Mishima earthenware was first created on the Korean peninsula during the Joseon period during the 15th and 16th Century. The Mishima style refers to earthenware of part-porcelain, part-clay, grey soil with a good amount of iron; on the surface of which, with varying methods, designs are applied using white masking glaze. This white layer is close to the application of a secondary white clay paste. Regardless of the design method, a similar trait of these Mishima wares is that after the application of the white layer, they are finished off and fired with a clear transparent glaze as a final layer.
These methods are currently categorized in zōgan, inka, kakiotoshi, senkoku, tetsue, hakeme and konahiki among others. They developed throughout different stages of history. During the first half of the 15th Century, zōgan, inka and kakiotoshi were most common. They were followed by the senkoku and tetsue methods that were popular during the later half of that Century. And successively during the 16th century the simpler hakeme and konahiki methods became more standard.
The specifications of each method are as follows:
This method refers to a type of inlay that is also common with other materials such as wood, lacquer or metal. It indicates the insertion of a material that is different from the material into which it is inserted. For example, a mother-of-pearl insertion in a lacquer caddy, or a metal inlay on a wooden surface. In the case of Mishima earthenware it refers to the application of white masking glaze by pressing it into carvings or engravings on the base clay surface, essentially replacing the cut-out openings. It is a style that observes the traditional method applied to Korean celadon ware.
This style employs stamps with a bamboo screen motif or chrysanthemum flower crests. The stamp is pressed into the still moist clay surface of the vessel to form a pattern. This is done to create dents that can then be filled up with white masking glaze in similarity to the zōgan style. After the dents are made white masking glaze is applied on the vessel to fill the gaps. Then the excess is wiped away only to fill the holes with the white material.
For the kakiotoshi method a reversed application is utilized. The white masking glaze is applied on the surface with a brush first. Then, only on the areas where a motif or design is required favorable, the excess glaze is scraped off with a spatula.
After the white masking glaze has been applied on the surface of the vessel with a brush, the desired design is engraved on the surface by carving into the glaze with a spatula or nail; thereby removing the glaze and revealing the motif or drawing.
Tetsue literally means “iron painting”. After the white masking glaze is brushed onto the surface of the vessel, a drawing is made on top of the white layer with a secondary iron-rich glaze. This reveals a brownish illustration or motif on the surface of the utensil after firing as the glaze changes color due to oxidation.
This style is less elaborate. Yet these vessels are often highly appraised for its exquisite simplicity. The hakeme style is nothing but the application of several brushstrokes of white masking glaze on the surface of the grey Mishima clay.
In similarity the konahiki approach is simple in design. Yet it is often deeply appreciated for the natural white shades that appear on the surface, and its soft, warming feeling when taken into the hands. The vessel is either soaked or drained in good amount of white masking glaze, leaving a thick layer of creamy white matter on the surface. Sometimes the vessel is wholly drenched, or at other occasion one area may be kept clear, while the remainder is fully soaked in white glaze. The natural way in which the glaze settles on the surface of such a vessel is for many admirers of earthenware a feature of appreciation. And this kind of natural simplicity is for many a valued feature that expresses the sentiment of the wabi aesthetic.
Among the many Korai-style Korean ware tea vessels, the Mishima style is one that is still very often preferred in the Enshū school of tea ceremony. We often refer to a utensil as “in the Mishima style”, but frequently forget to appreciate the deeper variations and traits of the style. In this article I have attempted to shed some light on how even in one specific style of earthenware the variation in method and aesthetic value can be as great as the elaborate application of zōgan motifs or senkoku illustrations, and the simplicity of the creamy konahiki surface or a single brushstroke as seen in the hakeme style.