Arts and Culture
The Worlds Depicted by Yabu Meizan — Regionality, Continuance & Globalism
Yabu Meizan (1853–1934) was a leading craftsman and entrepreneur who produced and sold “Satsuma ware” in Osaka. Having learned pottery decoration in Tokyo, Meizan opened his own Satsuma ware painting operation in Osaka Nakanoshima in 1880. His work, often called “Meizan Satsuma,” received considerable acclaim in numerous international expositions, and his life and career roughly paralleled the transition of Japan’s export ceramics industry from the modern period into the present.
Distinguishing features of Meizan’s efforts include: (1) Maintained an eye toward markets abroad; (2) Applied a workshop model to ceramic production, emphasizing his own role as “artistic producer”; (3) Avoided seeking personal eminence as an Imperial Household Artist, focusing instead on winning prizes in international expositions and other opportunities to expand sales channels; (4) Designed decorative themes around landscapes, notably scenes of well-known locations in western Japan; (5) Developed flower-and-bird motifs into repeating decorative patterns and applied these broadly on various ceramic vessels.
Meizan’s work demonstrates a concrete realization of the concepts in Japanese art that “painting is craft-like” and “craft is pictorial.” His repetitive pictorial sequences and motifs may be one reason his work has been so favorably received in the West.
Meizan’s orientation toward overseas markets while maintaining both a sense of regionality based on the culture and arts of western Japan and the repetition characteristic of Japanese crafts show him to be a nearly perfect representative of Japanese craft in the Meiji era.