Conveying both the warmth of the earth and the comforting taste of hand-painted pieces.
The art of crafting Kokuzou Kiln pottery.
Kokuzou Kiln was founded in 1997. From fashioning premium fabrics, creating ceramic paintings, and kiln pottery, Kokuzou Kiln is a rare presence in the industry as a company that crafts in the kunitani ware space just as we do, but operates with a consistency unseen in other pottery makers. Furthermore, Kunitani are thought to especially rare pottery crafted from clay, however, Kokuzou Kiln focuses primarily on creating pottery made from porcelain. Their pottery is made with a distinctive texture and warmth, and provide a great user experience appropriate to the natural mateirals incorporated in Kokuzou Kiln‘s various wares. Through incorporating original shapes and designs into their craft to create some truly eye-catching kutani ware.
Kokuzou Kiln’s popular mainline product: Ippuku bowls
Made with a soft and rounded film, Ippuku bowls Contain all of the warmth and quality indicative of high quality porcelain. The product’s beautiful pattern has been laboriously hand-crafted inch-by-inch. When referring to Kokuzou Kiln, you should be sure to mention this piece.
Left: Ippuku bowl pink flower pot.
Right: Ippuku bowl with overglaze enamel design (black)
“Ippuku bowls as a craft have existed since the early days of pottery.” says Takahiro Ichida-san, Kokuzou Kiln’s current representative.
Isn’t it true that ippuku bowls have been primarily made from clay since the industry was formed?。
“Yes, I had heard this myself. It is commonly thought that pottery was traditionally made from clay. We had originally had the thought, “Let’s create a unique product, and infuse it with the warmth only a handmade product can achieve. This was the mindset in those olden days. More so than the mainstream porcelain kutani ware, clay pottery was a better fit for this vision. We adopted and continually pursued this mindset as a part of our unique Kokuzou Kiln culture.”
Ippuku bowls are abundant in patterns
Certainly. Kokuzou Kiln pottery embraces design philosophy of “Clay meets hand-crafted”, and Kokuzou Kiln ippuku bowls in particular stand out. Ippuku bowls are one of the flagship Kokuzou Kiln products, correct?
” Ippuku bowls have been one of the great long selling products at Kokuzou Kiln. We originally hosted a lineup of over 300 different variations of ippuku bowl products. From material creation and hand drawn ceramics, we were operating all of these processes at one time. Considering all of this as well as our pottery creations, I think we had a great track record. Currently regarding our current production of small ippuku bowls, we are producing 50 types of unique and popular ippuku bowl designs. “
Kokuzou Kiln molds each ippuku bowl by hand in the pottery spinner, one bowl at a time
Has the shape and design of the ippuku bowl changed since Kokuzou Kiln was founded?
“We arrived at our current film design by listening to direct feedback from our customers. We hand craft our pottery from the very first steps to completion by first crafting our materials from scratch, and eventually adding in all design elements, so I believe that our ability to flexibly adjust to the needs of our customers is one of our unique strengths. We have made sure to adjust our pattern designs from time to time, however, we are still producing some of out original designs. One of these is the 古染椿.”
Left: Ippuku bowl 古染椿 (red)
Right: Ippuku bowl (small version) 古染椿
The 古染椿. I see. That is a beautiful design.
While Kokuzou Kiln had considered streamlining Ippuku bowl and smaller Ippuku bowl designs. However, duplicating an exact design though multiple bowls may seem like a simple task, but to achieve this properly takes a considerable amount of craft and technique. A tip of my hat to the level of skill of all clay molders and artists who make these designs possible.
The Turkish enamel series; Individuality in design
Following the crafting of ippuku bowls, Kokuzou Kiln produced a wide variety of painted ceramics. However, one line of products that are particularly unique in it’s design is the Turkish glaze series. This is a series without any painted decoration and is heated with only a Turkish blue enamel.
