KOREA FOCUS
Flowering of Korean Ceramic Culture in Japan
Koo Tae-hoon

Professor of History
Sungkyunkwan University


I. An Aged Bowl Returns Home   
 
On July 14, 2008, Ashai Shimbun reported that the Kyoto National Museum planned to hand over a tea bowl to the National Museum of Korea. The donors were reported to be the descendants of Fujii Takaaki, a collector who had bought the bowl at an antique shop in Kyoto. Fujii donated the bowl to the Kyoto museum while he was alive, but his family has now decided to donate it to Korea.
 
The bowl measures 13cm in diameter and 11cm in height. On the surface is an inscription painted in iron pigment which reads: “The sound of dog barking is heard in the distance. Oh! How I wish to go back to my homeland.” The photo carried in the newspaper clearly shows the characters for “Joseon” on the bowl.
 
Dated to the early 17th century, soon after the 1592-98 Japanese invasions (Imjin Waeran), the bowl embodies the longings for home by Korean potters who were abducted and taken to Japan during the war. The aged bowl is set to make an historic homecoming after 400 years.
 
One Korean potter taken to Japan at that time has been revered as the “god of pottery.” Yi Sam-pyeong, known as Ri Sampei, or Kanegae Sampei, in Japan, established a pottery village in Arita, Kyushu. Yi was originally from the Geum River basin area in Korea, and in 1990 a memorial was set up at the entrance of Donghaksa, a Buddhist temple in Gongju, South Chungcheong Province. The inscription was executed at the cost of the residents of Arita.
 
During the Japanese invasions there were at least 20 pottery kilns on the road leading up to the temple, and Yi would have worked at one of them. Even today countless pottery shards can be found buried in the ground along the road. The monument to Yi stands on the hill at Bakjeongja crossroads, overlooking the kiln sites.
 
The most famous descendant of the Korean potters in Japan is Shim Su-gwan (J. Chin Jukan). In Japan some families of artists and entertainers use the same name generation after generation in a practice known as seupmyeong (J. shumei), which literally means “name succession.” The present Shim is the 14th generation descendant of Shim Dang-gil, who was taken from his home in Namwon, now in North Jeolla Province, in 1598, and is recognized as the founder of the Satsuma pottery tradition of Kyushu.  
 
In 1965 the present Shim came to Korea at the invitation of Pusan National University and visited the ancestral home of the Shim family. Thirty-three years later in July 1998 he held an exhibition at the Ilmin Museum of Art in Seoul. The banner on the building at the time read “Homecoming Exhibition — 400 Years of the Art of Shim Su-gwan in Japan.” It was the 400th anniversary of his ancestor Shim Dang-gil’s abduction to Japan. At a press conference Shim said, “I cherish the works made by my ancestors who were taken to Japan where they suffered all manner of hardships.” He had returned home, bringing works infused with the heartbreaks of his ancestors for the exhibition.  
 
Of course, if the invasions had never happened the above story would not have to be told. It’s a story filled with the sighs of those who survived all the pain and suffering that war brings. Human history has been created through countless wars and each time sad stories are written. But in human history there are few wars in which the seeds of heartbreak have germinated for as long as 400 years.
 
War is cruel but sometimes it can be a means for the assimilation and transmission of culture. While there are few cases of complete transplantation of one culture in another land through just one war, through the Japanese invasions the ceramic culture of Korea was fully transplanted to Japan. From the fingertips of the abducted potters and their descendants the Japanese pottery culture flourished.  
 
Dealing with culture shock, the potters were forced to adapt to their new surroundings. Coming into contact with a new culture in a strange land, how did they live, what did they think, and what was their attitude toward life? This article attempts to find some answers to these questions and discover clues to explain the cultural exchange that paradoxically accompanied a war.
 
Substantial research has been conducted on Koreans kidnapped during the Japanese invasions, but little work has been done specifically on the potters, most likely because of the dearth of historical material. One study goes into detail about their abduction, their life in Japan, and their lineage (Kim Tae-jun, 1977). However, there has been no study on the lives and work of Korean potters in the larger framework of Japanese culture and historical development. Research on the Korean potters of Kyushu area has generally resembled travelogues focusing on attempts to find traces of Korea intact in Japan. But the subject of Korean potters should be dealt with in reference to a wide range of books on the tea culture and the ceramics industry.
 
Kiln sites founded by Korean potters can be found not only in Hizen and Satsuma han (feudal domains). The fiefs of the feudal lords, called daimyo, close by Hizen are also home to kiln sites. For example, Agano and Hirado, both established by Korean potters, are some of the major ceramic production sites in Kyushu and there are many others besides. Most of the daimyo who participated in the Japanese invasions carried away Korean potters, mostly by force but some by persuasion, to Japan.  Among them the daimyo of Hizen, Nabeshima Naoshige, and the daimyo of Satsuma, Shimazu Yoshihiro, were particularly zealous in this campaign. Both had a special interest in ceramics and made effective use of the Korean potters. This article focuses on the potters kidnapped by these two daimyo and the pottery villages that they founded.

