23 June 2022

What is Sometsuke?

“Sometsuke" is a decorative technique for porcelain. This technique, which originated in Asia, is also loved in Europe as "Blue and White Porcelain".

Sometsuke tableware made in Japan is highly recommended for Japanese tableware lovers because of its beautiful simplicity of blue and white colors, and because of its compatibility with Japanese cuisine.

Let us introduce you to the summery and refreshing Sometsuke in detail.

Contents

  • About Japanese Sometsuke
  • History of Sometsuke
  • Techniques of Sometsuke
  • Charms of Sometsuke Tableware

"Blue and White Porcelain" in Japan

Sometsuke means "to dye" in Japanese. It is said that the name "Sometsuke" came about because of its similarity to the deep blue color of indigo dying in Japan.

Sometsuke is painted with underglaze cobalt oxide, called "Gosu" in Japan, on a white porcelain base, and a transparent glaze is applied on top to produce a vivid blue color. When fired, the cobalt is baked into the glassy substance of the glaze so that it is no longer toxic.

The Sometsuke with white porcelain has the beauty of the translucent white porcelain base itself, combined with the vivid cobalt blue coloring, the contrast of those colors are well-balanced and enhanced.

Such tableware is a classic style of Japanese porcelain that still has many fans today.

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History of Sometsuke

Sometsuke is a style brought to Japan about 400 years ago, around the same time that white porcelain was first produced in Japan. It began as an imitation of Chinese ceramics when the Korean master craftsman Ri Sanpei (Yi Sam-pyeong) established Arita Ware in Saga Prefecture.

This technique was originally used in Persia and Tang Dynasty China, but it is said that a style that is still used today was established in Jingdezhen at the end of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) in China.

Later, the technique of producing white porcelain was introduced to the Korean peninsula in the early Yi Dynasty (14th~19th century), and was brought to Japan in the 17th century.

Early Japanese Sometsuke often imitated Jingdezhen pieces with drawings that filled the entirety of the porcelain surface, but gradually the painting of floral patterns that made the most of the white porcelain margins became the mainstream.

As the share of white porcelain spread to the homes of ordinary people, simple geometric patterns also became a staple of Sometsuke style.

Techniques of Sometsuke

The technique of Sometsuke has been inherited in various ways depending on the region and kilns, but a brush with long bristles called "Dami" is often used when many hand-drawn strokes are needed to cover the entire surface of a plate or bowl.

The longer bristles can be soaked with a large amount of "Gosu," the pigment of Sometsuke, allowing for continuous work at a reduced rate of additions. The amount and density of the pigment is adjusted by squeezing the bristles with the fingers.

“Gosu", the pigment used in Sometsuke, is mainly composed of cobalt oxide, and is made from mud that has been weathered from natural cobalt ore and dissolved in water. At one time, it was also made from smalt, a glass powder with a small amount of cobalt oxide (4-6%) dissolved in it.

Because natural Gosu contains trace amounts of impurities such as iron, it has a slightly dull or dark color, giving it a subdued appearance. Since the composition of the Gosu used may vary depending on the region of origin, the blue color of even a single piece of the Sometsuke technique can vary widely.

Charms of Sometsuke Tableware

The charm of Sometsuke-style tableware is, first of all, its Asian appearance. Unlike the elegant and gorgeous impression of European blue and white porcelain, Japanese Sometsuke has a modest impression.

The simple shapes of the white porcelain and cobalt blue colors themselves enhance their beauty, and many of the designs are easy to use in everyday life.

Also mentioned is its compatibility with food. The simple white porcelain goes well with any dish, and the blue color of Sometsuke, which is not often found in natural ingredients, enhances the color of the food. 

Since Sometsuke tableware is truly the standard style of Japanese tableware, serving Japanese food will bring a more Japanese atmosphere to your dining table.

In addition, each region of origin with its own style of Sometsuke has its own unique characteristics.

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Arita Ware

Arita Ware was the first white porcelain produced in Japan in the 17th century, a style established by the Korean potter Ri Sanpei (Yi Sam-pyeong).

The early works of Arita Ware are called "early Imari," and many of the Sometsuke paintings are based on the Chinese Jingdezhen style, giving them a continental atmosphere even though they were made in Japan.

There are several styles of Arita Ware, such as Nabeshima and Kakiemon, and most of them are prestigious as high-end porcelain, but there are still kilns run by descendants of Ri Sanpei (Yi Sam-pyeong), where you can see some of the oldest and tasteful Sometsuke works.

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Hasami Ware

Hasami Ware is ceramics made in the town of Hasami, Nagasaki Prefecture, on the border of Saga Prefecture's Arita Town, where Arita Ware is made.

 Although Hasami ware has similar origins to Arita Ware, Hasami Ware is more like home-style tableware compared to Arita ware, which is relatively high-end oriented.

Hasami Ware is characterized by simple Sometsuke patterns and is easy to use for everyday dining.

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Mino Ware

Mino Ware is the largest production area in Japan in terms of ceramics market share and is known for producing a variety of colorful glazes and all types of ceramics.

Made in Gifu Prefecture in the Kansai region, in the central part of the Japanese archipelago, Mino Ware also produces porcelain with Sometsuke and is the handiest and most affordable, making it a good choice for all members of your family to have a complete set of Sometsuke tableware.

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Tobe Ware

Tobe Ware is porcelain produced in Ehime Prefecture on the island of Shikoku in Japan, and is characterized by its translucent white porcelain with a bluish shade and a rich brushwork style of Sometsuke.

Nurtured in the beautiful nature of the Seto Inland Sea, Tobe Ware has an aesthetically pleasing natural appearance that fits comfortably in the hand among Japanese porcelain, and although simple, it goes well with meals and will make a comfortable table setting.

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Kutani Ware

Kutani Ware is a traditional craft of Ishikawa Prefecture, located in the Hokuriku region of Japan.

The most famous style of Kutani Ware is called "Gosai", in which the porcelain surface is painted all over with five or more overglaze colors, but the Sometsuke style is also traditional.

Firm white porcelain shows off the blue color of Sometsuke and gives it a solid impression. With Kutani Sometsuke tableware, you can enjoy setting the table as if you were decorating a painting.

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