History of cloisonné enamels in Japan 1838-1871
With the exception of an enamelled mirror in the collection of the Shōsōin, the repository of Imperial treasures in Nara, there are few early examples of Japanese enamelling apart from small door fittings with enamelled designs in the Phoenix Hall (1053) of the Byōdōin Temple near Kyoto, and the cloisonné enamel-decorated architectural fittings used by the shōgun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436–90) in his Higashiyama retreat in eastern Kyoto (now the Ginkakuji temple).
Although Chinese cloisonné enamels had long been highly valued it was not until the late sixteenth century that cloisonné enamels became more widely used in Japan.
Enamelling was employed primarily on architectural fittings, for example hikite (door-pulls) and kugi-kakushi (decorative nail covers) as well as for the decoration of small objects such as suiteki (water-droppers), part of writing sets and used in the preparation of ink.
There had long been a demand among the samurai for fine decoration of sword fittings and cloisonné enamels were used on tsuba (sword guards). The finest of these were made by the Hirata School, founded by Hirata Dōnin (died 1646) which was active well into the nineteenth century.
The renaissance of Japanese cloisonné manufacture is credited to the former samurai, Kaji Tsunekichi (1803 - 1883) of Nagoya in Owari Province (modern Aichi Prefecture). Kaji, like many other samurai of his time, was forced to find ways to supplement his meagre official stipend. It is believed that around 1838 he obtained a piece of Chinese cloisonné enamel and by taking it apart and examining how it was made, he eventually produced a small cloisonné enamelled dish.
By the mid-1850s he was sufficiently confident take on pupils and by the late 1850s was appointed official cloisonné maker to the daimyō (feudal chief) of Owari. He based his designs on the motifs and colour-schemes of Chinese cloisonné enamels and his early works are characterised by the use of a larger number of background wires. These were decorative, forming an integral part of the design, and practical in that they prevented the enamels from running during firing.
One of Kaji’s pupils was Hayashi Shōgorō (d.1896), a craftsman celebrated for the fact that his pupils were in turn the teachers of many of the later masters of cloisonné enamelling, of whom the most important was Tsukamoto Kaisuke (1828-1887). Kaisuke’s experiments enabled him to create a picture of Nagoya Castle, the first time a purely representational design had been realised in cloisonné enamels.
Kaisuke is believed to have been responsible for the discovery, some time around 1868, of the technique of applying cloisonné enamels to a ceramic vessel. However, this was a relatively short-lived innovation, and was never very popular, probably because enamels on porcelain tended to be dull and dirty in appearance and were liable to crack. Nevertheless, some fine and durable examples were produced.
Kaisuke in turn taught Hayashi Kodenji (1831-1915), a craftsman who became one of the most influential of cloisonné makers. Kodenji set up an independent cloisonné workshop in Nagoya in 1862 and trained other craftsmen. He remained at the forefront of cloisonné manufacturing in Nagoya.