FROM SATSUMA PORCELAIN TO SATSUMA BUTTON

The ceramic painter for “Satsuma Shishi,” Shiho Murota

Among Kagoshima prefecture's traditional ceramics, one is especially popular among girls. Satsuma buttons, made using Satsuma porcelain, are becoming increasingly popular. In the Edo period, Satsuma buttons were made and exported overseas in order to increase war funds for the Satsuma domain. This is said to be the origin of the art form. The patterns are mostly based on daily life from that time period, or on nature scenes and such. They are very highly sought after by button collectors with an interest in Japanese culture. 

I heard about a ceramic painter who turns Satsuma porcelain into Satsuma buttons. I crossed Kagoshima bay from Kagoshima city to Tarumizu city on the other side by ferry to see the ceramic painter for "Satsuma Shishi," Shiho Murota. Ms. Murota is known as the ceramic painter who revived the art of Satsuma buttons.


"I started looking at this line of work because my father always encouraged me to work with my hands. Then, one of my college professors introduced me to a Satsuma porcelain potter, and I knew it was the job for me. He was a Shiro Satsuma tea ware specialty potter. I began working there as a ceramic painter," Ms. Murota told me on the story of how she started her work. "I learned about Satsuma buttons from a magazine at the potter's place; I saw Satsuma buttons at a museum in Tokyo. Afterwards, I thought, 'This is it!'" Ms. Murota worked as a potter for 10 years, and left work in 2005 to open a Satsuma button studio.

The thing about Satsuma buttons is that making them takes a lot of time. Ms. Murota explained. "To make one button, I must put it in the kiln 5 times. Because of that, the production rate is 30-50 buttons per month." At the moment, Satsuma buttons aren't just attached to clothing, but are mostly worn as an accessory. On the other hand, the majority of them are sold to foreign button collectors with the aim of investing in them.

In America, a button collectors' festival is held every year; Ms. Murota participated in August of this year. "I was surprised at the Americans' astute investment intentions. Many people bought buttons not based on their current value, but their anticipated value in the future. I was moved by this; I try to create buttons which will increase in value in the future." Ms. Murota finished.