II. Abducted Koreans

The Japanese invasions of Korea were instigated by the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi in an attempt to take over China. The Japanese seized the Joseon (Korean) capital within 19 days of landing. Under Hideyoshi’s plan the toppling of the Joseon Dynasty in Korea was to be followed by the conquest of China’s Ming Dynasty. The plan included the naming of a new emperor and his relocation to Beijing, and naturally a new king for Joseon had already been selected.
 
The Japanese warriors proceeded rapidly and had captured most of Joseon territory when they finally reached Pyongyang. From there, however, the army’s strength began to wane. The Korean military started counterattacks and all over, Joseon civilian soldiers, called uibyeong, or “righteous armies,” joined the fight. Then Admiral Yi Sun-sin successfully took command of the seas and in the following winter, reinforcements came from Ming China. The winter of 1592 was bitterly cold. Most of the Japanese soldiers hailed from Kyushu and had never seen snow before. They found themselves retreating on snow-covered ground, and many froze to death. After the Japanese withdrew to the southern part of the peninsula the war reached a standoff and Hideyoshi’s plans were dashed.
 
In 1593 Ming and Japanese forces negotiated a cease-fire, which was implemented in 1596. But Hideyoshi changed his mind and ordered a second invasion in the first month of the following year. Another 140,000 Japanese soldiers landed on Korean soil. They joined the soldiers already stationed in Gyeongsang Province in the south and began a campaign of carnage and pillaging.
 
Among the soldiers who surrendered to Joseon was a man named Fukuta Ganske. He had been captured near Cheongju in Chungcheong Province in the 10th month of 1597. During interrogations he admitted that the Japanese plan was to “capture as many people as possible regardless of age or sex, to kill anyone that tried to run away, and to send all prisoners back to Japan to work on the farms in place of those who had been conscripted into the army.” (Annals of King Seonjo, Vol. 39)
 
The Japanese did in fact go on a rampage of killing. They cut off noses and ears from the dead, salted or put them in vinegar, and sent them to Japan as evidence of the deadly rampage. Countless Koreans were captured and taken to Japan, the figure estimated to be anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000. The total population of the Joseon Dynasty at the time was around 650,000, which means a large proportion of the population was taken. The prisoners were put to work as slaves, farm laborers, or household servants, while many of the women were taken as concubines. Of course, skilled workers were deliberately kidnapped as well — printers, paper makers, metal smiths, carpenters, embroiderers, tile makers, doctors, monks, merchants, and even bee keepers. But the potters were the main targets.  
 
In 1600 Tokugawa Ieyasu defeated Hideyoshi’s supporters in the Battle of Sekigahara, and in 1603 established the Tokugawa Shogunate in Edo. Tokugawa attempted to normalize relations with Joseon, and amid the instability of the northern frontline, Joseon accepted the offer in order to stabilize the southern frontier. In the early part of the 17th century Joseon sent five diplomatic missions to Japan to repatriate abducted Koreans. Tokugawa welcomed these missions. He ordered his son Hidetada, the second Tokugawa shogun, to show hospitality to the envoys and facilitate the return of Koreans to their homeland. However, official figures show that no more than 7,500 abductees returned home in the first half of the 17th century.

Most of the abducted potters were resigned to the idea that they might never see Korea again. The women had married and borne children, and those who had been captured young had become Japanese. Those who had been slaves back home took no pains to return. Thus some chose not to go back, while others could not go back. Those who were led back by the missions were mostly yangban (ruling class) or those who had been leading very difficult lives in Japan. Some Koreans lived very freely in Japan. Forming Korean settlements, which the Japanese called tojincho, they lived around the western part of the country.
 
Among those who could not go home were the men who had served as agents for the Japanese army and skilled workers whom the soldiers had kidnapped deliberately. The people of Joseon were not ready to accept those who had helped the Japanese and tried to block their return. The daimyo or the samurai (warrior class) were unwilling to send back the Koreans they had captured and tried to hide them. Even the officer in charge of the repatriation project did not take great pains to get the job done. The Joseon envoys were mistaken if they believed the daimyo always followed the shogun’s orders. Such being the case in reality it was almost impossible for the Korean potters to return home.
 
Indeed the abduction of Korean potters was one of the major objectives of the Japanese invasions, the command likely to have been given by Hideyoshi himself. In the sixth month of 1595, during a lull in the war, Shimazu Yoshihiro returned briefly to Japan when he was summoned by Hideyoshi. It is said that Shimazu poured him some tea and made a gift of tea utensils, which prompted Hideyoshi’s command to kidnap the potters. For this reason, the invasions are sometimes referred to as the “pottery war.”
 
