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 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.
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:
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 $50 US in Taiwan….it sold. And I guarantee it made its was to an online auction site in Japan and probably now resides in the West! Buy from reputable sellers!
This one is also a little harder, most of the others look cheap even to the untrained eye. The one thing you should notice first about all 3 of these fake Gekkou landscape scenes is the lack of birds. Almost every Gekkou Sansui(mountain and water landscape) will have a flock of birds flying in formation. Not all Gekkou have them, and not all forgeries don’t, but the overwhelming majority of authentic and fake Gekkou differ here. No birds is a sign to look closer. In addition, the landscape painting itself is lacking in detail and has some bleed. The color of the sometsuke Blue glaze paint is also FAR too light.
LINK TO REAL TOFUKUJI: https://japanesebonsaipots.net/2011/06/02/the-unglazed-pots-of-heian-tofukuji/ https://japanesebonsaipots.net/2011/05/25/glazed-pots-by-heian-tofukuji-part-two/
LINK TO REAL Yusen: https://japanesebonsaipots.net/2013/03/09/tsukinowa-yusen-part-1/
A much nicer example. There were two things that first gave me pause when I first saw it. First, despite being tiny, I see no obvious tool marks from single block carving which are common for Yusen on the interior and underside. And second, it’s extremely unique, top and bottom yellow glaze with full wraparound landscape scene….well that should be very very expensive….and it was 500$. 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.
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/
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.
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!