How To Read Satsuma Marks

By | August 23, 2013

Even if you don't speak, read or write Japanese, the markings on pieces of Satsuma pottery can be quite easy to decipher, providing that you follow some simple rules.

To start, the markings are read in the opposite direction to English. Start at the top right hand corner and read down. If there are 2 lines of Kanji characters, move to the left and start at the top of the next line, reading downwards again.

Many of the Japanese makers marks on Satsuma porcelain or pottery are simply the name of the person who made the item, or a generic marking such as "Dai Nippon Satsuma".

You may also find that there are no main markings, only Japanese numbers. These types of markings are more common on larger vases that form part of a set. The piece may be marked as "Left 3", meaning that it should be positioned as the third item on the left hand side. Obviously, a vase like this would be part of quite a large set. The centre item may have the main marking of the maker on if it is of sufficient providence.

How to work out the markings yourself.

I do not read Japanese at all, apart from a few simple Kanji that I have become used to. I often refer to a Kanji online system that allows you to build up the symbol piece by piece to make the word. This can take a little practise though and does not always give good results - especially with hand painted markings and definitely when it comes to people's names.

Another way to find the marking yourself is to look at the large list over that the Gotheborg website. I often look there and scan the list of markings, trying to spot one that looks the same. Again, this takes time and can make your eyes hurt, but will be worth the effort.

It might also be worth looking at the Imari and Kutani markings on the Gotheborg site too, as these are very similar to the marks found on Satsumaware pieces.

Each Kanji is made from a number of marks, which can be help in identifying what it means or says.  Using the Find Kanji By Radicals site, you can slowly build up the marking, piece by piece to form the full item.

  1. Start by estimating the number of marks in the kanji.  A point to note is that unless there is a curve in the marking, lines that are at right angles to each other are usually 2 separate strokes.
  2. Go to the Kanji by radicals site and see if you can spot the kanji in the list they have available (which is sorted by the number of strokes).
  3. Click the kanji mark if it is there, or start to build one yourself by clicking on each element in turn.  For example, if there is a straight line in your kanji, click the straight line mark under section "1" of the site.
  4. Add extra marks, piece by piece until you can build up an image of the kanji you are looking for.  Note that when you add additional pieces, a number of completed kanji will appear at the bottom of the page.  Examine these regularly to see if you can spot your one there.  Sometimes, this can be better than just building your own kanji piece by piece.
  5. Once you have found the kanji, click on it at the bottom part of the page and you will be taken to a screen showing more information.  Look at the Korean translation on the right hand side, which will give you a good chance at a phonetic translation.  You can also see possible English translations too on the left hand side.

Common Japanese pottery marks.

You may find that some pieces of pottery have very similar looking marks, which is good for people like us who are looking to find the authenticity.

Here are a few common markings that you might find when examining the mark on the bottom of your item:

Dai Nippon (Great Japan).

dai nippon great japan pottery marking

This mark was used during a time in Japan where they were becoming very proud of their country and efforts were being made to establish some sort of pride in where the makers of pottery such as Satsumaware lived and came from.  You will quite often see these Kanji on the right hand side of the marking, denoting that the item was "made in Japan" or of Japanese origin.  I guess that it is just a hallmark to show where the item came from or a way of the maker announcing that they were from that place.  If you see a piece with this written on, then you can assume it will be from the Meji period (1868-1912).

The Shimazu crest.

shimazu crest satsuma pottery

Most old and authentic pieces of Satsumaware will have the Shimazu family crest on, usually at the top of the marking (the red circle with the cross in).  This mark shows that the pottery was made under the rule of the Shimazu clan and is a good way of determining if the item is of value.  The crest is always found at the top of the cartouche.  If the item is hand painted, then the markings are more genuine.  Some more modern copies have the Shimazu crest, but you can tell them have been stamped or printed with a machine.

