Saturday, August 23, 2014

Common Japanese Decorative Motifs

I am working on adding various common motifs and patterns on Japanese ceramics. It is a work in progress so it will be a while until I get all the information and pictures added. I decided to go ahead and publish it in its unfinished form in hopes that it is of some help to my followers. Look forward to many changes and additions in the future. 

Pine Needles
"Japanese and Oriental Ceramics" by Hazel Gorham pg 209-210 "...To the Japanese the pine is symbolic of strength because it lives to a great age; its unchanging green suggests fidelity; and prosperity is indicated y the rich green of its needles. Some species of pine have needles growing in pairs which suggests unfailing devotion. The pine is a very common motive on Japanese ceramics where it is sometimes pictured in naturalistic form but more often very much stylized. Japanese artists have conventionalized the branches of the pine tree into semi-circular form difficult for the uninitiated to recognize; and two pine needles still joined together as they fall from the tree is a common ceramic motive."

Mountain and water/ Sansui (山水)

Shonzui (祥瑞)

The bottom is is Shonzui. Combined pattern would be described as Hana Shonzui.

Celadon/blue and white seiji-sometsuke 青磁染付

Brown rim or Fuchisabi (rim rust)

Thousand Faces

Crackle Glaze with dark lines/ Hibi Yaki

Hibiyaki is found in Soma ware (above) but is also common in Nabeshima ware and others.


Ikkanjin (一閑人) 

Mountain Range/Toyama (遠山)

Chatter Marks/Tobigana (飛鉋)

Brush Stroke/Hakeme (刷毛目)

Blue Sea Waves/Sei-Gai-Ha (青海波)

This pattern is common in Japanese fabrics (above) but is typically used in blue and white (sometsuke)

Karakusa, Hana Karakusa and Tako-Karakusa (蛸唐草)


Yomodasuki is dots arranged on a grid pattern
(Thanks to my friend Alice for teaching me this term) 

White dots used on Imari 


Thousand Strokes/Sen-gaki (千書)

Cloud/Kumo (雲)

Pine Bamboo and Plum/Sho-Chiku-Bai (松竹梅)

The pieces shown above are various renditions of the "sho chiku bai" design. Top left is a strenciled design with the center being the focus. The bottom left also uses the center as its focus. It also uses the crane motif. The top right transfer ware has the plum in the center and in three section around the outer design. The bamboo and the pine needle motif fill the remaining outer portions.

The Four Noble Friends or Four Gentlemen/ Shi Kunshi
This pattern is made up of the combination of  bamboo, plum blossom, chrysanthyemum and orchid

Round Pattern/Maru-Mon (丸紋)

The left is Japanese the right is Chinese. Both use this motif.

Comb Pattern  (Nabeshima ware)

Horse Eyes/Uma-no-Me (馬の目)

Mishima (三島)

Mesh Pattern/Ami-Me-Mon  or Amide (網手)

Crab (かに 蟹)


Phoenix or Hoo Bird

The left is Chinese the right is Japanese. Both use this motif.

Crane/Tsuru (鶴)

Crane and Turtle/Tsuru-Kame (鶴 と 亀)

The one on the left is a crane in the air and a turtle climbing out of the water. The one on the right is the crane in the air and the design on the bottom is a stylized form of the shell of a turtle which is quite common in Japanese design.


Cherry Blossom/Sakura (桜)


Lotus Flower/Hasu



Persimmon/Kaki (柿)

Maple Leaf/Fuuyou 楓葉


Carp/Koi (鯉)

Fish/Sakana (魚)

Chinese Children at Play/Karako     (Nabeshima produced wares with his motif)

When the New Year approaches, stores in Japan fill up with themed items according to the Asian Zodiac. There are always many ceramic renditions to choose from. Although often used to celebrate the designated new year,  animal images can be seen on ceramics just as decoration anytime. Tigers, dragons and rabbits are always favorites. 



Tiger/Tora (虎)

Rabbit/ Usagi (兎)

Dragon/Ryu (龍)




The horse motif is used extensively on Soma Pottery. 


Cock/Niwa Tori




Japanese and Oriental Ceramics by Hazel H. Gorham
Various Japanese books on ceramics


  1. I hope this is not one of those - here we go again questions. I both collect (TOTAL amateur)and resell Japanese planters, etc. I have several now with a mark I can't find (though I have to say one gets a little blurry eyed there are SO many to see).
    I am hoping someone on this blog can help.
    I will describe the mark as best I can. Please forgive my ignorance of the characters - I am merely describing what I see.
    I am looking at the characters as they appear next to very clearly incised numbers.
    First character: a 7 spoked "star" (looks like an asterisk).
    There are three "spokes" over a crossbar (which is slightly wavy). They are more deeply incised.
    There are two below the crossbar. The lower left one is thin - the end slight turned up.
    The lower right spoke is hooked like an upside down ?.
    The second character I have seen frequently - in this case looking like an anchor with the left "prong" slightly more out to the left.
    The numbers, of course, vary and in this case they are 8-134.
    I am much appreciative in advance for any help you may provide.
    If my gmail doesn't work, please try
    Thank you.

    1. It is just me on this blog. Please send a photo of the piece along with a clear closeup of the mark to and I will see if I recognize it.


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