A Quick Look at Really Bad Forgeries, or, Exposing The Man Behind the Curtain

It’s almost common knowledge these days that there are many forgeries of Japanese potters’ work. I’ve even heard some claim that there are more fake pieces than real containers when it comes to some of the top level artists. The truth is, I think, that these claims are highly exaggerated in the West. While I often see forgeries, I see far less than some would lead you to believe, and almost always they are glaringly obvious. For starters, an overwhelming majority of the forgeries that do exist are only of top tier artists. It’s exceedingly rare to see a forgery of an item that can sell for less than $500. Nobody is out there cranking out fake production Yamaaki or Koyo containers, they’re making fakes of Tofukuji, Yusen, Gekkou, and other high end and top shelf potters.

The sole detail that appears legitimate on this piece is the artists’s mark. These are the easiest parts of a container to forge, so should be the last thing you look at for authentication.
A forged Heian Tofukuji I received in a purchased lot of a dozen pots as a surprise. Obviously fake, it cost me around 20$, even though I didn’t know I was buying it. Worth it, great teaching tool.

The main culprits of the proliferation of this diabolical BS today are auction service sites like Buyee and other drop ship eBay-style auction services. In the 80’s in Japan the forgery boom was the result of the huge amount of wealth flowing into bonsai from the economic boom years, back when you couldn’t throw a fake Tofukuji without hitting another fake Tofukuji! Now, of course, it’s the internet. These sites used to provide access to a great service, years ago, but now the Asian auction sites have become overrun with garbage, rip offs, broken and forged merchandise, and thieves.  DO NOT BUY there without checking with a reputable dealer or appraiser on what you are buying. You have no recourse overseas if you buy a forged Isseki from an auction site in Japan, Taiwan, or China, you’re just out 5 grand.

I’ve collected images of a few examples recently that I saw for sale in Taiwan, China, and Japan. These should illustrate, as the above Tofukuji with its absolutely atrocious attempt at the artist’s work, how much the problem is overblown. This is certainly true for buyers of mid to high level show pots, containers costing $500-1500(unless those containers are lower end pieces from top shelf potters, like a tiny Tofukuji or Daisuke accent or mame pot). Collectors and investors at the top shelf level have to be much more careful.

So today we’ll look at some of the more commonly forged artists, with examples, that show that forgery is not nearly the problem it was in the 80s and 90s in Japan. With a few simple tips, and a good authenticator or appraiser to help you with purchases, you can buy with confidence in today’s market.

ALL OF TODAY’S CONTAINERS WERE AVAILABLE FOR SALE ONLINE WITH SHIPPING TO THE WEST FROM TAIWAN, JAPAN, AND CHINA.

ITOH GEKKOU

I’ve placed a link to my article on each of the artists work at the beginning of their section, so you can familiarize yourself with their work and easily see the differences being highlighted.
LINK TO REAL GEKKOU:
https://japanesebonsaipots.net/2012/06/21/finally-itou-gekkou-2/

A Forged Itoh Gekkou I found for sale in Taiwan. Everything, literally everything, is wrong with this container and screams fake. The painting style, technique, motif, shape, construction, Chinese even the signature are all at odds with Gekkou’s work. This was $50 US in Taiwan….it sold. And I guarantee it made its was to an online auction site in Japan and probably now resides in the West! Buy from reputable sellers!


Another forged Gekkou showing an atrocious paint job that has nothing in common with Gekkou’s style. The bleed of the strokes is especially unlike Gekkou’s painting technique.
This one is a little harder. The painting work is not bad, a classical Arabesque motif, although not a style normally seen from Gekkou, but not too unusual. We can really see that there’s a problem when we flip the piece over. Not only is the color of the underside dark, it’s uniformly dark. Patina doesn’t build like that on the bottom. This technique is often seen on fakes where the forger takes an old painted pot similar to the artist, and then paints on a signature with a very low fire glaze paint. This is likely one such example of that technique.
Herds another one where everything is all wrong. The shape, the thick glaze, the window border style, and the painting itself, which is nothing like Gekkou either stylistically or technically.

This one is also a little harder, most of the others look cheap even to the untrained eye. The one thing you should notice first about all 3 of these fake Gekkou landscape scenes is the lack of birds. Almost every Gekkou Sansui(mountain and water landscape) will have a flock of birds flying in formation. Not all Gekkou have them, and not all forgeries don’t, but the overwhelming majority of authentic and fake Gekkou differ here. No birds is a sign to look closer. In addition, the landscape painting itself is lacking in detail and has some bleed. The color of the sometsuke Blue glaze paint is also FAR too light.

Real Gekkou. Look for the birds first.

HEIAN TOFUKUJI

LINK TO REAL TOFUKUJI: https://japanesebonsaipots.net/2011/06/02/the-unglazed-pots-of-heian-tofukuji/ https://japanesebonsaipots.net/2011/05/25/glazed-pots-by-heian-tofukuji-part-two/

One often sees additional details on forgeries that would make a pot special. I guess the thinking goes, “why would a forger go the extra mile to make something unique for the artist?” In this case he’s initialed something in addition to the stamp. The stamp itself, however, appears drawn, not impressed. Nail carvings displace slip around the lines in a different manner than a stamp. It’s possible it’s just a bad impression, but not a good sign. Mostly, the clay color is off, a very strange one to see from the artist. The pear skin isn’t uniform, only on the outside, not the bottom or inside. On real Tofukuji we usually see grog throughout the clay body
The clay, color of the Cantonese style Ruri glaze, and method of foot attachment, and drain holes are all dead giveaways for this fake. The construction style is also far too clean. That’s not to say that Tofukuji was sloppy, rather that his style has a rustic warmth. More than anything, the stamp is totally wrong.
This is the easiest one of all. Only ONE of these painted catfish pots exists. There are no others like it made by Tofukuji, yet it is still on of the most frequently forged pieces in existence. The original is 9.5 cm. This is 9.7 cm. An easy fake to spot!

