The history of pearls from Ago Bay in Ise Shima
Ago Bay is located in Ise Shima National Park, Japan's first national park, in Mie prefecture in central Japan. The area is famous for the beautiful scenery of its ria coast and the rich abundance of its marine products, as well as its long history.
Natural pearls were gathered in Ago Bay for centuries, and were highly valued as trade items. Following the development of cultured pearl technology in the early 20th century, Ago Bay became the largest pearl farming area in the world, with a total production value of JPY 13 billion at its peak. In the 1960s, however, oxygen deficiency in the seawater and red tides led to a decline in the area's productive capacity. The root causes were the intensification of pearl farming in the 1950s, which resulted in an excess of oyster waste from overcrowded pearl farms, and sewage from the increasing population of the Ago coast as tourism sites were developed. The degradation of water quality reached a peak around 1979-1980, when red tides and high hydrogen sulfide levels brought the Akoya pearl oyster to the brink of extinction in Ago Bay.
In response to this crisis, local governments set out to improve the marine environment through better sewage treatment and by dredging waste from the sea floor to reduce pollutants. These efforts succeeded in bringing about some improvement in water quality, but did not solve the problem of oxygen deficient water, and did not lead to a fundamental recovery of pearl production.
The tsunami of March 11th, 2011 caused serious damage in Ago Bay. Pearl farming facilities were swept away and many pearl oysters were lost, as the tsunami stirred up accumulated waste and sediment from the sea floor.
Ago bay restoration project
The Ago Bay restoration project is being carried out by corporations, government and academia in cooperation with local people, and aims for both environmental and economic sustainability based on scientific knowledge. The project has adopted the concept of "sato-umi," meaning a coastal region where biological diversity and marine productivity are maintained through careful management, including monitoring by local people. Beginning in 2003, a series of projects have been conducted under the general name of the Ago Bay restoration project. Solving the environmental problems of Ago Bay requires not only reducing the burden of waste and sewage, but also restoring tidal areas and reviving their ecosystems. Leaders of the project are working on these local problems with an awareness of global issues, such as climate change. The project is working to reduce stress on ecosystems, to promote the care and protection of the marine environment, and to make pearl farming sustainable into the future.
eoIPSO supports the Ago Bay restoration project by helping to develop markets for cultured pearls produced by sustainable methods, and by raising understanding among consumers. We aim to think globally while working locally with communities and producers.
The history of Seto and its pottery production
Seto is a town in the central region of Honshu Island, located just northeast of the city of Nagoya. The town is famous for its ceramics industry, and in the past it was Japan's largest producer of ceramic products. To this day, Japanese ceramics in general are often referred to as Seto-mono (Seto products). The history of pottery in Seto began over a thousand years ago, around the late 10th century, making it one of one of the six oldest centers of pottery production in Japan. Seto's land provides high quality clay with almost no iron, ideal for making white ceramics suitable for glazing and painting.
According to legend, a craftsman named Kato Kagemasa traveled to China in the 13th century to acquire expertise in ceramics, and after his return founded the pottery industry in Seto. Although this legend cannot be confirmed, it is a fact that the oldest form of glazed pottery in Japan, now known as Ko-Seto (old Seto), was produced there from about the 12th century to the late 15th century. Seto earthenware for tea ceremony and other uses achieved a peak of popularity among the upper classes around the 16th century, and during the Edo period (1603-1868) a diversity of Seto products came to be used by the common people as well. Under the feudal domain of Owari, Seto was protected as a monopoly business and its products were distributed throughout the country. In the early 19th century Seto artisans, facing competition from porcelain makers in Kyushu, succeeded in producing porcelain themselves, and thereby secured their position as the most important pottery town in Japan.
In the late 19th century, following the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the feudal domains were reorganized into the modern system of prefectures, and Seto became part of Aichi Prefecture. Meanwhile the country had been opened to foreign trade, and exports to Europe and the United States became a new source of growth for Seto's ceramic industry. Seto products were prominently exhibited at world expositions in 1873 in Vienna, 1876 in Philadelphia, and 1878 in Paris, and they received several awards.
This period of growth continued into the 20th century. The town suffered a temporary state of confusion during the Second World War, but after the war the pottery business recovered quickly, and Seto continued to develop its distinct character as an integrated ceramic industry city. Its export business was especially successful during Japan's period of rapid economic growth, with novelty items, tableware, and tiles being the most popular export items around 1955-1964. Seto's ceramic industry reached its peak around 1970. But with the oil shock of 1973 and the strengthening of the yen thereafter, Seto's export business began to suffer greatly from the rise of competitors in other parts of East Asia.
The Twilight of Seto
Today, both earthenware and porcelain from Seto are designated as Traditional Craft Products by Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. But even as their cultural and historical value has been officially recognized, Seto's traditions have entered a period of decline.
The thousand-year Seto tradition has been supported by the knowledge and techniques of craftsmen, passed down from generation to generation, in areas such as clay working, firing, glazing, painting, pottery wheel building, kiln design, kiln building, casting, molding, and modeling. These techniques have been developed and maintained through a highly specialized division of labor involving many distinct professions, each of which requires long years of training. Ironically this system of division of labor, which worked so well for centuries, is now one of the reasons for the decline of Seto's ceramic industry. Because each specialty is so demanding, many artisans have little knowledge of areas outside their own profession. Many have no experience in assessing customers' needs and designing products to meet those needs. The wide distribution of Seto products throughout Japan led to Seto-mono becoming a term for ceramic products in general, suggestive of cheap items for everyday use. This image is poorly suited to the present economic situation of Seto artisans, who must compete with inexpensive mass-produced ceramics.
As the economic malaise of the handmade pottery industry continues, it is difficult for craftsmen to recruit and train new apprentices, and many talented young craftsmen leave Seto to work elsewhere. A vicious circle has developed in which established artisans are aging while young artisans are leaving town. Some companies with long histories have closed or converted to factory production when their master craftsmen were unable to find successors. Seto is especially proud of its slip casting technology, including slip casting molds passed down as heirlooms and the traditional skills of model makers. But this technology is in danger of disappearing due to loss of demand for novelty products.
We are concerned about the gradual loss of priceless knowledge and techniques accumulated by Seto artisans over the course of centuries. In the eoIPSO project, we seek to develop a business style that promotes sustainability of both culture and environment, protecting traditional crafts and craftsmen as well as the natural resources on which they depend.
Tokyo is where eoIPSO products are created and designed. Although Tokyo's 400 year history is very short compared to other Japanese cities, it has become one of the largest cities in the world. It has been the center of political power in Japan since the Edo era, and the official capital since 1868, when the Emperor Meiji moved to the city and changed its name from Edo to Tokyo.
The common people of Edo had a high level of literacy, thanks to a system of schools that provided basic education for the children of commoners. A rich popular culture blossomed in the city, and it became the center of a mature capitalist economy during the Edo era. In the Meiji period Tokyo was at the forefront of Japan's structural reforms and its active engagement with the West. The popular culture of old Edo coexisted and interacted with Western culture, gradually forming the diverse and dynamic city of today.
Inspired and influenced by this vibrant city where ancient and modern, liberal and conservative, East and West all coalesce, the strategy and designs of the eoIPSO brand are created here in Tokyo. Each product is carefully designed with the needs and values of customers in mind. Our goal is to offer a luxurious and elegant product lineup that fulfills the expectations of both men and women for a superior jewelery series. To ensure high quality standards each product development runs through various design and testing phases, including concept sketching, prototyping in close cooperation with the craftsmen involved, and product testing before the final product is created.