Noritake china, though only officially registered under that trademark in 1981, has a history that goes as deeply as the inception of trade relations between the United States and Japan. Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry first sailed to Edo (Tokyo) to negotiate trade relations in 1853. At this time, Japan was a highly insular, protectionist state that did not consider itself in need of Western products. There were many products in Japan, however, that were highly desired by American consumers, including porcelain and china dinnerware. For this reason, under orders from U.S. President Fillmore, four warships accompanied Perry’s “diplomatic” expedition. Unable to intimidate the Japanese delegates after eight days of negotiation, Perry left in failure only to return the following spring with seven ships. That year an agreement was reached.
When Japan sent its own delegation to the United States, an opportunistic young man named Baron Ichizaemon Morimura was among the representatives. He quickly discovered the popularity of Japanese china among American consumers. In 1876 he established his own porcelain trading company, with offices in both New York and Tokyo. While the new company, Morimura Brothers, initially focused solely on exporting china already being manufactured in Japan, eventually Morimura became interested in producing his own china. In 1904, he built this factory in a little village named Noritake. The first products from the factory, under the name Nippon Toki Kaisha, were exported to the United States in 1910. “Noritake china” remained the unofficial name of the wares for a number of years, but the company was unable to obtain the trademark name until 1981. All this time, the United States has been the principal market for Noritake china.
One of the most important contributions of Noritake china to the world of porcelain dinnerware was the development of lusterware. This particular glazing technique involved the use of a bright, single-color glaze (often brown, blue or green) covered by a thin metallic film. The result was a polychromatic, iridescence that gave these pieces of Noritake china a rainbow-like sheen. The technique became immensely popular among Japanese dinnerware, and was employed by many different china manufacturers during the 20th century, such as Takito. The earliest pieces of Noritake china bear the back stamp of the letter “M” encircled by a wreath, with the words “Hand painted.” Pieces made prior to 1921 also bear the word “Nippon” (which simply means “Japan”). After 1921, adhering to changes in U.S. laws regarding imports, “Japan” or “Made in Japan” can be found beneath the back stamp of these later pieces of Noritake china. Immediately following World War II, from about 1948 to 1953, allied forces that directly reaped profits from its porcelain and other factories occupied Japan. Pieces of Noritake china from this period often bear the words “Occupied Japan” or “Made in Occupied Japan” beneath the back stamp. After 1953, the traditional mark was revived, but with one difference: inside the wreath, where the “M” had been, the letter “N” appeared, beginning a period of increased pride in the unique characteristics of Noritake china.
In 1876 the period just after the opening of the country, a young man took a trip to America on the Oceanic steamship. Since the opening of the country Japan had been struggling with the European and American powers over their unfair treaties. There was anxiety over the fact that huge amounts of money to support the national economy were going out of the country. In order to restore this imbalance then Japan had to do business abroad and one young man feeling this strongly in his heart crossed the ocean in order to do just that. The person who advocated this principle to the young 22 year old was Noritake’s founder, Baron Ichizaemon Morimura and the young man who embraced this ambition was actually his younger brother, Yutaka Morimura. The person who nurtured the two brothers’ knowledge was none other than Yukichi Fukuzawa the founder of Keio Univ. They did it for the love of their fatherland not to mention that it was their dream. The history of Noritake started with the Morimura brothers establishing a trading company “Morimura-kumi” in Ginza in 1876 and then “Morimura Brothers” in Yutaka’s destination city, New York, in 1978, which they used to trade Japanese china, porcelain and dolls.
Not long after they created their own china factory they advanced into the world market as a fully-fledged porcelain maker. Who would have thought at that time that the Noritake China brand would have grown into a world-renowned Western tableware maker? It was a product made in a time when Japan as a nation was passionate about not losing to the American and European powers. Looking back at that, Noritake’s course through this turbulent period in history and its tableware that popped up in the lives of people throughout the world, then it comes to sound like a fairytale.