TSUKINOWA YUSEN

LINK TO REAL Yusen: https://japanesebonsaipots.net/2013/03/09/tsukinowa-yusen-part-1/


Here’s another example of a piece that is wrong in just about every way. The colors are all wrong, way too bright for the blue and green. The leaves on the tree in the foreground are stylistically wrong, and the background details are amateurish dots. It’s an OBVIOUS forgery.
which brings us to our next point.
You cannot trust a hand signature, nail carved, on a Yusen, or any other artist for that matter. These days, enterprising forgers are finding old, high quality containers that resemble the work of famous artists and cutting the signature in with a CNC machine. As this is done from a scan of a real signature, there will be no visible difference, it will be perfect. The only way to tell is in person. Signing a pot displaces clay, and even the best of artists don’t clean up well enough to eliminate all of that displaced clay along the lines of the characters. You have to rub the signature. You’ll feel the displaced clay. A CNC machine will be perfectly flat around the lines and also have perfectly uniform depth.

Another very obvious one likely also signature cut by CNC. For starters, the vast majority of Yusen containers are carved from a single block of clay(kurinuki), while this is slab or coil built. The detail is sorely lacking to the painting, it’s amateurish, and there is no decorated design on the feet. The signature, again, looks fine but sloppy.

A much nicer example. There were two things that first gave me pause when I first saw it. First, despite being tiny, I see no obvious tool marks from single block carving which are common for Yusen on the interior and underside. And second, it’s extremely unique, top and bottom yellow glaze with full wraparound landscape scene….well that should be very very expensive….and it was 500$. The painting itself is lacking as well. The leaves are too larger for Yusen work, the thatched roofs lack gradation detail, the background conifers are amateurish, and there is no one in the main house(Yusen sansui almost always have a figure in the main hut, unless the figure is elsewhere).

Similar to the blue and red above, everything is wrong with this one, for all the reasons mentioned in these other forgeries. The painting style is unlike Yusen, and amateurish at best.

Another example of a likely older piece of regional pottery that was forge signed using a CNC machine. The motif is a classic one, but totally unlike the real classical dragon motifs painted by Yusen.

A real Yusen painted with classical dragon motif. The difference is striking. There’s no comparison between the levels of skill of these two artists.

SANO DAISUKE

LINK TO REAL Daisuke: https://japanesebonsaipots.net/2012/09/21/sano-daisuke/ https://japanesebonsaipots.net/2013/12/26/daisuke-sano-hiroshige-and-the-53-stations/

Another one that was way too cheap and too unique so made me pause for another look. While the designs aren’t uncommon for Daisuke, they’re more common from his friend Konno Shinzan, often called his brother, and the piece is unsigned. Could be Shinzan, but unsigned and unmarked, and sold as Daisuke, that’s as bad as if it were a definite forgery.

This one is supposed to be later Daisuke work. If you looked back at the two articles in the links above, you know as well as I do there is no way Daisuke painted this. Daisuke was the master of the crowded pot. Negative space has to fight for room in his pieces. This container is almost a study in minimalism. And it was too cheap.

Miyazaki Isseki

You can see another post I wrote on this matter featuring Isseki, Ino Shukuho, and Yusen at the following LINK: https://japanesebonsaipots.net/2013/06/19/fg-forgeries/

Descriptions of those forgeries can be found at the link. Here is an especially egregious Isseki.

All of these Pots in this article were Cheaper than they should be. CAVEAT EMPTOR. Let the buyer beware. While the bonsai pottery market Is MUCH safer than it is often rumored to be in the West, there are still shady sellers willing to take advantage of the emerging market that the West has become. I’ve seen several handfuls of forgeries purchased from online from these sites in America and Europe by buyers who didn’t know enough to buy in a high end art market without help.

If you want to collect and invest in higher end pots, there are a few things you should do.
1. Get an authenticator/appraiser. They charge, but it’s better than getting ripped off. 2. Buy from reputable sources. Sources that are not only reputable among enthusiasts, but among dealers and appraisers. There are people who sell shady merchandise that are well thought of.
3. Study. Learn as much about the potters and pots you love as you can.
4. Find out what you love. Collecting pots is no different from bonsai. At first you want some of everything. Study first, to find where your tastes truly lie, then start to buy.
5. Use your best pots. And grow bonsai that deserve them. This is where these hobbies truly intersect, otherwise they’re mostly separate; your love of bonsai will improve your pottery collection, and your love of pottery will improve your bonsai.

I’ll be trying to update with a new article every Monday, with occasional surprise articles on other days.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my first regularly scheduled published article and learned a little something.

THANKS FOR READING!

About japanesepots

I've been collecting Japanese Bonsai pots for a few years, and feel that the famous, and some of the lesser known but great Japanese pot artists could do with a little more writing and exposure in English. Additionally, this blog will feature My own And others bonsai for discussion. The purpose of this blog is to further knowledge of Japanese pottery and Japanese style bonsai. If you have any questions about Japanese bonsai pottery, or would like to acquire pots by some of the potters presented in the blog, feel free to email me at gastrognome@aol.com
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