Korean potters greatly influenced the development of Japan’s tea culture. The Japanese tea ceremony was created by tea master Murata Shuko in the mid-15th century, and in the late 16th century the tea master Sen no Rikyu perfected the ceremony taking it to the level of art, known as wabicha, or the “poverty tea.” Wabi was a new word used to describe a new aesthetic and describes a way of drinking tea while conscious of the significance of small moments. With the establishment of this new aesthetic, the tea culture environment began to change, especially the standards for selecting tea utensils. Rather than the delicate and refined, tea enthusiasts developed a preference for the earthy and humble.
 
The tea ceremony was popular first among the wealthy merchants of cultural and economic centers such as Sakai, Kyoto and Nara, and then spread among influential daimyo and Buddhist monks. Great leaders such as Oda Nobunaga and Hideyoshi were fond of the tea ceremony and used it for political purposes. They collected the finest tea wares and utensils and made gifts of them to their vassals. They also held large tea ceremony parties, a prime example being the giant party at Kitano hosted by Hideyoshi in 1587, where some 1,600 seats were placed for guests.
 
As the tea ceremony spread demand grew for tea utensils of better quality. At the time the Japan had few skilled potters and was yet to produce such refined wares as white or blue and white porcelains. Most tea masters sought out Korean-made tea bowls and utensils.
 
The tea masters used rough bowls (maksabal) made in Korea as tea bowls. The rough and simple beauty of the Korean rice bowls satisfied the aesthetic standards set by the tea masters. Though roughly made, Korean maksabal are bold and handsome, and the best are prized in Japan under the name of Ido chawan, or Ido tea bowls. Some tea masters gave names to their favorite bowls.
 
Ido tea bowls were a symbol of wealth and honor, and masterpieces have been traded for astronomical prices. In those days possession of one or two outstanding pieces conferred on one the title of great tea master. By the end of the Sengoku period (early 17th century) tea bowls were assets of high currency value. The famous tea master Imai Sokyu was the owner of some 60 masterpieces. Tea masters joked that they would not swap their most prized pieces even for Osaka Castle. The abduction of Korean potters occurred against this social background.
 
Of the daimyo, Nabeshima Naoshige was one of the most eager in kidnapping potters. Yi Sam-pyeong met Naoshige sometime around 1596 and went to Japan in 1598 when the Japanese had completely retreated from Korea. At the same time, 155 potters went to Japan. Aside from Yi, it is likely that most of the potters were abducted from areas in which Nabeshima waged battles, such as Ungcheon, Jinju, Gimhae, and Gyeongju in Gyeongsang Province.
 
But how did the Japanese soldiers know where to find the potters? A Japanese scholar by the name of Mitsuki Takatoshi suggested (in 1989) that Korean potters already living in Kyushu or Japanese merchants provided the soldiers with information. Some merchants resided for long periods of time in Busan and had contacts with their Korean counterparts. They purchased tea ware made to order at kilns in the Gyeongsang area and it is possible that they had concrete information on or an understanding with some of the Korean potters.
 
Abduction of the potters had begun long before this time. In the port city of Karatsu, on the northwestern coast of Kyushu, lived Korean potters, who had been captured by Japanese pirates since the late 12th century. Korean potters could also be found working at Nagoya castle, a base for invasion of Korea, and they may also have been a source of information.
 
Konishi Yukinaga, son of a merchant and chief commander in the first invasion of Korea, was well versed in Korean affairs and had a network of 200 informants who spoke Korean well. Most of the informants were Kyushu merchants and it is highly possible that some were of Korean origin. Not only were they guides for the Japanese soldiers, they also gathered information from the locals.
 
One such informant for Nabeshima was Yi Jong-hwan. A native of Gilju in Hamgyeong Province, Yi began to work for Nabeshima in 1591 and is known to have passed on some very important information. He was captured by Ming soldiers but was not killed, and it is likely that he played a key role in the abduction of Korean potters. The Hizen domain granted him a house in return for his efforts as well as a monopoly in the trade of Korean ceramics and some 10 men as assistants.
 
If we trace the movements of Yi Sam-pyeong, it is difficult to claim without doubt that he was abducted. His movements between 1596 and 1598 in particular are vague. A memorial to Yi in Japan carries an inscription that states, “During the Imjin Waeran he served Hizen domain and was very cooperative with our soldiers. In 1598 when Nabeshima returned home he brought Yi with him and had him naturalized.” Even a document handed down in Yi’s family indicates that Yi served as a guide for the Japanese and followed the Japanese army when they left for fear of revenge from the villagers. 
 
