Peranakan tiles, as they are now often called in Singapore, have symbolised a love of foreign design for over a century. With their bright colour palette and bold motifs, these heritage gems are often assumed to be of European origin due to their gentle and classical designs. So it’s a surprise to find out that many popular designs in Singapore were made Japan! Why is this the case?
Japanese tiles entered the global tile market for a short but very active period between WWI and WWII. Although it might seem natural for Japan to export ceramics due to their long history of beautiful creations, it took some time for the nation to transition from the traditional hand-made way of producing ceramics to modernised methods involving machinery and new types of chemicals.
In fact, Japan turned to foreign consultants such as German-born scientist and educator Gottfried Wagner to help fast-track things. Dubbed the ‘father’ of modern Japanese ceramics, Wagner was invited to Japan in 1868 to work for an American trading company. He quickly moved onto his true calling as an educator and researcher, and successfully trained the first generation of Japanese technicians in tile technology.
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