Tea canister

ARTIST / MAKER: Seikozan (maker)
DATE: ca. 1880 (made)
PLACE: Japan (made)
MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES: Earthenware painted in overglaze enamels and gilt

Following the success of Japanese ceramics at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1867, and the establishment of the Meiji era (1868-1912), Japan began to take advantage of the Western interest in their art, as well as the newly established trading links. Satsuma wares, characterised by intricate painted decoration, were exported on a large scale to Europe and America, and served to promote Japan’s culture and traditions in the West.

This rectangular tea canister features scenes of young children at play, busying themselves with toys, musical instruments, scrolls and animals during New Year celebrations. The red fish lying on the ground in the lower half of the scene is a sea bream (Tai), considered an auspicious food in Japan and whose character is a homophone of the word ‘felicity’. The various musical instruments featured here are typically Japanese: Two boys at the centre carry a large taiko (drum) and blow a conch-shell horn (horagai), while three children bottom-left of the scene are gathered around a koto (string instrument). This wide variety of auspicious objects are known as engimono (lucky charms) and represent the summoning of a happy and prosperous New Year.