19th century was a major turning point in porcelain ware. Porcelain, which up until then was treated as family heirlooms, was mass-produced and popularized. Also, in order to make the quality and design better, there was a movement (Arts & Crafts movement) trying to make handmade artistic crafts. With the Expo, there was an exchange of Western and Eastern cultures and this in turn had an affect on Porcelain tableware. In the West in particular at the end of the century, there was an Eastern boom and at the heart of that was “Japanism”. The Japanese design was assimilated and the “Art Nouveau Style” which is the first step towards today’s design, was created. “Morimura Brothers”, established in New York in 1878, was the first imported goods shop to import Japanese antiques and porcelain. This is certainly what you can say is the start of Japanese-American trade. However, a few years later the stage was shifted from New York to Paris. Interest in the East was strong and at the Paris Expo where Japanese culture attracted attention, the Morimura brothers were most fascinated in Western tableware.
That tableware was white porcelain ware, which had a subtle painting on it. They wanted to make the same beautiful pieces of Western tableware in Japan. It drove them towards a new dream. First they dispatched craftsmen to Europe to learn the latest skills and in 1904 they created the “Nippon Toki Gomei Kaisha” in the village of Noritake, near Nagoya. This would eventually become the Noritake Company, as we know it today. In this way they came to shape their destiny to become a Western tableware maker.
The “Nippon Toki Gomei Kaisha” was created from information on Western tableware gathered from the Chicago World Fair of 1893 and the pottery manufactures factory inspection in Victoria, Australia 1903. Therefore, most of the tableware that was made during the foundation period was clearly influenced by the Art Nouveau Style. The flowery curves, the tree and flower motifs were all Art Nouveau. As well as the Art Nouveau, they also made Japanese tableware and tableware with traditional European patterns.
To begin the fancy line of items; flower vases, candy holders, etc. were the main products they made but they also came to make coffee and tea pots, chocolate pots, and sugar bowls. They were also able to shift from being only an exporter to being able to sell goods to the home market as well. The Imperial Household Ministry, naval department, hotels and restaurants were their main customers.
With the end of the First World War, so too did the Art Nouveau period end, with its handmade and complicated curves, and instead, a pottery with a simple design was recognized. Symbolized by the appearance of motorcars and high-rise buildings, it was a life of machinery and efficiency. The demand for mass produced tableware to suit such a new lifestyle became more important. Again Noritake changed directions from the high-class ornaments (Fancy Line) and made a hardwearing white porcelain dinner plate in 1913 and from the following year on they exported dinner sets to America. Then in 1927 dinner sets had reached over 50% of their entire exports and outsold the fancy line range. The Belle Epoque ornamental pottery period had finished.
However, from 1921 to 1931 the high class ornaments created up until then were not in fact high class ornaments but the popular fancy line, which was mass produced by machines? That was in fact the Art Deco porcelain ware designed for the American market. Art Deco was the new style, which attracted attention at the Industrial Decoration Expo in Paris in 1925. It was made up of machine like straight lines and not the irregular lines drawn by the human hand and so was the style of the industrialized age. Noritake’s Art Deco is said to be a forgotten episode but recently it has come to attention that the prevailing bright tone of the modern girl, flower and geometric patterns is pleasing and once again fans and collectors are fascinated by it. We lovingly call the Art Deco porcelain ware and Noritake products from before the war, including the Art Nouveau Style, the “Old Noritake”.
After completing the first ever dinner plate in Japan in the Taisho era, we at Noritake enthusiastically developed new skills such as the developing of original printing and painting skills and the establishment of an automatic production system, etc. We were the first to create milky white beautiful bone china in 1932. At the present we are developing hardwearing, beautiful, functional porcelain ware and at the same time paying attention to any new materials that come along. Also, we have spread into the territory of general tableware, that being Melamine tableware, Silverware and Crystal glasses and we have had high praise from the world for our skills and superior developmental strengths. With the heartwarming dream of our high quality products forged through tradition and our beautiful designs, Noritake is loved in various situations whether it is in airplanes, hotels, restaurants, households throughout the world or just about anywhere when welcoming honored guests. Noritake is even now pursuing through its tableware the creation of a life culture that has a better quality of life for people. The Noritake dream continues to spread from the kitchen into all aspects of everyday life; its tableware overflows with individuality derived from different countries cultures and lifestyles; and as interior design it enhances the quality of life.