Enchanting Chinese Ceramics

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Osaka, Japan, is usually off the radar of most tourists. It is Japan’s second largest city and contains many of the advantages of Tokyo on a slightly smaller scale. The food scene is one of the most exciting in Japan, with local specialties such as okonomiyaki (a version of a Japanese pizza cooked on a griddle with your choice of ingredients), unusual fish from the ocean nearby, and small restaurants that present Kushikatsu cooking of seemingly endless ingredients grilled on skewers.

The arts scene is also important, with three symphony orchestras, lots of chamber music, local theatre and opera such as Bunruku which combines traditional music with life-sized puppets in 500 year-old stories. World-class visual arts museums dot the landscape as well. The Museum of Oriental Ceramics caught our eye, viewed as possibly the finest collection of ceramics internationally with over 6,000 pieces in its collection of mostly Chinese and Korean origin.

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Museum of Oriental Ceramics in Osaka, Japan

The museum is located on the centrally located Nakanoshima island, across from Osaka City Hall. The island is an oasis in this city of over 15 million, quiet and peaceful. It is very large and contains a new concert hall, rose garden, hotels, restaurants, apartment buildings and other museums. There are numerous bridges of many styles connecting the island.

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Osaka City Hall


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Bridge on Nakanoshima, an oblong-shaped island sitting in between the Dojima and Tosabori rivers

Founded in 1982, the museum houses both a permanent collection and special exhibitions. The exhibition that we saw had just returned from Paris where it was presented at the lovely Guimet museum of Asian art. The collection of ceramics collected by Mr. Hikonobu Ise is one of the finest of its type in the world. The focus is on Chinese and Korean works, with some Japanese pieces. Mr. Ise’s discerning eyes have built an outstanding collection demonstrating the progress of ceramic art in Asia with some of the pieces dating back earlier than the seventh century.

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The sophistication of the designs and execution astounded us. Keeping in mind contrasting artistic output in Europe, Africa and other countries in Asia, the collection impressed us with its beauty and originality. The types of vessels, and variety of use, were enriched beautifully by the designs, colors and size. The exhibition also gave us the opportunity to learn more about Asia, especially Korea, which is a country that my husband and I have not visited yet. Here are a selection of some of the ceramics from the exhibition.

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The museum posted an interesting timeline of the history of China, Korea and Japan, showing the different dynasties throughout history. I had not been aware that Korea had the longest ruling dynasty on the planet, the Joseon. If you zoom into the timeline photo below, you can enjoy a historical overview that might help put the photos in perspective.

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I hope you will enjoy the following montage of the exhibition. Mr. Ise’s ceramics are introduced as “carefully selected artworks that meet the aesthetic sense of the Japanese people. The Japanese have two kinds of aesthetic sensibilities: the traditional sensibility in which they highly value artworks from China, calling them karamono or “Chinese objects,” and also appreciate their functional beauty as some were used in tea ceremonies; and the modern perception of beauty in which they simply appreciate ceramics as works of art. The Osaka exhibition introduced the Chinese ceramics covering the era from the Warring States period to the Qing dynasty, demonstrating the discerning eyes of the collector.”

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Alongside the Ise collection, there were other artworks on exhibition. Pieces by well-known contemporary Japanese ceramicist, Jun Kaneko, filled a small room alongside paintings that were plans for his exhibited ceramic pieces. It was wonderful to view these colorful pieces and experience how ceramicists are working today.

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Another room exhibited Chinese Snuff Bottles of the Oki Shoichiro Collection. The variety of design and execution was stunning. Here are some of our favorites.

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There were also some unusual pieces, ones that connected to other art around the world. The first piece below, a chartreuse-green flower pot stand, reminded us of Impressionist art from France. In our opinion, the second work had some similarities to Mexican/Mayan period pieces that we observed in the Yucatan.

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Finally, the exhibition finished with Japanese ceramics, many of which were designated National Treasures and part of the Museum’s permanent collection. The director of the Museum, DEGAWA Tetsuro, writes about the collection:

“Many ceramic pieces in the collection of The Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka have been collected primarily for the purpose of appreciating them as works of art. As a result, the collection as a whole may not represent a complete history of ceramics. However, for those who wish to thoroughly appreciate the artistry of the ceramic pieces, the Museum provides a perfect viewing environment. It boasts one of the world’s finest collections of ceramics. In addition to that, various views have been given to the manner of display so that visitors can fully enjoy the ceramic pieces as forms of art in a relaxed atmosphere. The gallery with natural light display is one of such means to show the ware as close to its natural state as possible. We suggest you find a favorite ceramic piece or two from our collection. Perhaps such a piece can give you a different, fresh perspective every time you see it again.”

We certainly have our favorites which gave us a new and informed perspective. I hope you will enjoy this final montage of ceramics from the Museum of Oriental Ceramics in Osaka, Japan, to inspire you to enjoy art outside of your own culture.


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