In 1598 potters from Namwon were captured by Shimazu Yoshihiro. Together with others captured from Gimhae and Ungcheon, they were taken in three boats to Tsushima. One boat containing 43 potters, including Bak Pyeong-eui and Shim Dang-gil, arrived at Kushikino in Satsuma. Around 10 others including Kim Bang-jung, Shin Mu-sin and Shin Ju-seok arrived at Ichiki. The last boat carrying some 20 potters landed at Maenohama.
 
Originally, the group led by Bak Pyeong-eui and Shim Dang-gil was to land at Tachino, but they refused to step foot there because of a Korean potter who had come before them by the name of Ju Ga-eui.  
 
The battle of Namwon fortress, which began on the 13th day of the eighth month of 1597, was, along with the battle of Jinju, one of the bloodiest of the war. The Japanese mobilized 100,000 soldiers to attack Namwon. The Ming soldiers who had been sent in as reinforcements were frightened and ran away. The Namwon governor, Yi Bok-nam, put up a brave battle with a small contingent of soldiers but the fortress collapsed and almost all the soldiers and residents were killed. It was Ju Ga-eui, who had served as a guide for Shimazu. He handed over the secrets of the fortress and thus played a key role in the Japanese victory. The Japanese soldiers had been instructed to capture the potters alive, but to them Ju was the greatest traitor whose deeds could not be forgiven. Like Yi Jong-hwan in Gyeongsang Province, it is likely that Ju gave information about the potters to Shimazu.
 
Upon hearing that Ju was now living in comfort in Tachino, the 43 potters on the boat refused to land there and Shimazu had no choice but to send them to Kushikino. In the end some 70 Koreans settled in Satsuma. Among them, the Ahns and Jangs were ordered to move to Ryukyu (Okinawa), where they reformed the local ceramics industry. Those potters with the family names Hwang, Na and Yeon became extinct soon.

III. Korean Potters and Hizen Ceramics

After he landed in Japan, Yi Sam-pyeong first settled in the Karatsu area on the northwestern coast of Kyushu, the point closest to the Korean peninsula. This area, under the rule of Taku Yasunori, who was of the same family lineage as Nabeshima Naoshige, had traditionally been a ceramics production center so the necessary facilities were already in place. Taku put Yi in charge of the other potters from Korea, who then began producing ceramics in Karatsu.
 
Tea masters were particularly fond of Karatsu pottery, which had a light grayish color when fired because of the high iron content in the clay. Tea bowls were made with thick clay and beaten by hand on the wheel which resulted in a rustic feel. Karatsu ceramics satisfied the wabi aesthetic.
 
When Naoshige returned to Japan from Korea he brought back not only potters but also a large quantity of kaolin clay needed for porcelain production. Other daimyo also brought back clay with the potters, enough to last for several years. But after 7-8 years the clay from Korea began to run out. Nabeshima ordered Yi to find clay suitable for porcelain production, furnishing plenty of funds for the mission.
 
It was not an easy task but in 1605 Yi discovered porcelain clay in the Izumiyama mountain area in Arita. It had plenty of water, trees and the raw materials for glaze. Yi built his kiln at Tengu valley near Izumiyama. It was a Joseon-style kiln set into the hillside for production of white porcelain. In Korea different types of kilns were used to fire porcelain and earthenware. Earthenware kilns were low and tunnel shaped with the fire at the bottom end. It had many small holes on both sides where the firewood was inserted. The temperature inside such a kiln, however, did not rise very high. A porcelain kiln on the other hand had several chambers inside the tunnel separated by walls with a hole at the bottom for the fire to pass through. As the fire moved through the chambers till it reached the top, the temperature became high.  
 
Having formed a Korean-style kiln, Yi and his extended family of 18 began full production of white porcelain around 1616. Yi had made it possible to produce Joseon-style pure white porcelain in Japan, an epoch-making event in the history of Japanese ceramics. White porcelain was difficult to make and when the news of its production spread, the orders came flooding in. Hizen established facilities for mass production and all the potters in the domain were summoned to Arita. Korean farmers in the area also joined in the effort. Baek Pa-seon, widow of a Korean potter named Jong Jeon who had been working in Takeo, moved to Arita bringing 906 others with her.  
 
Jong Jeon had begun to make ceramics in Takeo in 1598. Living under the name Shinkai Shintaro since being dragged to Japan, he and seven or eight other potters who had been captured from Gimhae worked together. When he died in 1618 his wife took over, and upon hearing of Yi producing white porcelain, she moved to Arita. Up till then Arita had been no more than a valley deep in the mountains, but when some 900 people settled there, it became one of the busiest villages in Kyushu.
 
Porcelain production required kaolin clay, wood for firing, and water. All of these materials could be found in Arita and soon there were 40 kilns, which earned a lot of money for the Hizen domain. Protected by the authorities, Korean potters devoted themselves to their art.
 
The 1630s brought Japan a new era of peace. The tea ceremony was popular among the daimyo and upper class merchants and as the cities developed, the ordinary people began to live better. In the big cities such as Kyoto, Osaka and Edo, people developed a taste for luxury and the demand for porcelain naturally grew.
 
