— Looking into the artistic endeavor of Noritake’s ceramic business —
For the beginning
Japanese porcelain has been an important export item even before the Edo era. However, Western ceramic tableware was a completely new field, so it was the Meiji period to begin with producing them for the first time in Japan. Noritake (former name · Japanese Ceramics) was a company which promoted this challenging business. This Noritake has recently established the “Noritake no Mori” Green Park for commemorating its 100th anniversary. This park was set up at the memorial place where its first factory was constructed. In the Park, there are some museums and facilities found which display the Noritake’s development story, historic products, working process, and intriguing matters. I had a chance to visit this museum in October while traveling around Nagoya region. This is a small report on this visit.
In the museum, a plenty of western tableware, in particular, production technique, of bone chinaware, features of Noritake artistic ceramics production are exhibited. And a series of old Noritake brands porcelain are shown there too as a memorial goods. It is really a valuable museum for gaining knowledge about history of Noritake, which now became a world-class Western dishware maker, and the ceramics industry in Japan as a whole.
♣ Outline of “Noritake no Mori” Green Park and its Museum
“Noritake no Mori” Green Park is a facility constructed in 2001 in the Notitake ward of Nagoya City where the factory was formerly situated (Name of Noritake’s company was named after this foundation site). There, the whole park site is covered by a large green and enjoyable walking area, and several facilities are dottily allocated, such as, “Craft Center” which shows porcelain manufacturing process of porcelains, “Noritake Museum” displaying historic chinaware produced by Noritake, “Welcome Center” introducing company’s history and current business area.
Also, in the site there is a red brick factory buildings and chimneys found which constructed for the ceramic firing works in the Meiji era. They are now designated as national industrial heritages of Japan and viewed as a symbol of modernization of ceramic and porcelain industries in Japan. It is a unique space that the ambiance of modern and past memory is uniquely mixed. So I tried to explore the techniques and origins of Noritake’s ceramic pottery production while referred to the exhibition of museums.
♣ Exhibition of “Welcome Center” telling the history of Noritake
When you go into the “Noritake no Mori”, first you will be guided to the “Welcome Center.” Here is facilitated a video corner showing the outline of Noritake’s development and a state of the factory in the Meiji- Taisho era by picture. As going inside to the room, there is a corner called “Noritake History Table” which is visually displaying the development of Noritake company from the foundation period to the present stage. This exhibition is interestingly showing the innovative business advancement of Noritake.
<Creation and development of Noritake>
First, the founder “Morimura Ichizaemon” had established a “Morimura Gumi” group in 1876, and launched a branch office in New York to export Japanese antiques goods and variety of handcraft products. This was said to be nationalistic motivation by Morimura aiming to reduce the trade deficit, because the rapid influx of Western manufacturing products had worsened financial condition of Japan at that period.
Then, in 1889, at the Expo in Paris, he decided to produce and sell western style porcelain with Japanese design, since he was strongly attracted by the beauty of western tableware and seen merchandise valuethere. In 1904, he established “Japan Pottery Co.” (later Noritake) in collaborating with Okura Magobei and his son Kazuchika to produce Western-style porcelain tableware. However, this process was quite challenging and never easy task at all. Firstly, it was difficult to produce uniformed porcelain products by industrial way, since Japanese pottery had been basically manufactured by individual or small traditional scale craftsmen group.
In addition, western kitchenware is dispensable to paint on the pure white plate fabrics in mass scale for the commercial purposes. And Western-style dinner set had to be perfectly flat shape of bottom and have smooth surface too. This means that many challenging work and innovative effort were required for the Japanese manufacturers to master this technology at that time.
Then, Noritake had dispatched engineers to Germany to learn these technologies and continued the tireless effort to gain such skills for many years. As a result, Noritake had finally succeed in producing pure white and flatten plate dish in 25 centimeters (Standard scale of European tableware) in 1904. Then, in 1914, the company announced to produce dinner set named “Sedan” as an original Japan brand. Through this process, Noitake’s business was consolidated in the field of as a western style maker of tableware. After that, Noritake further worked and accomplished making technology of “Born China” in 1933.
Through these efforts, the company was expanding market share of high-end Western style dishes and porcelain decorations in America and Europe, and the name of Noritake’ s “Old China” chinaware became known worldwide.
