15 March 2024

Preserving Heritage: The Art of Old Imari Replicas at Rinkuro Kiln

Hasami is located in Nagasaki Prefecture, Kyushu, the southern part of the Japanese archipelago. Contrary to expectations of a warmer climate, mid-January in Hasami proved to be colder than Tokyo. Just the day before my arrival, it had snowed, complicating commutes to work and school. The town, situated about 45 minutes from Nagasaki Airport by expressway, is peaceful and has a notable history.

Hasami has long contributed to Arita ware porcelain and prospered as a town for general tableware. This time, I went on a business trip to visit suppliers in this area. One of them is the Rinkuro Kiln, which is one of Musubi Kiln's most beautiful and traditional-style kilns.


  • The Art and Beauty of Replicas
  • Reviving the Legacy
  • Passing on the Heritage for Future Generations

The Art and Beauty of Replicas

Rinkuro Kiln specializes in replicas of Old Imari. Old Imari refers to porcelain ware first produced in Arita around 1610 by Korean potters, featuring various styles such as sometsuke "blue and white" and polychrome overglaze enamels, distinguished from modern Imari ware.

Japan has a tradition of creating utsushi "replicas" of esteemed or no longer produced designs and shapes, which differs from low-quality fakes that claim to be genuine. The practice of replicating, deeply valued in China for centuries, was adopted in Japan under Chinese cultural influence for skills acquisition and documentation. I believe that while it may be difficult for the general public to enjoy masterpieces in museums, using replicas to appreciate and preserve the pieces for future generations is a marvelous approach.

This method exists in the world of Japanese poetry as well, where original works are referred to as honka and the very term is also used in the pottery world. In any case, this practice embodies deep love and respect for the original.

Reviving the Legacy

About 40 years ago, the chairman, who was an antique collector, started producing Old Imari replicas at Rinkuro Kiln. Old Imari pieces used or stored in warehouses were sold at antique markets and auctions, becoming the honka for the project. To make these hand-painted pieces more affordable and mass-produced, a combination of techniques, including transfer printing is used to reach a wider audience.

According to Yamada, who I always rely on for sales, replicating is not as simple as it sounds. Each plate may involve multiple techniques, like hand-painting and transfer printing, and considerations such as whether to replicate the shape exactly, use existing molds, or create new ones.

For instance, in designs combining underglaze blue and overglaze polychrome, underglaze blue is hand-painted while overglaze colors are applied using transfer papers. The technique involves not just applying transfer papers but also adding hand-painted underglaze blue lines between transfers to add depth, avoiding a cheap look.

As the number of craftspeople skilled in applying transfer papers decreases, the loss of one technique requires thinking about replacements, signifying continuous development. This leads to the confidence at Rinkuro Kiln that creating Old Imari replicas is a task only feasible for kilns with the necessary know-how.

Passing on the Heritage for Future Generations

Yamada presented both the Old Imari Akadami Phoenix Fan-shaped Plate and the Old Imari Fence Peony Hasami Ware Rectangle Plate alongside their originals. Likely, one was from about 100 years ago and the other modern. This experience evoked feelings I had never had before. Previously, I used to be only slightly impressed by looking at the old originals. Now, the high fidelity of the replicas and the hope they bring for the original's charm to be accessible worldwide added to my excitement and admiration for the replicas as well. It inspired me very much to see the artisans at Rinkuro Kiln strive with a sense of mission, to create perfect replicas of masterpieces otherwise lost forever. Later, we at MUSUBI KILN discussed how we might replicate various other original designs no longer in mass production into different products.

The culture of replication allows conveying the beauty and vitality of flowers and birds as seen through the eyes of the original artists, preserving their breath for future generations. Though they may no longer be there with us in form, I still feel the presence of all the people who worked to protect them and have cherished these pieces. 

View Hasami Rinkuro Kiln Collection

By Shirata Ai