How To Read Satsuma Marks

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 Meiji 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.

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95 Comments

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  1. I have a lot of vase and pots they have a red cross and line are they real had for about 25 years

  2. Hi!
    I inherited a Satsuma set from my grandparents. They lived in Yokohama. I have been trying to verify age and worth. How can I get a picture to you?

    1. Hi Tina – I am no expert, unfortunately. It would be best to either show the set to a dealer to check or use the online antique valuation service we recommend.

  3. I have a piece although not a very old piece I think. Where can I take it for someone to look at the Mark?

    1. Hi Wendy. You could take it along to any local antique shop for an appraisal. Alternatively, use the online appraisal service that was recommended to us. You send them images and details of the piece and they will provide an age and value.

  4. I HAVE A 1000 BUTTERFLIES CUPS AND SAUCERS
    WITH GYOKUZAN MARKINGS

    (BLACK WITH CROSS ON TOP
    WHAT PERIOD IS THIS (UNUSED )

  5. Hello
    Can anyone help me identify this piece of pottery. Size is: Height 17.5 cm. Each side has a different picture as shown in photos. I have also included a photo of top rim and base showing markings. I am not sure if I have taken the correct side for the base as I cannot read/ understand the letters. Any help re origin of vase, date and or value will be much appreciated.
    Photo can be seen through this link. I have asked the ebay community but no replies yet. Please help. Thanks.
    https://community.ebay.co.uk/t5/Pottery-and-Porcelain-discussion/Help-identify-a-piece-of-Asian-pottery-vase/gpm-p/6175410#M606

  6. Hello, I have a small satsuma bowl (6″ diameter & 2 1/2″H) millefleur thousand flowers. It has a decal “Japan” and another marking under the glaze. It is a circle with a cross in the middle. It then has a very complicated name in Japanese. Is the circle with the cross from the Shimazu family crest? Also what would be an estimated date of production? Thank you, Briana

    1. Hi Lili.
      Firstly, the mark sort of looks genuine to me but I worry that it might be a stamped or printed mark rather than hand painted. The “20” on there also worries me that it would be real. The one thing that really makes me worry is that I have never seen an antique Satsuma incense holder before.

  7. I have a piece of pottery that was decorated by Maria Longworth Nichols in 1895 but has a red mark I believe to be Japanese… is it possible she acquired the piece from Japan? It’s red with two lines, then a perpendicular line next to a box with a line through it.

  8. I found a vase 3ft high. I believe it’s a satsuma. Its beautiful. I can’t seem to find any markings. I would love to send a picture to know more about if it’s old or a satsuma for sure.

  9. I have a vase and the only marking on the bottom says Satsuma and Japan, is this vase just a worthless copy?

  10. I have an ornament of about 12 inch tall that I think is Japanese it’s been in our family for over 70 years that I’m aware of but maybe more it has a imprinted fruit symbol with writing within it how can I date and find its origin spent hours looking for it

    1. Hi Sage – that marking looks like the Japanese number 3. If there is no specific mark from a maker then it is likely to be a more modern copy made in the Satsuma style.

  11. I have three teapots of descending sizes. A paper label notes: “signed with crest of prince of Satsuma” (they are from the estate of my stepmother, who was a professional dealer of antique glass & china). The crest consists of a gold circle and a cross within it on a red background.

    Your image of the Shimazu crest shows the circle and cross in red (not gold) with no paint of any color behind them–just the pottery showing through.

    Was the gold circle & cross on red, which is found on my teapots, correctly identified by my stepmother? (She was dedicated, but I have no illusions that she was perfect!)

    1. Hi Lynn. It is likely that these are more modern pieces. Anything with English writing on will not be antique.

  12. My name isThomas, and I have been trying to find this out how to price my vase and I have been running into walls left and right. Could you possibly help me with this? Please and thank you. I’ll send you a picture

  13. Hi ,
    I found a small vase (10cm) in my mother in law’s household. It has a handwritten stamp with red colour and gold writing that says 富山 薩广 … I was wondering if the vase is fake , because of the second kanji of satsuma (or is that a possible way to write it). Is there such thing as Toyama satsuma ? And if it’s real do you think small vases do have any value? Thank you so much for any information.