As the fame of Arita porcelain grew, many people moved to the town and the ceramics industry developed even further. Some deliberately infiltrated the town to learn porcelain making. So in 1635 a man named Yamamoto Kamiemon was charged to keep close watch on everyone coming into Arita. While overseeing the kilns Yamamoto realized there was a serious problem: a great deal of wood was needed to fire the kilns and because of the large number of kilns in the area the forests were being depleted. In addition, many people came to Arita to produce ceramics and it was impossible to completely stop the leaking of porcelain making techniques.
 
Yamamoto reported this to the daimyo of Hizen, who undertook reform of the Arita ceramics industry. First the number of kilns was reduced to 13 from over 40, and 826 people who were not of Korean origin were expelled from the town. It was at this time that most of the Japanese who had come to Arita to learn porcelain making were banished. Through these special measures the environment was preserved and the porcelain-making technology remained guarded.   
 
Another move to protect the technology was to ban merchants from entering the town. Moreover, sales of Arita wares were conducted far away at Imari, which is why Arita ware was also known as Imari ware.
 
Thanks to good planning and management Arita’s ceramic industry entered a golden age. Yi Sam-pyeong died in 1656 but by that time the fame of Arita ware had reached other countries. The key was the development of akae (meaning “red picture”), a colorful overglaze technique featuring designs painted in red. Akae was developed in the early 1640s by Sakaida Kakiemon who had learned how to make Chinese colored porcelains. Using this technique, Korean-style vessels were harmonized with Chinese-style decoration, giving birth to Japanese-style ceramics. At this point Japanese ceramics moved beyond Korean influence to develop its own unique characteristics while the technology surpassed Korean technology.
 
Arita ware was exported to Europe through merchants from the Netherlands.  In 1650 cobalt pigment was imported from China, and 30 years after ceramics production had begun quality pigment was obtained in quantity for the first time, promoting expansion of Hizen’s ceramics industry. In 1658 Japanese porcelain began to be exported to Asia. Japan thus turned from a porcelain importer to an exporter, competing with Chinese wares in the Asian market. In 1659 Japan commenced exports of colored porcelain.  
 
Large-volume exports began in 1663 with 42,000 pieces exported that year, including 3,543 pieces to the Netherlands. Over the next 23 years some 190,000 vessels were exported through the Dutch East India Company.
 
As exports expanded Hizen established the facilities for mass production. By 1672 there were over 4,000 employees at 180 kilns. Division of labor was introduced with production steps separated into formation of the vessels, painted decoration, carved decoration, and firing. Recognizing the importance of design, techniques favored by Western customers were developed. In the 1680s Japan’s domestic economy began to boom. Rich merchants in the big cities loved the tea ceremony and led luxurious lives. The Edo shogunate frequently issued decrees banning extravagance but with little effect. Against this economic background the Arita ceramics industry flourished.
 
With the increasing demand for ceramics, the Arita kilns were divided into those directly operated by the domain and those that were not. High-quality ware was produced at the former and was presented not only to the local daimyo but also the imperial court, the Edo shogunate, other daimyo and temples around the country. These were the wares that were also exported to the Netherlands. The vessels produced at these official kilns included tea ware, incense burners, pots, ornamental items and table ware for the exclusive use of the daimyo. Items mass produced at the ordinary kilns were for the domestic market and included table ware for merchants and rich farmers, high-quality everyday vessels, plates of various sizes, and various bottles. Most of the goods were celadon and white porcelains decorated with the akae technique.

IV. Korean Potters and Satsuma Ware

According to a written history of the potters taken to Satsuma, those who had settled at Kushikino lived in miserable conditions. Dumped in a place no better than a wasteland, they fought for their lives, battling hunger and disease. The potters reclaimed the wasteland to build kilns and they fired pottery that could be used for bartering with nearby Japanese for food. However, they often clashed with the locals because of the language barrier.
 
The locals harassed the potters simply because they were alien. One day a local man wearing straw shoes came into the kilns and raised a raucous. The potters tried to stop him but they could not make themselves understood. The man continued his noise and one of the angry potters hit him. From that day the locals came in groups to take revenge, and clashes between the Koreans and Japanese became more frequent. One of the Korean leaders, Bak Peyong-eui, a man of quick temper and fierce pride, once fought seven Japanese on his own. Come December 1603, those who could no longer stand the harassment moved to Naeshirogawa.
 
There was a reason for the neglect of the Korean potters. Shimazu, daimyo of Satsuma, was embroiled in the Battle of Sekigahara which broke out in September 1600 and pitted the followers of Hideyoshi against the followers of the Tokugawa family. The daimyo who had taken part in the Korean campaign were all involved. Shimazu, who sided with Hideyoshi, faced a crisis when the victory went to Tokugawa. Only by retreating before getting too involved did he avoid the collapse of Satsuma.
 
