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Japanese Porcelain Marks

Sumida Pottery

Sumida pottery was created specifically for export between the late 1800s and the 1920s. It was still produced until World War II and briefly after the war. The production is continued up until today.

It is usually heavy and covered with figures in relief. Most pieces are everyday objects such as tea pots, vases, and mugs. Japanese Sumida pottery is found in a wide variety of shapes and forms and are called by many names.

Named after the Sumida river

This distinct type of wares got its name from the Sumida river running near the Asakusa pottery district near Tokyo. It was near the banks of this river it was first made. The Japanese word for river is gawa, hence the name Sumidagawa. In 1924 Inuoue Ryosai III (1888-1971) moved the manufacturing site to Yokohama.

Most but not all made by Ryosai

The style of applied figures on a surface with flowing glaze was invented about 1890 by the Seto potter Ryosai I, who worked in Tokyo from about 1875 to 1900. A great number of the pieces are probably the work of a single family - Inoue Ryosai I (b. 1828), Inoue Ryosai II (b. 1860), and Inuoue Ryosai III (1888-1971).

It has, unfortunately, become common practice to attribute any signature found on Sumida ware to 'Ryosai'. Some other potters we know of were Hara Gozan, Ishiguro Koko, Sakurai Fuji and Sezan.

Glaze and decoration

It is is heavy, sculpted and usually has applied three-dimensional figures. It is often embellished with glazed plaques with hand written signatures or general good luck symbols. After the move to Yokohama more colors e.g. orange were added to the wares.

The most common characteristics are items whose upper half (or less) is partially glazed with a flambé glaze or glazed with two or more colors in a splashed application. Often, the glaze has run, creating curtains or droplets. Some pieces are entirely glazed while others are bisque. Later pieces also have an unglazed background.

Applied figures

The applied figures range from plants, landscapes, a wide range of humans and more. Many scenes on Sumida pottery depict fables from Japanese folklore. The animal most often seen is the monkey. The monkey is a common figure in many of those fables because of their human-like actions of caring for the young, stealing and interacting with one another in a community.

In the earlier works the intricacy of the applied figures is often amazing, individual features on faces can be seen in detail. Later on, perhaps when demand required mass or faster production, the features were often drawn, with only a line for the mouth, for instance.


The marks or potters signatures can be found on the base or side of the pottery, or on a white tile affixed to the piece. Over seventy different marks are known. The marks are inscribed in kanji however, not all pieces are marked. In 1890, the McKinley Act required foreign goods to be marked with their country of origin and it was then marked "Nippon". From 1921 the government required all products to be marked in English, so "Made in Japan" for the US market and "Foreign" for the English would appear. Since this could be affixed on paper labels they could also go missing, why in effect the pieces went back to the unmarked state, except for the signatures when found.

Fakes and alternatives

Fakes are few, but they do exist. A more common problem for collectors are when pieces are presented as Sumida which are not. The first alternatives to consider is Japanese Banko and Chinese Shiwan pottery which is a quite nice heavy glazed stoneware, however it is rarely signed and, it is not Sumida.

Sumidagawa is a softer, raku pottery created in the early 1800s. Poo ware was the product of a Chinese Shiwan kiln potter Poo You-she, whose patterns were similar to those of Sumida. "Banko" was the general term given to the Japanese export or souvenir ware sold in Tokyo but is today recognized as a separate ceramic ware.

Jan-Erik Nilsson

Introductory text written together with expert members of the Gotheborg Discussion Board.

Sumida is a Japanese pottery that was made from about 1895 to 1941. Pieces are usually everyday objects-vases, jardinieres, bowls, teapots, and decorative tiles. Most pieces are decorated with heavy orange-red, blue, brown, black, green, purple or off-white glazes and is embellished with various raised three-dimensional figures and objects. In 1924 the factory was moved to Yokohama, at which time more colours - e.g. orange - was added to the wares.
62. This mark is one a several marks associated with Inoue Ryosai, Sumida Pottery, this mark probably late.
1285. This mark is one a several marks associated with Inoue Ryosai, Sumida Pottery.

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790. Sumida gawa ware with the signature of Ban-ni.

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1286. Sumida gawa ware with the signature of Ban-ni.

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The marks page was originally initiated by a donation of marks from the collection of Karl-Hans Schneider, Euskirchen, Germany in July 2000. It has since been greatly extended by a large number of contributing collectors and members of the Gotheborg Discussion Board.