- The Antique Chinese Porcelain Collectors Page

Japanese Porcelain Marks


From the mid-17th century, Kakiemon wares were produced at the factories of Arita, Saga Prefecture, Japan with much in common with the Chinese "Famille Verte" style. The superb quality of its enamel decoration was highly prized in the West and widely imitated by the major European porcelain manufacturers.

In 1971 it was declared an important "intangible cultural treasure" by the Japanese government.

The art of enamelling

The Japanese potter Kakiemon Sakaida (1596-1666) is popularly credited with being one of the first in Japan to discover the secret of enamel decoration on porcelain, known as 'Akae'. The name "Kakiemon" was bestowed by his overload on Sakaida, who had perfected a design of twin persimmons (kaki: persimmon) and who then developed the distinctive palette of soft red, yellow, blue and turquoise green.

The Kakiemon style produced at Arita (Hizen) from the 1670s to the 1690s garnered a significant reputation in Europe. Johann Friedrich Böttger succeeded in firing a type of hard paste porcelain in 1709 under the patronage of Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony. Augustus the Strong's Meissen kilns skillfully copied Kakiemon style porcelains in the following decades. For export purposes the Kakiemon style, popular in the 1670s-1690s, was supplanted by the Kinrande ("brocade") style, in the west usually called "Imari", which became prevailing style in the 1690-1730s and later.

Kakiemon is sometimes used as a generic term describing wares made in the Arita factories using the characteristic Kakiemon overglaze enamels and decorative styles. However, authentic Kakiemon porcelains have been produced by direct descendants, now Sakaida Kakiemon XIV (1934-). Shards from the Kakiemon kiln site at Nangawara show that blue and white and celadon wares were also produced.

Kakiemon decoration is usually of high quality, delicate and with asymmetric well-balanced designs. These were sparsely applied to emphasize the fine white porcelain background body known in Japan as NIGOSHIDE (milky white) which was used for the finest pieces. Kakiemon wares are usually painted with birds, flying squirrels, the "Quail and Millet" design, the "Three Friends of Winter" (pine, prunus and bamboo), flowers (especially the chrysanthemum, the national flower of Japan) and figural subjects such as the popular "Hob in the Well", illustrating a Chinese folk tale where a sage saves his friend who has fallen into a large fishbowl. However, because manufacture of NIGOSHIDE is difficult due to hard contraction of the porcelain body during firing, the production was discontinued from the former part of the 18th century to mid-20th century.

In this period, Sakaida Kakiemon produced normal 'Akae' wares.

Sakaida Kakiemon XII and XIII attempted to reproduce NIGOSHIDE and succeeded in 1953. It has been manufactured till now.

Kakiemon in Europe

The Kakiemon porcelain was imported into Europe and prized even above Chinese porcelain. Augustus the Strong of Saxony and Mary II of England both owned examples. The earliest inventory to include Japanese porcelain in Europe was made at Burghley House, Lincolnshire, in 1688. These included a fabulous standing elephant with its trunk raised and a model of two wrestlers.

Wares included bowls, dishes and plates, often hexagonal, octagonal or fluted with scalloped edges. The famed white "nigoshide" body was only used with open forms, and not for closed shapes such as vases, bottles and teapots, or for figures and animals. The hexagonal Kamiemon vases and covers known as "Hampton Court" vases were named after a pair at Hampton Court Palace, London, recorded in an inventory of 1696. Around 1730, this shape was copied at Meissen, Germany, which entered into a "sister city" contract with Arita, in 1979. The style was also adopted and copied in Chelsea and Worcester in the 1750's and by Samson Ceramics in the 19th century.

The Kakiemon porcelain proved a major influence on the new porcelain factories of the 18th-century Europe. Meissen copies could be extremely close to the originals, alternatively the factory painters might just borrowed designs and use them with other shapes and styles.

Kakiemon style was also adapted in Germany and Austria by the Du Paquier and "Vienna factories" and in France at Chantilly, Mennecy and Saint-Cloud. Kakiemon was also an influence on Dutch Delft pottery and Chinese export porcelain.


On the Kakiemon marks, really only 12th, 13th and 14th can be attributed with any certainty, and since there is some variability they could also have been placed under Arita. The pieces ar so far no shown since all the marks have a strong similarity. All are authentic having tomobako attribution to be certain, and 12th actually has the rare appearance of it being inscribed "12th".

Jan-Erik Nilsson

Introductory text written together with John Wocher, moderator of the Gotheborg Discussion Board.

1236. Kakiemon 12th

Click here to see large picture

The marks section was originally initiated by a donation of marks from the collection of Karl-Hans Schneider, Euskirchen, Germany in July 2000. The section have since then been greatly extended by a large number of contributing collectors.