Interview: Mr. Fukagawa, Koransha
The Koransha pottery was first founded in 1689 by Matashiro Fukagawa. It was then called Eizaemon Fukagawa and was one of the very first potteries to begin porcelain production in Arita. From its very beginning the company focused on making products for overseas export. Today, Koransha is continuing this tradition with its involvment in the 2016/ project. Yuji Fukagawa, the current president of Koransha pottery, explains how his company has evolved with the times.
- The current structure of Koransha was established in 1879 during the era of Japonisme in the West. How did that fascination with Japanese Arts & Crafts affect the structure of your company?
Japan had been closed up until that period. When the Meiji period began, there was no industry yet in Japan. Koransha was focused on exporting porcelain in an attempt to acquire a foreign currency. The luxurious porcelain that Koransha produced at that time, often with gold overglaze, is still popular with antiques dealers in Europe even now.
- What are the strengths of the Koransha pottery?
Traditionally, all the labour of porcelain production is divided in Arita; the making of shapes, the production of underglaze, glaze and overglaze and the firing are each undertaken separately. But at Koransha we do all of these processes in-house. First, porcelain-making requires a plaster mould into which the clay is poured. Making these moulds takes considerable skill. It affects the porcelain badly if the plaster mould is not perfect. We have computer-controled CNC milling machines that are efficient and produce perfect moulds without flaws. Where it is most effective to use machines, we do so. And therefore our craftsmen can focus on overglazing. We have been successfully developing the business by combining advanced technology and craftsmanship.
- What are the problems that a company such as Koransha has to deal with?
Our porcelain is very finely painted. They are special pieces, considered artworks. Recently we have worked with department stores in Japan but the market for our wares; the gift and wedding markets for example, have been sluggish. We are participating in the 2016 / project in order to breathe some new life into our kiln.
- How have you found the process of collaborating with the international designers?
Koransha is well known for its gold overglaze and finely decorated products. This is our speciality. However, some of proposals from the 2016/ designers have done away with these decorative elements and are focusing instead on form and glazing. So we must adapt the values and ideas that are inherent to our porcelain. Our craftsmen have put familiar procedures to one side and have taken up these new designs as a serious challenge. Although it is new to them they are stimulated by the designers' idea.
- What are your experiences of the 2016/ project?
The different potteries of Arita now have a shared purpose. They are sharing their knowledge with one another - usually, we wouldn’t reveal our technology or workshops and equipments to one another. We hold regular meetings where all trading companies are aligned and we report the progress of the new product developments with each pottery. If we face a design problem that our engineers are struggling to solve, craftsmen from another pottery will help and share their know-how. The atmosphere of collaboration is very special to this project.