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 Sasebo City, in 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 karako-e (a pattern based on pictures of Chinese children at play). The soft, round brush handling generates a sense of warmth in some respects. This was originally derived from China’s Ming dynasty, with karako-e representing young boys, so these articles were first painted as talismans with the implied significance of prosperity and happiness. Individual karako-e pictures have been drawn since the Meiji Period.
The characteristic of Mikawachi Ware is its production, which is delicate yet lively, and uses techniques known as sukashi-bori (fretwork) or tebineri (forming by hand). 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, 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 become widely used and loved by common people from the Meiji Period.

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 Amakusa, Kumamoto Prefecture. This Amakusa potter’s stone is the source of the whiteness. The ore is finely ground over the course of 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, grain sizes must be separated. Therefore, the next process is precipitation. 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. Furthermore, the collected fine grains are placed in a machine called a vacuum drain, which thoroughly removes air and produces a clay form.
  3. 3. Casting The clay formed by precipitation is cast using a lathe or by hand. Casting is an important factor in determining the form of porcelain. Furthermore, when finishing ornaments at the casting stage, form is produced using various techniques. Among these, the techniques often used in Mikawachi Ware are sukashi-bori, in which holes are opened and bored, tebineri, in which animals or vegetation are expressed through detailed craftsmanship, and haritsuke (pasting), where worked items are attached to other pieces of unglazed pottery.
  4. 4. Drying The cast potter’s clay is then thoroughly dried under sunlight, and the rough parts of the surface are ground to produce a smooth surface. With extra effort, Mikawachi Ware can be produced even more beautifully.
  5. 5. Bisque Next, after drying by sunlight, bisque firing is carried out for around 7 hours at a high temperature of 900 degrees celcius, before moving into 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, dami (dark asbolite application) Ceramics after bisque firing are not necessarily beautiful. If dirt is attached to the surface, it will become mixed in with the paint and there is a risk that the article will be spoilt. Therefore, prior to undercoating, dirt is removed by thoroughly polishing with a dry cloth as preliminary work.
    At this undercoating 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 baked it becomes a vivid blue dye that is quite wonderful. Furthermore, once the undercoating has been finished, a thick brush is used to apply dami (dark asbolite) in order to express shading.
  7. 7. Glazing After applying an undercoating, the glaze known as enamel is applied all over. By applying enamel, a glass-like transparency is produced and strength is reinforced.
  8. 8. Glost firing Then, once enamel has been thoroughly applied all over, articles are fired at temperature of around 1,300 degrees celsius (even higher than the temperature used in bisque firing) for 15 to 20 hours. Particularly important is what happens after the glost firing process. Cracks will occur if articles are suddenly transported from a high-temperature location to a low-temperature location, so instead the pieces are to be slowly cooled over time and removed from the kiln.
  9. 9. Overcoating Mikawachi Ware, with its characteristically vivid blue using asbolite, is often inspected after glost firing and sent out as it is. However, when further applying color, other colors such as red are applied after glost firing in the process known as overcoating. After overcoating, the articles thoroughly baked at once by glost firing, which involves baking at around 750 degrees celsius for approximately 7 hours to establish coloring.

Where to Buy & More Information

Mikawachiyaki Museum

Mikawachiyaki Museum Photo:Nagasaki Photo Studio

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