Characteristics of Ceramic Traded between Joseon and Japan
A Circular Side-Dish Box and Cover (圓形盒)
Side-dish boxes have a long history in East Asian culture as a portable food container for cooked items or snacks. Such boxes usually include multiple tiers and a fitted lid to ensure that foods are securely contained and carried. Popular in Japan since early times, scholars believe that the boxes were first introduced to the Korean peninsula through trade and cultural exchange facilitated by the Joseon envoys (朝鮮通信使) during regular trips to the Japanese archipelago. The popularity of side-dish boxes in Korea not only had a major impact on eating habits, the boxes were even incorporated into ceremonies held at the Joseon royal court.
The historical source "Soya Ihei" (石野伊兵衛) provides a detailed record of a request by the Joseon envoys to Japan for three hundred pieces of ceramic tableware in 1811. This order included a type of two-tier circular side-dish container that was not produced in Korea at the time. Scholars believe that the side-dish box, along with the rest of the order, was likely produced at the Shigaraki kiln site (信樂窯), a ceramic center that fulfilled previous requests submitted by the Joseon envoys. Although the original Japanese version is no longer extant, scholars have uncovered numerous Korean-made boxes of this type that were likely inspired by the box imported by the Joseon envoys of 1811.
It is estimated that a two-tier circular side dish made in Shigaraki kiln might have introduced to Joseon through the envoy in 1811. This circular dish is likely to be a replica of the two-tier circular side dishes later made in Joseon.
White Porcelain Two-Tier Box with Peony Pattern in Blue Underglaze
Joseon dynasty, (overall) H. 10.5cm, H. 8.8cm,
(mouth) D. 6.3cm, (bottom) D. 4.6cm.
National Museum of Korea (Sinsu 11494)
ⓒNational Museum of Korea
White Porcelain Two-Tier Box with Vine Pattern in Blue Underglaze
Joseon dynasty, (overall) H. 10cm, H. 8.5cm,
(mouth) D. 6.9cm, (bottom) D. 5.2cm.
National Museum of Korea (Sinsu 11495)
ⓒNational Museum of Korea
Both side-dish boxes closely resemble the type of circular, two-tiered containers produced at the Shigaraki kiln site in Japan. The lower part of the base is shaped like a bowl to cover part of the foot and the rounded lid is smooth, without any sharp corners. Peony designs (牡丹文) and a stylized pattern of Chinese vines (唐草紋) cover the lid and main body of the box. Another type of pattern featuring the character for longevity (壽) appears on the box, reflecting the preference of Joseon consumers.
Let's Think About It
The circular type of side-dish box was probably introduced to Korea through Joseon Envoys missions to Japan.
In that case, how were the Joseon envoys perceived by their hosts?
Let’s observe representations of the envoys painted on ceramics at the time.
White Porcelain Rectangular Dish with Dragon-Head Ship Design in Blue Underglaze(白磁靑畫龍頭船文長方形接匙)Edo period, W. 32.5cm, L. 20.3cm, Busan Museum of Korea (Guip 4742) ⓒBusan Museum of Korea
White Porcelain Circular Dish with Overglaze Polychrome Enamel(白磁彩色通信使文大接匙) Edo period, D. 41.5cm, Busan Museum of Korea (Guip 4743) ⓒBusan Museum of Korea
Both ceramics appear to have been produced in Arita (有田), Japan. The rectangular plate includes a description of a ship with a dragon head on the bow (龍頭船) as well as a figure in government uniform reading documents.
Since the ship closely resembles the Joseon envoys’s vessel as it appears in “Painting of the Ship of the Joseon Envoys Crossing the Sea,” the figure depicted in the plate likely represents a member of the envoy party. Similarly, the flag bearer (旗手) and trumpeter (喇叭手) who appear in the design on the circular plate in front of Mount Fuji (富士山), may also have been based on members of the Joseon envoys to Japan.