Zan

zan marking on satsumaware

This commonly used marking can mean "mountain" but is often found to be within the name of the maker, eg Gyozan or Kozan.  If you see this marking, it will help you determine part of the name of the maker.  The Zan marking can also be read or translated sometimes as "san" too.

Zan can also be marked in a more stylised way, such as on this marking by Gyokuzan, where the "zan" at the bottom looks very different to the normal kanji.

Sei

sei kanji - to make or manufacture

This marking means to "make" or "manufacture" and can be found on many pieces of Satsumaware.  However, due to the fact that it is quite a detailed kanji, it can sometimes be hard to identify properly.  The more strokes there are in the kanji, the harder they can be to read.

I can usually spot this one by remembering the design of the marks below the horizontal like at the bottom.  Sometimes, the marks at the top can be hard to identify as they are quite small and have been created by a brush.

Zo

zo to make or create

This part of the marking means "to made" or "to manufacture" but can also mean "made by" and is often the last kanji on the marking, written in the bottom left corner.  Many markings will have the "Dai Nippon" mark on the right, the name of the maker on the top left and "Zo" underneath.  Reading this literally, you could say that it would mean "Made in Japan by me" (with me being the name of the maker).

Left and Right

kanji right kanji left

If the pieces are a part of a larger display set, the vases or items will often be marked using information as to where in the line-up they should appear.  For example, "Right 3", meaning that the item should be the third item on the right in the display.

You will find that the word left or right is followed by a japanese number.  You can find a list of numbers here.

Examples of satsuma markings and translations.

Here are a few markings from images of pieces that have been sent to me via the Facebook page for this website (many thanks to those that sent them in and please come and "Like" us and join in).  I have also put a translation too of the makers name.

ryuzan satsuma vas marking

ryuzan

kinzan satsuma pottery marking

kinzan

Dia Nihon Satsuma Kozan Zo

Dia Nihon Satsuma Kozan Zo

ryozan satsuma mark

ryozan

sozan japanese pottery mark

sozan

Kyokuzan satsuma marking

Kyokuzan

Koshida satsuma mark

Koshida

Kinkozan satsuma mark

Kinkozan

Gyokuzan satsuma marking

Gyokuzan

kyozan satsuma mark

Kyozan

41 thoughts on “How To Read Satsuma Marks

  1. Toni Bittencourt

    Hi, My grandmother gave me as a wedding gift, her own 12 piece tea set, which she said was a Satsuma pottery set. I would very much like to know if it’s an original (antique) and how much would it be worth today. I have taken some pictures and I hope someone will tell me its worth.
    Thanks,
    Toni

  2. janie

    Hello, I would love to find out any information on this Japanese tea or coffee set. I purchased this from an estate auction. It had been in storage over 20 years. Many very nice antiques in this sale. It is very delicate and appears to be very old. I would call it porcelain with heavy raised gold applied. Can you tell me anything about this set? Thank you so very much!

  3. Lynn

    Looking to find more info on this mark on the bottom of my jar. Any info would be of great help.

  4. Bild

    Anybody know what this means…I think it says Takayama Do sei??

  5. Bild

    You can find this mark on Gotheborg website. It is generic Satsuma mark.

  6. Bild

    The cup and saucer are Satsuma turn of century 1900, worth somewhere in area of 100 to 300 each set,

  7. Bild

    It is a Chocolate pot set early 20th late 19th C. Kyoto porcelain ..about 100 to 250 on Ebay.

  8. janie

    Thank you so very much answering my question about the chocolate set!
    Janie

  9. Cissy

    Reportedly from 1853, anyone know the artists or value? It is part of a 22 piece tea set.

  10. German

    I’m not sure about the artist name but the second mark is the Yasuda Co. under the shimazu family crest. Two famous artist from the are Seikozan and Ryozan but I’m not sure if any of them is the artist. I doubt this is from 1853. probably late 19th century to early 20th century.