♣ Exhibition of “Old Noritake” at Noritake Museum
At the Noritake Museum, a plenty of luxury Western dishware being produced by successive Noritake is displayed. They look to be proud of magnificent porcelains. These series of artistic products are known as “Old China” chinaware. The luxurious table and dinner sets, vases and decorative dishes, pots, coffee cups and other items are displayed there with stunning color and designs. It was quite fun as we are just browsing around these exhibits.
The “Sedan” table set of the Noritake mentioned earlier is also listed as a memorial exhibition at the museum.
What is the most interesting would be the change and evolution of works by years of produced. You can see this feature in the Western dishes fully decorated on the wall of exhibition room. This exhibition of works would be a highlight of the museum.
♣ “Craft Center” showing manufacturing process
It is the Craft Center where we can experience how Noritake’s western tableware and ceramics can be made. Here, we can see the real scene of production process and work directly, such as Western dish of bone china, ceramics ornaments, vases, porcelain dolls, decorative objects and statues.
Generally, the production of pottery consecutively proceeds from clay formation, molding, drying, painting, glazing, and to baking process in order. At the Craft Center, you can see the typical manufacturing process, like making “prototype mold pattern” with gypsum, and real “molding” process pouring clays into molds pattern, unglazed baking (tightening), and painting on the unglazed wares, and other scenes directly.
However, the most amazing scene was “painting”. They were the first for me to see the real working process that professional printing craftsmen draw beautiful pictures on the unglazed plates with variety of colors, or they are drawn on the paper and transfer them into the pottery. And we can observe the working scene that craftsmen are drawing gold wire at the cup and painting on the dish edge and firing them wonderfully in the kiln.
It was the really the first time again I could reaffirm the high cultural value of Noritake ceramics through my tour of this manufacturing process.
♣ Current Noritake’s business
With this visit, I recognized the splendid works of Noritake in the pottery and porcelain, but also knew that Noritake has expanded their business field and fostered many affiliated companies in the various ceramic industrial areas too. Its trend was indicated well in the exhibition of Welcome Center.
Firstly, in 1917, it established “Tokyo Toki” Co. (TOTO now) as an independent firm by the branch-out of its sanitary ware division, then set up “Nihon Gaishi” a ceramic insulator company in 1919, and after the War in 1967, “Japan Resin Industry”, ”Ise Electric Co.” Beside these companies, Noritake has launched other companies, like “Imari ceramics”, “Hiroshima abrasive industry”, “Kyoritsu Materials” and others as affiliated companies. All of them have fully used the acquired technologies, such as cray molding, grinding, polishing, developing new ceramic materials, painting and printing, etc. which have been refined in the porcelain making process. Currently, Noritake is further advancing into high-tech electronic circuits, dentistry, photovoltaic power generation membranes, ceramic condensers. These are exhibited at the hallway in the Center with brief comments.
After Visit ……..
In the Meiji era, beyond the old type of traditional pottery making, Noritake had advanced to the western tableware business with the aim of exporting ceramic products to the world and developed its own ceramic processing technology while absorbing western methods, Then Noritake has grown to the global company adding unique design and skills of Japan. These seem to be a kind of typical pattern being observed in the Japanese industrial development. Also, for me, it was amazing and fresh impression to know that Noritake has been initiating the tireless efforts for blending Japanese traditional artistic element with modern industrial production in the ceramic products. I really felt that I want to visit again if there’s another opportunity.
- ノリタケの森 HP：https://www.noritake.co.jp/mori/look/
- ノリタケミュージアム HP：https://www.noritake.co.jp/mori/look/museum/
- Noritakeの歴史とオールドノリタケ: http://www.noritakeshop.jp/history.html
- Noritake Museum Pamphlet (Noritake)
- Life Desgns-１００年の歴史がつくる本物の食器：https://life-designs.jp/webmagazine/noritake-no-mori/
- ボーンチャイナ – Wikipedia
- ヨーロッパにおける陶器・陶磁器の歴史とアンティークカップのブランド https://antique-tableware.com/?mode=f97
- ⾷器の歴史〜⻄洋⾷器と和⾷器はどのように⽣まれたのか? https://dishes-dishes.com/tisiki/history/
- 陶器づくりの⼯程 http://www.spnet.ne.jp/~s-abe/kyousitu/sakutou/koutei.htm
- ⽇本の洋⾷器 歴史物語(⽇本陶磁器産業振興協会） http://www.jappi.jp/100/index.html