Turkish enamel series
“We have gone to visit an enamel shop and started crafting this Turkish blue special enamel. To achieve the ideal blue we had continued to mix composition and mix composition, finally reaching the perfect enamel. However, completing the composition of an enamel is not the final goal. There is another hurdle to jump over, which is to achieve the ideal temperature while firing the kiln. Depending on the temperature, the color of the blue can alter, and air bubbles can form in the enamel. To reliably achieve the exact color we imagined it must have taken around a year of painstaking effort. I would have to say that the production of the Turkish Blue was our most strenuous project yet. ”
Our experts who have focused on the production of this Turkish enamel set included our pottery turners and Tetsuya Ichida-san. I then asked Ichida-san about his reason for creating this Turkish enamel set. He had this to say;
” I really love the color blue. In particular, I love when the sun hits the water and creates the perfect shining cerulean blue. In addition, I can’t draw, but I am confident in my ability to sculpt. I wanted to create an attractive product that would be whole through sculpting alone, without the need for skillful painting. My love for sculpting, and my favorite color; this Turkish enamel set was the perfect synthesis of two of my interests. “
I heard from Takahiro that the level of trouble you went through to create this set matched it’s level of beauty.
“People often think that a sculpture without painting is simple to create, but is really not the case. The development of the enamel and perfection of the exact firing temperature took a considerable amount of time, and even now every time we commence to firing the process remains difficult. We cannot become complacent. We occasionally have to deal with unforeseen defects in the production process, so this is a difficult product to produce. ”
There are other manufacturers that create the Turkish blue, but I think Kokuzou Kiln’s Turkish Blue achieves a truly magnificent silhouette. I feel that the attention to the details of the sculpting and originality found in the Kokuzou Kiln pieces are truly precise.
An affinity for sculpture; an attention to detail
“Kokuzou Kiln makes it’s sales through the allure of hand-crafted items. So we don’t have any desire to make items that will sell based solely on their shape. We make hand-crafted pottery that can only be truly realized after being fired up, that have a shape that only be truly realized after it has been formed. This is what we strive to make. “
Do you make sure to take the same amount of time to hand-craft with care some of your other products, such as your Kokuzou Kiln brand mugs?
“That’s right. After forming the shape in the pottery wheel we pulled clay from 3 distinct points and molded it’s form accordingly. We also did the same to the side as well. Following this, we cut about 1.5 centimeters from the bottom and made adjustments, but some distinct remnants from the pottery wheel remained in upper half. Removing these ‘imperfections’ would give the final product a more complete sense of unity, but this would be comparably dull. Rather than shaving it’s shape down to a standard of beauty, we hoped to keep intact the charm of the hand-pulled look. “
A clay mug formed before firing.
The circumference of the rim is meticulously curved to achieve a special nuance.
Left: Mug, Violet
Right: Mug, overglazed enamel
The feeling one gets from holding a piece of Kokuzou Kiln pottery is a sense of comfort steeped in earthen materials and the passion of hand-crafted goods. Kokuzou Kiln goods are hand-crafted, and have achieved a one-of-a-kind form. When thinking of this pieces form, the silhouette of this cup is also uniquely characteristic. Crafting a goblet out of porcelain is a truly interesting concept.
“I prefer a more frigid and dignified form. Its also crucial to be able to show off a thinner base. In regard to a goblet`s, I really like to create the absolute thinnest base possible. The goblet may not maintain proper posture if the base is too thin, so we really strive to create a base that is just thin enough to be both aesthetically pleasing and stable.”
Striving to achieve a sense of coherency
In the Kutani ware industry many companies are separating the creation of materials and the painting of the product, but Kokuzou Kiln believes in creating a level coherency between all of their products.
Kokuzou Kiln also creates crafting materials that are made from clay.
These are pieces that will later be painted.
From product molding to painting . Kokuzou Kiln does it all.
Because of this, Kokuzou Kiln has no choice but to take responsibility for any errors in the production process. Despite all of this Kokuzou Kiln still maintains consistency across it`s wares. I asked Takahiro about the merits of this process.
“Kokuzou Kiln is a one-stop-shop for anything you would want to create. We can create everything ourselves without needing to contact an outside craft shop or vendor, and we even offer our customers the opportunity to paint and crafts themselves at our studio. Our firers and painters work together under the same roof, so communication is comparatively speedy. “
What was the spark of inspiration that makes you want to create each ware?
“I would say that the exact inspiration for us was rather intangible. We get a lot of hints from the off-the-cuff things customers say, like they may say that they like certain colors such as in our Turkish enamel series, and sometimes we may get the thought to create a certain piece. As an important step of production we first must consider more realistic factors such as productivity and profitability, but our initial inspiration is typically much more ethereal. “
Dripper and pot
Despite their goal to strive for consistency in their lineup, Kokuzou Kiln dabbles in challenging some more avant garde projects as well. Kokuzou Kiln is a unique company, as a brand with products that both support a desire to maintain continuity, and as a company with products in their lineup that are wholly unique concepts that you can’t find anywhere else.