  11. Kev

    This is from a Satsuma vase,any information greatly received

  12. Kev

    Helps if you can see what I’m asking about 😉

  13. Fa Somat

    hi this porcelain sign known? He has a value? thank you

  14. Kerry Swain

    Could anyone tell me about this marking please..

  15. Kerry Swain

    Hi could anyone tell me anything about this marking please

  16. Kerry Swain

    Could someone tell me about this marking please..

  17. Kerry Swain

    Could someone please tell me about this marking on my bowl.. Will try add more pics

  18. Sharma Blom Fagan

    Can you tell me what the maker mark is please? approx year? Thanks!

  19. Vladimir

    Hello.

    Please give information about the vase. When it was made?

    About its price?

    Size-50-60cm

    Thanks in advance!!!

  20. Love my Fur-Babies

    this is an antique satsuma porcelain egg. why would it be painted and not stamps. some of the ones I see online are stamped but this is hand written along with something else I cant make out. found in my attic the person who originally brought here is from Japan and it was brought back after the war.

  21. Love my Fur-Babies

    I cleaned this one off a bit

  22. Tom Chambers

    Hello, can you please help me identify this mark? I believe it is Meinji period. Thank you.

  23. Adrian

    Hello, can you please help me identify this mark?

  24. David Demaree

    Hello I have a really nice large vase with a lid that is ornately decorated which has a reddish brown (maroon) background throughout. It reads hand painted and Satsuma and something else I can’t read and has a triangle with an 8 in it and separately has a mark of a rectangular with 2 possible letters or numbers? One on top of the other. Like an N and underneath it’s hard to say… Maybe a 3, 8, S and has 3 dots around all of it and above that mark it has another triangle but the mark is to fuzzy to read at all. It appears very old but in great condition but I can’t find a lot online about these marks.

  25. admin Post author

    If the marking as any words in English – “Hand Painted” or “Satsuma” then it is a more modern (less valuable) mass produced copy of the antiques.

  26. David Demaree

    Thank you and that makes complete sense. I don’t suppose the marks make too much of a difference on the price. It’s large and cool looking so for my $20 not too much of an investment. Thanks again.

  27. Linsi S Sanders

    Hi.
    I have what I think is a Satsuma Egg, but it has no markings. I have pictures of it. Should it have markings to be of value ?

    Thanks,

    Linsi x

  28. admin Post author

    Hi Linsi.
    Satsuma Eggs are funny things – I have a feeling (not backed up by any research) that all Satsuma Eggs are not real.

    What I mean by that is that I have yet to find a genuine antique egg (with the correct markings on). There are plenty for sale on eBay that say they are a “genuine antique satsuma egg” – but the image of the marking often shows something like “Made In China” – which totally destroys their claims 🙂

    However, they do sell – but the bigger the egg the better the price. Check out the sold eggs on eBay for more info.

  29. admin Post author

    Looks like it might read “Yuzan” or “Yunzan” as the name of the maker? – there is also the black markings to the right, which look like a + (meaning 10) and O (meaning zero).

  30. Kaye

    I have a pair of moriage vases with dragon handles showing a court scene.They are 15 1/2″ tall and have 4 holes in each top rim.The only marking on them are is a small red paint symbol (both different) under the bases

  31. Pat

    I have a satsuma vase that has Satsuma printed in the middle of the vase bottom in a rectangle box. It also has the number 4 in a box and the number 31 too. There is a number 91 or 16 and a number 8 under a horizontal line and to the left of a vertical line. It is very colorfyl and has raised gold beaded designs.

  32. admin Post author

    Hi Pat.
    Thanks for getting in touch.
    Items with “SATSUMA” (written in English) are not antiques and are usually mass produced items.

  33. Lindsey Woodhaven

    Hello! Thanks for the great references! I am still having trouble identifying this particular mark, and wondered if you could help. Thank you kindly!
    Lindsey
    http://imgur.com/mP7qGiA

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