Happy children at play: symbols of prosperity
Cute Chinese children, playing joyfully, are a characteristic motif found on Mikawachi Ware. In China the birth of many boy-babies is considered a symbol of good fortune, and children at play - suggestive of happiness and prosperity - have been used as a painting subject since the Tang Dynasty (8th century). In the Ming Era (1368-1664), around the time that Japanese Mikawachi Ware was first developed, Chinese artists often used underglaze blue or overglaze polychrome enamels to portray this subject on ceramics.
At Mikawachi, Tanaka Yohē Naotoshi, painter for the daimyō-sponsored kiln, is said to have adopted the motif from Ming Chinese underglaze blue ware around 1661. One well-known scene shows Chinese children frolicking with butterflies under a pine tree. Apparently the daimyō-sponsored workshop also produced dishes depicting Chinese children together with Taihu stones (porous limestone) and peonies, and a linked chakra (royal wheel) motif around the rim.
In the Meiji period (from 1868) painters began to add their individual touches to the Chinese child design, and their expressions and appearance varied a lot. These joyful, appealing children's images continue to be produced to this day.