly applied all over, articles are fired at around 1,300℃, which is even higher than the temperature used in bisque firing for 15 to 20 hours.
    A particularly important part is after the glost firing process. Cracks will be found if articles are suddenly taken away from a high temperature place with to a normal temperature place. Instead of doing that, the pieces are cooled over time and removed from the kiln.
  9. 9. Overcoating Mikawachi ware with its characteristic vivid blue using asbolite is often inspected after glost firing and sent out as it is. However, there can be an overcoat when further coloring is worked on pieces using red or another color.
    After the overcoating, the articles are thoroughly baked at once by glost firing, which involves firing at around 750℃ for approximately 7 hours to settle the coloring.

Where to Buy & More Information

Mikawachiyaki Museum

Mikawachiyaki Museum Photo:Nagasaki Photo Studio

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