IN creating society, humans agree to the acts or norms accepted and widely practiced as opposed to practices that are to be considered as taboo. Art is an integral part in society, and as a multifaceted subdivision of culture—even after history has long buried a certain civilization—art serves as remnants and windows to the way of life that once existed.
For Japan, from late Edo to early Showa or between the 1800s and 1940s, a different way of life existed, evidenced by sometsuke (blue and white or more technically underglaze blue porcelain).
In celebration of its Golden Jubilee, the University of San Carlos (USC) launched an exhibit on Japanese sometsuke entitled Sometsuke: A Rhapsody in Blue and White Japanese Ceramics From Late Edo to Early Showa, 1800-1940. The porcelain ware are currently displayed in USC’s Institutional History and Temporary Exhibitions Gallery, more commonly known as its External Gallery where temporary exhibitions are held.
The present exhibit hosted by USC displays beautiful Japanese porcelain ware and provides educational insight into the creation of Japanese sometsuke which were created 300 years after that of China and interestingly enough, only prospered by chance.
The beginning of the creation of Japanese sometsuke was due to the kidnapping of Korean potters and their families. They were brought to Kyushu, Japan following the unsuccessful conquest of Korea by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The discovery of a precious white kaolin clay source (Mount Izumi now flattened) in the town of Arita, Saga Perfecture, in 1614 by the Korean Ri Sanpei (Yi Sam-pyeong) ushered in the production of sometsuke.
The production boomed during the onset of the Qing Dynasty in 1644 which caused unrest in China, forcing Chinese potters to move to Japan. This filled the export gap in Europe through Dutch and Portuguese merchants. However, in the middle of the Edo Period (circa 1740), Japan ceased its export in ceramics, closing its borders.
Japan’s sometsuke were internally traded then until US Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in 1853 to reopen Japan to the world by forcing it to trade with the United States. The exhibited porcelain ware from Japan (known as sometsuke) are those produced during the period when Japan closed its borders to the world up until Japan’s reopening to the world, resulting in vigorous industrialization and imperialist ambitions resulting in World War II.
Inban or transferware are the most common ceramics for domestic use in Japan during the 1850s until today and a large section of the exhibit is composed of transferware. The porcelain ware are often decorated with cherry blossoms, koi, bamboo, sun and other common symbolisms that are traditional representations of beliefs, virtues and the way of life in early Japan. The exhibit is curated by Jose Eleazar R. Bersales, Ph. D., with Lyrech Uy Ibale and Regine Yoma as assistant curators.
The exhibit was launched on May 20 and will be displayed until Aug. 10.
Published in the SunStar Cebu newspaper on May 23, 2017.
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