|Sources in Japanese Ceramic History
What sources are available to scholars who want to consider ceramics in their research on Japanese history? A number of Western art historians, including Louise Cort, Oliver Impey, Andrew Maske, Nicole Rousmaniere, and Richard Wilson, have written on Japanese ceramic history.1 In Japanese, a good place to begin is with the various ceramic journals. The monthly periodical Tôsetsu (Ceramic Essays), edited by Nihon Tôji Kyôkai, published since the early 1960s, contains a broad mix of articles on ceramics. Another valuable resource is Tôyô tôji (East Asian Ceramics), an annual scholarly publication summarizing the research of the members of the Tôyô Tôji Gakkai. Bôeki tôji kenkyû (Trade Ceramics Studies), an annual journal with scholarly essays and summaries of recent archaeological research, pursues a more particular theme, concentrating on East and Southeast Asian ceramics and exchange. The latter two journals have title pages and article summaries in English. Many art history journals publish special issues devoted to ceramics. In English, The Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society is a valuable resource.
There are countless monographs on ceramic history, most of them dealing with a single kiln site, region, or style. Various series (zenshû) that deal with ceramics contain a wealth of informative essays on art history, bibliographies of primary sources, charts and tables of kiln symbols and other identifying marks, and brilliant photography. Two of the most comprehensive are Sekai tôji zenshû and Nihon yakimono shûsei. Each volume of the Nihon no yakimono series contains local ceramic history, archaeological information, photographs, and discussions of the meibutsu or famous pieces of the subject ware. A recent book that attempts to deal with Japan's ceramic history comprehensively is Sasaki Tatsuo's Tôji in the Nihonshi shohyakka series.2 It contains short essays on nearly every facet of ceramic history, production, and style that the introductory student is apt to encounter. Another good source is Nihon no tôji, the catalogue of the Tokyo National Museum's 1985 exhibition of Japanese ceramics. It contains informative historical essays, photographs, and valuable information on kiln excavations.
Perhaps most abundant are archaeological resources. Postwar construction projects have unearthed a plethora of sites in every prefecture. Richard Pearson provides an excellent introduction to Japanese archaeology, focusing on the political, economic, and ideological aspects of "excavating history" as well as cultural, historical, and academic issues.3 Another good introduction to such resources is Andrew Maske's brief article, "New Advances in Tea Ceramic History: Recent Excavations of Tea Ware from Consumer Sites," which sheds considerable light on the utility of considering sherds and excavated pots in studies of urban and town histories, ceramic trade, and political and economic developments.4 R.F.J. Faulkner and O.R. Impey treat excavations of kiln sites in a very useful book published in 1981.5
In Japanese there are more site reports, local archaeological institute newsletters, and monthly archaeology journals than can be recorded in an essay of this limited length. In 1990, for example, there were approximately 25,827 archaeological excavation projects, distributed across all of Japan's forty-seven prefectures, with about three thousand books published on excavations.6 Among recent excavation sites, two are particularly important. The first is Ichijôdani in Fukui Prefecture, 10 kilometers to the southeast of the city of Fukui. This vibrant region was ravaged by Oda Nobunaga in 1573 after roughly four centuries of local habitation and cultivation, culminating in a century of prosperity under the Asakura daimyo family.7 The huge variety of pots and other accouterments of daily provincial life unearthed both from the town and the castle represents one of the most vital cross-sections of late mediaeval history available. The second site is the mediaeval port city of Kusadosengen, located in the flood plain of the Ashida river near Fukuyama city in Hiroshima prefecture. Kusadosengen was destroyed by floods in 1673, preserving in mud the town's pottery, accessories, cooking utensils, farming and fishing tools, and craft tools used to produce lacquer and metalwork.8 Over eight excavations have produced a wealth of objects and indications of their distribution in the town, another critical resource for scholars of premodern Japan.9
Primary documentary sources specifically on the topic of ceramics are rare. One interesting exception is the Morita Kyûemon nikki or Diary of Morita Kyûemon, a Tosa potter who kept a record of his journey to Edo and back from the Seventh Month of 1678 to the Sixth Month of 1679. The diary is the subject of volume 5 of Tôyô tôji (1975-1978), which contains an interpretation of Morita's diary as well as articles on the kilns visited by him in Kyoto, Shigaraki, Seto, and other prominent ceramic locations. As a contemporary representation of ceramic industries written by an actual producer, it is a significant piece of evidence.10 Most other primary sources dealing expressly with ceramics are found at the local or prefectural level.
Another important source for information on ceramics is the chanoyu kaiki or tea diary that became common during the sixteenth century. Louise Cort discusses the wealth of information to be gained and the various problems inherent to a reading of such documents in her article, "Gen'ya's Devil Bucket."11 She examines entries from a number of tea diaries, including the Tennôjiya kaiki, a record of the sixteenth century tea-related activities of three generations of the Tsuda merchant family of Sakai. Using the detailed descriptions of gatherings attended and held, Cort traces the life of a Shigaraki water container that became famous in the tea community. The process of exchange and evaluation to which this "devil bucket" was subject as a collector's object of desire illuminates much about the primacy put on ceramics by practitioners of the tea ceremony.
The Yamanoue no Sôji ki, a diary of one of the tea master Sen no Rikyû's disciples, is also an essential source. It has been conveniently transcribed and annotated in the Gotoh Museum's 1995 catalogue of the same name and partially translated into English in a series of articles by Tanihata Akio.12 The Ganka meibutsu ki, compiled in 1660, is another useful source of information on ceramic objects valued by practitioners of the tea ceremony. This record has been published in Meibutsu chahin: Ganka meibutsu ki to Ryûei gyomotsu, the catalogue of an exhibition that displayed objects from the shogunal collection mentioned in the Ganka meibutsu. This 1988 catalogue from the Tokugawa Museum and the Nezu Institute of Fine Arts is particularly interesting because it contains not only a transcription of that text but also a photographic juxtaposition of articles mentioned in it with extant objects.