Satsuma Pottery By Makuzu Kozan


One of the most popular and famous of the potters who made Satsuma style pottery was Makuzu Kozan. Born in 1842, Kozan was one of the Kyoto pottery experts who made the Satsuma style famous around the world and his works are still considered to be of the finest quality.

Although he was not one of the original potters from the initial Satsuma kilns, his artistic stylings and craftsmanship have made his pieces very collectible.

Learning from his father, who owned a very successful workshop in Kansai, Japan, Kozan had not been expected to take over after his death.

However, his skills in painting that were learnt from the age of 9 onwards took him in that direction. The story goes, that the young Kozan was asked to create a pot for washing brushes by his painting master, Giryo.

When Kozan carved an intricate dragon pattern that would only show when the dark inky water seeped into the carved areas, his father was so impressed that he took the pot and fired and glazed it himself, then taking Kozan into producing more pieces.

His expert skills and techniques soon lead to orders for his work from the Imperial Court and other notable local people.

These consisted of small items of tea sets and equipment, right up to sets of 50 bowls, all decorated with red and gold and arranged on a shelf for display. His work during the Meiji period in Japan became his most popular.

An example of the Kozan marking.
An example of the Kozan marking. An example of the Kozan marking.

It has been said that, although Kozan was from a more modern time, he strived to created pieces that were in the stylings of older Satsumaware.

This may also lead us to the reason why some of his works are not marked at all, possibly trying to make them look more antique and more like "old Satsuma".

These pieces are often referred to as "Ota Ware" or "Makuzuyaki" and lead some collectors in the west of noting him as a maker of forgeries.

After this mark on his character (around 1870), the majority of his pieces after that period do have his name on in an attempt to ensure that his works were recognised for their superior quality.


Satsuma Gosu Blue

A term that is used frequently regarding Satsuma or Japanese pottery and ceramics is "Gosu Blue".

Gosu Blue refers to the use of certain natural minerals and elements such as Cobalt or Asbolite to be used as the base for an under glaze or over glaze of the piece of pottery. Satsuma Pottery that has been decorated using the Gosu Blue techniques has a certain bluish hue to the images that are hand painted onto the surface of the pottery.

If Gosu Blue is used as an over glaze, the images become brighter and more vivid.

Gosu Blue Satsuma Pottery is possibly the most popular type to own and therefore commands a higher price than other types of Japanese ceramics. Pottery that was produced using this method was seldom made and was made during the mid 19th century in Kyoto, Japan.


Satsuma Ginger Jar

Another item made by the famous potters of the Satsuma region and other parts of Japan, Asia and the East are jars that are used for storing foods or precious scents. These jars have become known as Ginger Jars.

These jars come in various different sizes, from as small as 5 inches tall to over 2-3 feet tall and were used to store food items such as salt, rice, ginger and spices. They are typically smaller at the base, rising to a wider "hip" and then returning to a smaller opening at the top which is usually covered with a lid to keep the contents fresh.

As per the other items of Satsuma Pottery, the ginger jars are covered with intricate and beautiful designs, patterns and images of Japanese life, culture, plants, flowers and people.

In modern times, it is popular for the larger of the ginger jars to be turned into lamps. Due to their size and weight, the design makes a perfect lamp base to be displayed and used all over your home or office.  However, it is very unlikely (or foolish) for someone to use a real antique piece in this manner.  The lamps on sale are mostly in the Satsuma style, with the relevant designs and hallmarks, but not of any real value.

The smaller Satsuma Ginger Jars are more collectible than the larger ones, and jars that are highly decorated with hand painted enamel are the most sought after. Make sure you look for any damage when buying a jar and also make sure that you are buying an authentic piece, not a mass production version.


Satsuma Pottery

Satsuma pottery was made in or around Kagoshima in Kyushu, Japan in the later part of the 19th century through to the early 1920's in Satsuma in southern Japan.  It is also known that in the same location, there were kilns making pottery going as far back as the 16th century - so the location on the southern island of Japan was already steeped in pottery making history.  The term Satsuma, derived from the location where they were made then became the way that the pottery was described.  A typical piece if Satsuma pottery will be of a yellowy complexion and usually decorated with intricate and minute Japanese figures, landscapes and even dragons.  The designs also feature a form of decoration called moriage which is a term used to describe the use of raised enamel of Japanse pottery.

The clay used to make the Satsuma Pottery also differs depending on the location the item was made. For example, the clay used from the Kyushu area gives a darker tone to the pottery where as clay used from Kyoto gives a lighter appearance. The darker clay from Kyushu also allows the crackled glaze to have a darker, more pronounced appearance.

The Satsuma pottery business was also in full effect to mass produce many pieces of earthenware for export to Europe and America and there more perhaps more than 20 factories producing the pottery.  Therefore the majority of the pottery items from this location may be low quality and common but there were also makers of amazing fine pottery at the same time too.

There are several things that Satsuma Pottery is famous for and can be identified using these things.  The pottery nearly always has a cracked glaze and it also does not ring when tapped like some other china pottery does.  The craqueleuer of the glaze was done on purpose by the maker and is not a sign of the age of the piece as many people think.  The early pieces of pottery made in the Satsuma region were covered in a thick heavy glaze and the pieces are very rare and are seldom found at auction.  These earlier pieces do not feature many surface designs.  The highly collectible decorated pieces were made in the 19th and 20th century.

Another hallmark of the Satsuma vase, bowl or piece of pottery is the design that adorns the piece.  Lavished with scenes of Japan, the images are tiny and intricate and are possibly the most fascinating thing about the vases you can buy.  Images of people, immortals, dragons, flowers, landscapes, birds and events are all hand painted onto the pottery surface and then a light glaze is put over the surface which then cracks slightly.  These items are very beautiful pieces and are very collectible.

The factories and makers of Satsuma also produced smaller pieces such as bowls and geisha buttons which are also hand painted with the most amazing images.  The small sets of satsuma pottery buttons are highly collectible too and are a perfect addition to any satsuma collection.

When buying a Satsuma bowl, vase or piece if satsuma pottery, the marking on the piece will usually denote the name of the factory or company who has produced the item.  Due to the fact that there were so many makers of this fine china and export pottery, the markings will vary from piece to piece. If the item has the words "ROYAL SATSUMA" or the word Satsuma written in english, then it will be a fake, made for the mass market and possibly made in China.