Jessica Workman “Japanese Pottery: Dear to our Hearts”

Excavations in the summer of 2010 at the WWII Kooskia Internment Camp uncovered this pottery sherd. Volunteer Internee workers at the Kooskia Internment Camp used this traditional bowl for food preparation and consumption. Most of the internees were Issei, or first generation Japanese. During this era in Japan there was a shift towards Westernization, which included changes in diet and food preparation. This change inside the Kooskia camp may have taken some getting used to, but was not as far of a stretch as one would think from a traditional Japanese diet. According to archival records, internees were offered various American food items such as cold cuts, pork and beans, and hamburgers. They were also offered more traditional ingredients such as dried shrimp, rice, tea, and seaweed. (Wegars 2010). Despite both Japanese and American pressures towards westernization, items such as this rice bowl indicate that some aspects of traditional lifestyle were still apparent.

This porcelain sherd has a rim measuring 12 centimeters in diameter. Given the curvature of the fragment it is a medium-sized bowl used for either rice or tea. Considering the relatively large amounts of rice and tea consumed at the Kooskia Interment Camp both uses are plausible.  (Wegars 2010).
The Kooskia Internment Camp had male volunteers from 1943-1945. Pottery sherds from this camp would be pre-WWII era, which would indicate either a ‘Nippon’ or ‘Made in Japan’ time period complete with a matching marker’s mark. Due to the lack of base on this sherd, it is impossible to distinguish which era the maker’s mark would have been in. (Stitt 1974).

The method used to paint this rice bowl is a stencil ware style more specifically called Fukizumi. (Wegars 1999). In this practice the artist places a negative stencil over the vessel and then sprays or blows the blue pigment over the design. Once it is pulled away a design remains, typically with blurry edges around the outline. Fukizumi is mainly used on white porcelain with blue ink. The misaligned portion of stenciled detail on the left-wing is highly characteristic of late 19th century mass-produced Japanese pottery. (Ross 2009).  The style of decoration found on this fragment is highly characteristic of Japanese porcelain. Unlike the reoccurring symbols found on Chinese pottery, Japanese symbolism is more varied with many different themes. Chinese culture and symbolism had a large impact on the development of Japanese art (Ross 2009). The bamboo shoots found on this pottery fragment have Chinese origins. Whereas the sparrow and bamboo symbols together on this fragment are a common animal and plant theme found throughout many Japanese pottery designs.  (Ross 2009).

The rice bowl arrived at the Kooskia Interment camp as either a gifted item from visiting family members or as a personal item by an internee. Quite a few volunteers moved in between Kooskia Camp and others, during this transition many left personal items behind or discarded broken pieces. (Priscilla Wegars  2012 person. comm).

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this sherd is the story behind it and the implications it has for the personal value the internees placed on certain items. However the rice bowl arrived at the camp the real interest lies in the artifact itself, and others like it and what they may have represented to those that used them. These traditional pieces provide unique insight into the internees and their cultural values and traditions during this WWII era.

Acknowledgements:
I’d like to give a special thanks to Dr. Priscilla Wegars at the Asian American Comparative Collection and Dr. Stacey Camp for all of their help with my research. Thank you.

Resources:

Ross, Douglas Edward.
2009    Material Life and Socio-Cultural Transformation Among Asian Transmigrants at a Fraser River Salmon Cannery, Simon Fraser University, Simon Fraser University.

Stitt, Irene.
1974    Japanese Cermaics of the Last 100 Years, Crown Publishers, Inc, New York.

Wegars, Priscilla.
2010    Imprisioned in Paradise:Japanese Internee Road Workers at the World War II Kooskia Internment Camp, Asian American Comparative Collection Research Report, No 3., University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho.

Wegars, Priscilla.
2006    Japanese Artifact Illustrations, Terminology, and Selected Bibliography, revised from 1999 edition, Asian American Comparative Collection, Laboratory of Anthropology, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho.

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