Flowers, plants and trees, butterflies, birds, fish, waves, snow, people — the motifs on mamezara (petite plates) run the gamut of worldly phenomena. But when you begin sorting through them, you soon realize that the most prominent among them could all be designated as kisshō (auspicious) images — plants, animals, natural objects, kanji and so forth that have long been regarded as favorable omens or felicitous symbols.
Among the most common are pine trees, bamboo and plum blossoms (the traditional Chinese “three friends of winter” — shōchikubai in Japanese); cranes and turtles; and Mount Fuji. The plates offer a fascinating perspective on how the ancients attributed meaning to all things under heaven. The motifs may be painted, etched, carved in low relief or even worked into the shape of the plate itself.
One design you will inevitably encounter if you begin hunting for mamezara is karakusa. This continuous pattern of intertwining vines and leaves has long been a favored symbol of prosperity, making it another kisshō motif. Aficionados revel in the tremendous variation among karakusa patterns, which include the tentacle-like tako-karakusa; the more delicate, flowery hana-karakusa; and the abstract tendrils of mijin-karakusa. Plates with this design hold a special appeal, as they fit into a modern setting without seeming the least bit out of place.
Also worthy of note are pieces that have been glazed with solid colors. In spite of these plates’ small size, their vivid greens, yellows and other hues can serve as perfect accent colors, whether on the dining table or in some other space. In addition to lazuline-blue Imari ware, many fine examples of Minpei and Gennai ware, with their beautiful yellows and greens, can still be found.