  14. Hi,
    I own a complete Kutani tea set but am having trouble researching it & was wondering if you could give me any info please? It has 6 x cups & saucers, 6 x side plates, 1 x larger round serving plate, milk jug, sugar bowl with lid & tea pot. The milk jug has a clear mark on the bottom that can only be seen when you get it in the right light. It says: Kama Palm Tea above a box containing 九谷 then KUTANI under the box. All the other pieces have printed in red: DECORATED IN HONG KONG. The set set is a floral pattern on a gold background. I believe it was purchased early 1900’s. Many thanks,
    Anne

    1. Hi Anne. This sounds like a mass produced copy made in the Kutani style. Also, Kutani is Japanese, so if it is made in Hong Kong, then that is an immediate giveaway that it is not an antique.

    1. Hi Lisa.
      This mark simply says “Satsuma” – it is quite messy though and was hard to decipher!

      1. Hi Tao,
        Thank you for the information, I appreciate the quick response. Any idea of period and, with it being messy 🙂 any idea if the hanko is real? It’s a beautiful vase, would be sad to think it’s not truly Satsuma: https://pix.sfly.com/sMW2ur

        1. Hi Lisa. I can’t really say what period it is from. You would have to get it appraised to get a better idea.

    1. Hi Wilmer. It would mean that it is a newer piece not made in Japan, but probably a mass-produced copy in the Satsuma style.

  15. I have a small porcelain teapot with crude red circle with two gold lines with smaller circles on them as the mark on the bottom. It is richly decorated with a boat on one side and figures on the other. Does anyone know when it may be from. Thanks

    1. Hi Simonne. I can’t really say if it is genuine, but it does sound as if the marking is like one you would find on an antique piece.

  16. I have a vase it’s satsumaware the has family mark gold leaf painted and the openings trimmed in white someone Thur it’s history put hole in bottom I guess for lamp are these worth restoreing. 15 in tall 28 in round. The mark on bottom missing from hole?

    1. Hi Howard. It’s a shame that people make them into lamps, although, I get the idea!
      I suspect that it is a more recent item (not a valuable antique) but can’t say for sure. You would need to have it looked at by a Satsuma Pottery Valuation Serviceprofessional antique appraiser.

  17. hi I have family crest on its own, a red circle with red cross and what looks like a blob or triangle on outer of circle, do you know what this marking is please

  18. I like to suggest a few improvements concerning the translations of the Kanji names under the pictures of your marks.
    – Dia Nihon Satsuma Kozan Zo must be: Dai Nihon Satsuma Kuni (國) Kozan Zo.
    – Ryozan = Ryozan no Sho (之章).
    – Sozan must be: Kutani Kaburagi (九谷 鏑木).
    – Gyokuzan (is written: 玉山) must be: Jinzan (仁山).
    Perhaps it’s possible to adjust the text under the pictures?
    Greetings,
    Martin.

    1. Thanks Martin – every extra bit of information helps my visitors!
      You obviously have some experience in this area!

  19. Hi I need help with my Satsuma Moriage with Depict 4 Geisha Near to the river vase, I really I don’t know what is mean T in the bottom vase. I Try to find some similar like my but only I find one, the same hand painted but with at other depict in front. I ready in this Satsuma Moriage Vase is from 1900 but still the same question MY vase have T letter engraved, no stamp, no paint. Please help. 🙁 🙁

  20. My ‘satsuma’ has LD or something that looks like it underneath, its two similar vases with Japanese paintings in vibrant colours and gold .they stand at about 30cm high.What are they?

  21. Hi
    I am trying to identify this mark from a vase. https://flic.kr/p/UyUyLq
    Appears to be the Shimazu clan mark at top and from brief research the basic kanji seems to be ‘earth’
    Any further information would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks in advance
    Glenn

  22. 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.

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

  23. 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

    1. 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).

  24. 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

    1. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

    1. 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.

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

  28. 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.

  29. Hello.

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

    About its price?

    Size-50-60cm

    Thanks in advance!!!

    1. 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.

  30. 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!

  31. 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