There are four distinct types of Japanese ceramics: earthenware, stoneware, porcelain, and glazed pottery. Satsuma ware is a type of Japanese gold-glazed pottery that originates from the 17th century. Satsuma ware was made from clay on Kyushu Island, and mass-produced during the 18th century. Due to its popularity, in the later 18th century, clay was brought from Kyushu Island to Awata, near Kyoto, where Satsuma ware was made. Satsuma ware is distinguishable by classic gold and polychrome colors with traditional Japanese themes. Satsuma ware also has a soft ivory-colored, crackled glaze — a major telltale sign distinguishing original Satsuma ware from fakes.
Look for the classic characteristics of a Satsuma vase. Look for fine detailing, which would include hand-painted details for the eyes, faces and costumes. These vases were widely reproduced, and inferior classic images would include shoddy art, or art that appears not to be hand-painted.
Examine the vase for small and intricate images that are on the surface of the pottery. Look for people, Japanese structures, animals, Japanese Immortals, and lifestyle scenes from Japan. Look for fishermen, or men in traditional garb carrying buckets. Look for the "1000 faces" design, which featured the images of many people on one vase.
Take a magnifying glass and look at the detail for evidence that the vase was hand-painted. The paint should appear somewhat raised over the porcelain in sections. Carefully guide the magnifying glass just over the surface to look for a slight cracked glaze. After the vases were hand-painted, they were glazed, and this glaze cracked slightly upon firing. Place the magnifying glass over the gold glaze sections next. The gold should have the look of real gold, and on antique pieces, this gold may be slightly faded. The gold should not look new or repainted in sections.
Look for pairs of vases. Some vintage or antique Satsuma vases measure 9 to 10 inches. Measure the vases to see if they are in that range of height. Look for vases with attached lids.
Look underneath the vase by turning it over carefully. If the vase has an attached lid, make sure it is on securely; if the lid is detachable, set it aside while you examine the vase for markings. Most antique or original Satsuma vases will not be marked. Newer or reproduction pieces are generally marked with the words Royal Satsuma, and this denotes a reproduction vase.