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satsuma

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.

Categories
satsuma

Royal Satsuma

example of a royal satsuma markingWhen you begin to collect or become interested in Satsuma Pottery, you may come across several terms that you are unfamiliar with. One such term which can also be misleading is "Royal Satsuma".

The term "Royal Satsuma" refers to the type of Satsuma Pottery that was mass produced to be sold abroad. It is also possible that the piece of pottery was even made in somewhere like China too - such was the demand for Satsuma style pieces after they were made known to the world.

If you have a piece of pottery that is marked "Royal Satsuma" on the bottom, then it is certainly not an authentic piece from Japan. It could have been made in Japan, but it will not be a proper antique. It was not until the late 1940's that potters in Japan began to use English to mark their work.

As a rule of thumb, when buying or checking any pieces of "antique satsuma pottery" if it has ANY english words on, then it will certainly not be from the Meiji Period. Also, anything sold as "Royal Satsuma" will not be from a Japanese Royal palace or have belonged to the Emperor - it will most likely not be from Japan at all.

However, these pieces are very beautiful and are collectible and can fetch a good price if they are in very good condition.  Just make sure you are fully aware of what you are buying before spending money on what appears to be an antique piece, which many sellers claim them to be.  Many people who contact me regarding pieces they have been given or bought have this style of Satsuma and the information that it could be next to worthless in terms of value, can be bad news to give.

You can read more on valuing a piece you own here on one of your recent articles.

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Royal Satsuma Moriage Covered Dish Geisha Lustreware Salt Pepper Cream Sugar
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Royal Satsuma Hand Painted Vase Japanese
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royal satsuma vase
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Vintage Royal Satsuma Moriage Gold Gilting Handles Vase 7 7 8 Tall
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Categories
satsuma

Books For Identifying Satsuma Marks

Finding a good resource for identifying markings on Satsuma Pottery can be difficult. After all, we don't all have a well studied antiques expert in our pocket to ask for advice when we need them.

There are various books you can buy on the subject of identification of Japanese Pottery which includes the Satsuma range of pieces. These books form a good series of reference materials that you can use to identify the designs and styles of Satsuma and also examine the makers markings located on each piece.

Japanese Porcelain 1800-1950

Japanese Porcelain 1800-1950

(Schiffer Book for Collectors)
(Hardcover)
303 Pages

This book treads the line between a visual reference material for all manner of Japanese pottery styles including Arita and Imari, Kutani and Satsuma among many others. It features amazing full page images of each piece. noting the common styles and points to look out for. It is an excellent book for enthusiasts or trade collectors and sellers alike.

1100 Marks on Foreign Pottery & Porcelain book

1100 Marks on Foreign Pottery & Porcelain

(Paperback)
64 Pages

Featuring an excellent guide to finding markings on many different types of Satsuma and other world pottery, the 1100 Marks book will give you the confidence to make sure you are buying the real thing.

the best book on satsumaPossibly the best and most detailed book is called (unsurprisingly) "The Best Book On Satsuma" by Thomas S Kiernan, an expert on Japanese pottery and antiques. Featuring 236 pages of glorious images and markings, each described and translated, this is the book you need if you want to know as much about Satsuma Pottery as possible.This book is quite expensive and only normally available to buy direct from the author in Australia, so we recommend looking for it on eBay where copies of it turn up quite regularly.

Click here to search eBay for this book.
You will be automatically directed to your nearest eBay store.