Later, when political stability was ensured, Shimazu implemented a policy to protect the Korean potters. He agreed to the potters settling at Naeshirogawa and allowed them to create a village there. This allowed the potters to concentrate on their work again and they began to produce everyday vessels. The kiln uncovered there is a semi-circular tunnel kiln about 15m long and 1.2m wide with an estimated height of 2m.
 
Bak was named shoya, or head of the Korean village. The Koreans in Naeshirogawa and Kannogawa were granted 25 houses and land, and 17 sacks of rice annually.
 
With the establishment of the village, the 10 Korean potters living in Ichiki moved there and in 1624 another group of some 160 potters from Kannogawa also settled there. The latter group had been headed by Kim Bang-jung, former potter at a Joseon royal kiln. Satsuma domain named him an official potter of Japan and gave him a salary of 15 sacks of rice per year. When he died in 1621, more potters were moved from Kannogawa in order to manage the industry more effectively.
 
At first the kilns in Naeshirogawa produced everyday vessels with a dark tinge. Some of the potters used the kaolin clay that they had brought from Korea to make white porcelain for payment of tributary taxes. By the time their supplies ran out, Yi Sam-pyeong had found porcelain clay deposits in Saga domain.
 
Shimazu ordered Bak to likewise search for kaolin clay and issued him a license to roam at will across Satsuma domain. Since much of the soil had been formed through past volcanic activity with lava spewing, it was not an easy job but Bak and his son Jeong-yong traveled all over the territory and were finally successful after some 10 years in the spring of 1614. Along with the clay they also found minerals suitable for making glazes. After his death, Bak’s son continued searching for the next 30 years and found kaolin clay in several places, thus obtaining a stable supply.
 
Rulers of Satsuma provided generous support for the village. Shimazu, a devotee of the tea ceremony and a lover of art, showed particular interest in the production of ceramics.  
 
After much trial and error, Bak and Shim Dang-gil succeeded in producing porcelain. This pleased Shimazu, who compared it to porcelain from Ungcheon in Korea. He visited the kilns whenever he had time, even tried to make his own vessels, and fixed his seal on vessels that he liked.
 
Bak supervised the potters and taught the Koreans who moved in from other places the skills that they needed. By the time he passed away in 1624 at the age of 65 the second generation was doing most of the work. The government provided homes and land for all sons and in 1663 when the population had grown significantly the village was granted more land and another 83 houses. Village heads were counted among the court retainers and all potters were accorded ranks equivalent to the samurai.
 
In Satsuma there was another village of Koreans called Koraicho, meaning the “Goryeo Village,” near Kagoshima castle. The Koreans had helped to build the castle, which indicates that this group was probably skilled in stone masonry. In 1669 some 25 families from this village moved to Naeshirogawa.
 
In 1683 Naeshirogawa took on the full aspect of a Korean pottery village. The village head was given the title of jito and under him there were three shoya. The porcelain kilns were managed by the Satsuma domain. In principle all porcelain produced there was handed to the daimyo and in return the potters were not charged the same annual tributes (taxes) applied to farmers. The potters were well protected and any Japanese person who tried to do them harm was strictly punished along with his family.
 
A change came to Naeshirogawa’s ceramics industry in the early 18th century. Japan was plagued by prolonged famine. Disease spread and the economy slumped. The ceramics that had previously been sold within Satsuma were now allowed to be sold to other domains, and in 1723 a sales center was established in Miyazaki prefecture. The products were diversified to meet ordinary people’s demands and included dolls and tea wares for popular use.
 
Production methods also changed remarkably. Each kiln was dedicated to production of a certain item. For instance, one kiln was reserved for tributary wares for the daimyo, another for white porcelain, another for celadon, another for everyday ware, and another for ornamental items. Division of labor was also adopted to increase efficiency.
 
Satsuma’s ceramics industry got another boost in the mid-18th century. The domain was facing bankruptcy and a specialist named Zusho Hirosato was brought in to rebuild the finances. Zusho introduced a government monopoly system with ceramics and sugar chosen as key items for trade. He sold Satsuma ceramics all over the country and this is when the Satsuma ware became known nationwide. Production increased exponentially and the lives of the potters improved also.
 
When the Meiji government rose up in 1868 the daimyo power structure collapsed. In 1871 the system of domains (han) ruled by feudal lords was abolished and Satsuma was disbanded also. Having lived under the protection of the feudal lord, the Korean potters once again faced crisis, but they continued to work to uphold the reputation of Satsuma pottery.
 