A series born from a singular project; A change in direction by turning the strawberry design into a new series
I was drawn to the SweetS series, which is an especially cute lineup when compared to other Kokuzou Kiln products.
SweetS 5 small plate set
I interviewed Maki Ichida, who was directly involved in the design of the SweetS series.
SweetS breakfast plate.
Is it correct that the Sweets series was born from a project of selling valentines at 100 yen shops?
“That`s right. The theme of the project was strawberry-inspired design. With the goal in mind of creating a cute and delicious-looking plate, our first plate, “strawberry” was born. “
I had heard that the reception was really great. Did you continue to hear from your buyers?
“Yes, they would ask things like, “Are you considering making any other sweets-themed plates?”
That must have been a pivotal moment for the creation of this series.
” (Laughs) We had made considerations for what other kind of sweets would be suitable, and what we ultimately decided on was the kutani wucai. From the colors of the kutani wucai style we created 4 new additional designs.
These new designs were pancake, melon soda, blueberry jam, and chocolate banana, correct?
SweetS Tea cup
“The goal of this series is to create delicious-looking plates. To achieve this goal, we have painted each piece in a more 3-dimensional way. By painting each piece so that it looks like each food item is really there, I believe we have achieved a beautiful series with a truly delicious appearance. In addition, the fluffy appearance of each dish achieves helps to achieve this effect as well.”
This art of `deep painting` is a special characteristic of kunitaniyaki works. However, using this technique to achieve the effect of giving a piece a delicious appearance is an interesting gimmick.
Creating a motif through kaga mizuhiki production
Our inspiration for creating the mizuhiki series was our customer feedback that many people found the craftsman ship of our Kaga Mizuhiki work cute. This is one of the more “ethereal” inspirations Takahiro spoke about before.
Mizuhiki small plate 5 set
Our painter Okuno san also enjoys the craftsmanship involved in making mizuhiki, and tried to capture that in this particular motif of painting. When asking Okuno san about his experience, they had this to say:
“Mizuhiki accessories are cute, aren’t they? I often draw specific designs in reference to the design of Kaga Yuzenn, so I thought I would try my hand at working on a Mizuhiki vessel with a similar feeling. This did prove to be pretty difficult “
Mizuhiki, cup and saucer
A three-dimensional mizuhiki must really stand on it`s own when compared to a two-dimensional mizuhiki, right?
” That’s right. I quickly realized that it is very difficult to capture three-dimensional mizuhiki in a two-dimensional image.”
That seems very difficult…
“That’s right. However, there is no better way to learn than actually doing. As I observed the actual mizuhiki I would draw, draw, draw, over and over again. Finally, once I was able to capture the look of one mizuhiki knot, I was able to capture the entire mizuhiki with paint. It is important to consider not just the part you can see, but the back-side of the mizuhiki as well, and how it may connect to the visible areas. I was constantly imagining this while I was painting. “
Mizuhiki, ippuku bowl
These bowls were about to be completed with painstaking effort, is that right?
“That’s right. That being said, when compared to the many other Kokuzou Kiln products, many of which contain elaborate painting and designs, the mizuhiki series designs are mostly barren. They stand on their own, and I do wonder if sometimes they may feel as if they are missing something? (laughs) “
There is certainly nothing missing. Rather, they give off a cute and elegant impression. Because of their minimalist design, you can truly appreciate their craftsmanship and the texture and atmosphere of their materials, which I felt was an experience truly in-line with Kokuzou Kiln’s design philosophies.
Mizuhiki square plate
“Thank you very much.”
After listening to this story they both got lost thinking about painting.
Kokuzou Kiln into the future
I had a chance to speak one more time to the CEO of Kokuzou Kiln, Takahiro-san about the future plans for the company.
“In the old days, new products would be shown off at an exhibition and introduced that way. This was a fast cycle. However, this is different to the current climate. I feel that we have entered the era of the product series. Of course we try to introduce new pieces, but we can not move on so quickly to a new project as we did in the old days. We hope that many people whether singular or plural will become accustomed to the series we have created. We hope that they will become a fan of Kokuzou Kiln. For this purpose, we are continuously working hard every day. Contrary to the past, nowadays we are equipped with many tools that enable us to share our brand with the world. We hope to use these tools to the best of our ability, and create many life-long lovers of Kokuzou Kiln. “