Who Invented the Term “Satsuma Moriage,” Anyway?

These lamps caused me way more agita than they’re worth.


When I opened my Etsy shop, I had to research many of the items from the Janvier Road bungalow to see what they were, and whether they were Etsy material, yard sale junk or (wishful thinking) deserving of a call to Christie’s.

I couldn’t find the lamps anywhere. I’d try, give up, and try again. The problem was the raised dots of enamel. I had no idea what to call them.

One day I stumbled upon the term “Satsuma moriage,” and knew I was close.
I’m still somewhat confused as to exactly what my lamps are, but I do know they won’t be appearing in the Christie’s catalog any time soon. They are NOT Satsuma. But they are moriaged (if that’s a word).

What is Satsuma, anyway?
There are probably as many terms for 16th Century Japanese pottery as there were potters. Basically, around the same time that skilled Korean potters were creating Imari, others were working on Satsuma.

Antique Satsuma
Genuine 16th Century Satsuma is typically ivory or yellowish, with a crackle glaze and elaborate gold decorations. It’s so rare that most of it is in museums. And pieces that are not in museums are extremely sought-after.

20th Century “Vintage” Satsuma
Toward the end of the 19th Century, the Japanese began producing cheaper versions of Satsuma for export to Europe and America. These newer pieces do not “ring” when tapped (which, I assume, antique Satsuma does).

The Issue of The Immortals.
Immortals (sennin) are men who could not die, and who must spend eternity in worship, poverty and sometimes, magic. They are featured both in antique Satsuma and in the 20th Century versions. One is on my lamp, looking quite stern and, well, very immortal.

This was what I’d been looking for to begin with. It’s the term for those raised dots of enamel that are found on vintage Japanese porcelain and pottery. They’re on the lamps, on my old incense burner and a Victorian hatpin holder. For some odd reason the two terms have been combined into “satsuma moriage.”

Example of moriage on a 20th Century Japanese lamp.

Example of moriage on a 20th Century Japanese lamp.

Back to my lamps.
My lamps aren’t Satsuma even though there’s an immortal on the purple one. And they aren’t Dragonware (no dragons, at least none that I can see). I suppose that makes them cheap Japanese knockoffs, produced somewhere before the 1950s. But that’s OK. This immortal has watched over me since I was a child, and he’ll keep on doing it for the forseeable future. I love my lamps, and I’m not parting with them. But now, at least I know what the enamel beads are called.

Satsuma Moriage: A Misnomer?
It’s a term I see all the time – in fact, it’s the term that helped me discover what my lamps were.
But since moriage wasn’t invented in the 16th Century — and since moriage is a decorative term — wouldn’t “Moriaged Satsuma” make more sense?
Oh, well…

Evaluating antiques isn’t always as easy as it first seems. But learning the stories behind them is always fun – and it keeps me excited as each new item crosses my path.

If you love learning about antiques as much as I do, follow the blog so you won’t miss the next article.
And enjoy the hunt!

About sarathurston

I'm a marketing communications writer who also loves antiques and collectibles. You can find my shop on Etsy at http://www.etsy.com/shop/JanvierRoad
This entry was posted in Antiques, Collectibles, Etsy, Imari, Porcelain, Pottery and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Who Invented the Term “Satsuma Moriage,” Anyway?

  1. Pingback: The Vintage Art of Tea | Janvier Road: Where old becomes exciting and new

  2. kathy says:

    Very interesting. Thank you!

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