In 1867, the year the Meiji government took power, Bak Jeong-gwan exhibited a large jar at the Paris World Exposition in a move toward international recognition. In 1873 the 12th generation Shim Su-gwan also displayed a large jar at the World Exposition in Austria. Later he won prizes in many competitions around the world and became an artist of international renown. These achievements spurred on the activities of other potters and the Satsuma ceramics industry thrived again.
 
The 12th generation Shim used his own money to buy the kilns that had been directly operated by the Satsuma domain. He concentrated on a new aesthetic for a new age and introduced openwork and relief carving techniques. Such changes in design contributed greatly to Satsuma pottery being revived as the representative pottery of modern Japan.


V. Naeshirogawa: Little Korea in Japan

Shimazu, the daimyo of Satsuma, believed that the Korean potters would not be able to create highly refined Joseon-style works if they did not maintain their native culture, language and way of life. His policy was to leave Naeshirogawa as a place where Korean culture was preserved intact.
 
First, the village was off limits to the Japanese. Intermarriage between Koreans and Japanese was banned and Koreans were not allowed to use Japanese names. The residents of Naeshirogawa had to speak Korean, wear Korean clothes, and even put their hair up in topknots, as they would have done at home. Thus the village was a little Korea inside Japan. Having kept their language and customs, the potters also maintained their Korean identity.
 
A book titled “Lyrical Record of a Journey to the West” (Saiyuki) written in 1782 by Tachibana Nankei, a doctor from Kyoto, contains a detailed description of the customs of the Koreans in Naeshirogawa. He noted that the villagers spoke Korean and lived in the Korean way. He spoke with some of the leading figures, who all said they longed to return to the home of their ancestors.
 
The Korean potters had been first abducted and taken to Satsuma in 1598, so 1872 marked the passage of 184 years. A group of envoys who came to Japan in 1617 included Yi Gyeong-jik. In his book “Journal of Travel to Japan” (Busangnok) he told the story of a Korean yangban who had been abducted as a child of 10 but after living almost 20 years in Japan had no desire to return home. There are similar stories recorded by other Korean missions to Japan. In contrast, the potters, descendants of low-class craftsmen back in Korea had nothing in particular to look forward to by returning home but longed to do so nevertheless.
 
Tachibana was treated with great hospitality by Naeshirogawa’s village chief, Shin Mo-dun, who explained that more than half the residents were potters who made their works in the same way they had back in Korea.
 
Another detailed record of the village can be found in a travelogue written in 1787 by Furukawa Koshoken, which describes Naeshirogawa as a village of 1,500 people, who wore their hair in topknots and spoke Korean and were tall with slender faces and did not have the look of low-class people.
 
On a hill to the northwest of the village is Oksangung, a shrine to Dangun, legendary founder of the Korean race. It was constructed by the residents of Naeshirogawa and the object of worship was a large rock. A record about the shrine, “Oksangung yuraegi” states, “One night in early 1670 flames rose up from the rock. It was a holy event. To explain the mystery the people consulted a fortuneteller who said a great god of Joseon had descended on that spot.”
 
The shrine was a spiritual center for the Koreans. Every Chuseok (harvest moon festival) they held rites to Dangun with offerings of rice cakes, wine and meat. They also did this when they lit the fires of the kilns. The shrine functioned in the same way as any village shrine to the tutelary god in Korea. When the residents travelled back and forth they stopped to pay their respects at the shrine.  
 
Time, however, gradually brought changes. Living in Japan for so many years the Koreans became Japanese, remaining Korean in name only. Though the policy of Satsuma may have been to preserve Korean culture, this was difficult considering the village was not cut off from the surrounding area, which meant contact was inevitable. Korean customs survived better than the language, which proved harder to maintain.  
 
About 300 years after the Korean potters were abducted from their homeland, Naeshirogawa was no longer unique. In 1878 Ernest Satow, a British diplomat, heard about the village of Korean potters and made his way there. Later he wrote a short article titled “The Korean Potters in Satsuma.” The village was a thriving place when Satow visited but he did not find it very different from any other Japanese village. He noted that the potters spoke fluent Japanese, using the local dialect, and were dressed in Japanese clothes.
 
It seems Satow had been expecting something quite different and was somewhat disappointed. Considering the changes that had swept through Japan a few years earlier under the Meiji government, he might have found greater satisfaction if he had devoted more energy to looking for the traces of Korean culture that had survived. In 1871 the Meiji government disbanded Satsuma domain, thus taking away the protection that Naeshirogawa had enjoyed. Then came the Meiji Restoration, which brought back imperial rule and effected great changes in the country’s political and economic structure. The people were ordered to dress in Western-style clothes in 1871, and cut their hair in 1872. In 1873 nationwide military conscription was introduced and public schools were established the same year.
 
As Western dress spread, the traditional kimono was regarded out of date and a ban on traditional dress altogether was considered. The people followed when a photo of the emperor with his hair cut short was published in the newspaper. Compulsory schooling for children was introduced. Koreans were not immune in the face of these changes.
 
Up till 1875, merely three years before Satow visited Naeshirogawa, the Koreans were still wearing their hair in topknots. When the daimyo traveled to the capital the villagers dressed in Korean clothes to greet him on his way. But the Koreans too had to wear Western clothes, and only a few people with knowledge of the Korean language remained. In the midst of these changes, however, the people still retained their identity and pride as Koreans.
 
When the Satsuma domain was disbanded Japanese discrimination against the Koreans reared its head again. The potters tried to bear the situation and live as Japanese. When Saigo Takamori from Satsuma led a challenge against the Tokugawa Shogunate to install Emperor Meiji, Naeshirogawa took part by sending two small battalions. When Saigo led a rebellion against the Meiji government in 1877 the Koreans once again sent a force of 96 people. The descendants of the Korean potters thus fulfilled their social responsibilities according to their bushi status, equivalent to the samurai, and tried to adapt to the changing times.
 
Such efforts were not enough to stop Japanese discrimination against people of Korean origin. The Meiji government abolished the old feudal class system and established a new social order consisting of kozoku, the former daimyo and aristocracy; shizoku, the former samurai class; and heimin, the common people. Most of the residents of Naeshirogawa were classed as commoners. For 300 years they had enjoyed the same social status as the samurai and had as such participated in wars where many of them had died. Several times they demanded to be restored to the samurai class but were always refused.
 
One resident of Naeshirogawa by the name of Bak Su-seung, a campaigner for restored status, gave up the fight and used his money to buy a samurai pedigree, thus taking on the Japanese surname Togo. What drove Bak to give up the Korean name his family had kept for 300 years?
 
At the time Bak had a five-year-old son named Mu-deok who had been unusually bright from early childhood. If the world had not changed and his son had been destined to follow in his footsteps and become a potter, Bak would not have bothered with the name change. But the situation was different and his son had to go to school. He would not allow his son to be taunted as the son of a Joseon potter. By purchasing shizoku status his son, even if he might be taunted for being Korean, could tell them to shut up and sneer at their commoner status. Bak gave up the past for his son’s future.
 
VI. Descendants of the Korean potters
 
Today there are still many ceramic kilns in Saga Prefecture. Pottery is produced in places such as Karatsu, Higashimatsura, Imari and Takeo, while porcelain is made at Arita and Imari. Kilns are no longer fired with wood, however, as all processes have been automated and the kilns are now powered by electricity.
 
The city of Arita is surrounded by mountains and has a population of 14,000. There are 110 ceramics factories in the city, 50 workshops for decoration of vessels, and 20 shops dealing in materials and tools. In addition, there are some 700 shops selling ceramic ware. Arita is thus a city where 60 percent of its population is involved in the ceramics industry. It holds an annual ceramics festival from April 29 to May 5 during which time ceramics produced from neighboring regions are also exhibited around the city. The festival is also an opportunity to exchange design ideas and technology.
 
It is said that most residents of Arita are descendants of the original Korean potters, who now use family names such as Kanegae, Tokunaga, Fukaumi, Matsumoto, Gota, and Hisatomi. They are all Japanese people now.
 
The village of Naeshirogawa no longer exists in Kagoshima Prefecture. When the old feudal domains were disbanded and the prefectures were established, the village was renamed Miyama region, Higashi Ichiki cho, Hioki city. Here too live many descendants of the Korean potters, who managed to maintain Korean culture longer than their counterparts in Arita. They are relatively well informed about the stories of their ancestors.
 
The Miyama descendants remember a person named Togo Shigenori. He used to be called Bak Mu-deok when he was young. His father was Bak Su-seung, who had given up his Korean name for his son’s future. Togo studied literature at Tokyo Imperial University. In 1913 he passed the state foreign service exam and became a career diplomat to be appointed minister of foreign affairs in 1941.
 
At the village entrance is a sign that reads: “Children of Miyama, we must not lie, we must not lose, we must not oppress those weaker than ourselves. Let us take Minister Togo as our model.” The words on the sign were Togo’s motto. He stands as a model of someone who refused to be crushed by the discrimination of the Japanese and rose to one of the highest offices in Japan through ability alone.
 
Through ability Shim Su-gwan’s family is continuing the Korean ceramics tradition. The 12th generation Shim was an internationally recognized artist and the 13th Shim was one of the most famous artists in Japan. He won first place at a design exhibition in the United States in 1954 and the following year was named a living treasure by Kagoshima Prefecture. The 14th Shim Su-gwan, who succeeded the name in 1964, was a symbolic figure of Korea-Japan exchange and left behind many refined white porcelain works. The 15th Shim Su-gwan who inherited the name in 1999 is a prolific ceramic artist.
[History Review, Winter 2008, published by
History Review Ltd. (Yeoksa Bipyeong Sa)]