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The fascinating world of Kinzan Kiln

by Sayuri
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Once you see one, you will probably never forget it.

The colors are as vivid as a watercolor painting and the artisanship is incredibly exquisite.

These beautiful pieces are all Kutani ware from the “Kinzan Kiln”. They are absolutely beautiful in photographs, but when you see the pieces in person, you will be impressed by the delicate brilliance of the gold and the refined texture of the paint and porcelain themselves.

Although their products make you feel special when you use them at your table, they make your space more attractive when you display them.

You will feel as if you have acquired a one-of-a-kind work of art that is beautiful both to use and to display.

Unique and Beautiful Kutani ware made by Kinzan Kiln

In the traditional craft world of Japan, where “Wabi-Sabi” * are highly valued, color is not much preferred. Especially in ceramics and porcelain, most works make use of the characteristics of the clay, and it is very rare to use many different colors, such as Kutani ware, which uses colored paintings on white porcelain.

So, from the perspective of such a general traditional craft, their works are quite unique.

“But this is what makes us unique. I want to show the beauty of the colorful and gold Kutani ware has while using traditional techniques.” Said Mr. Yukio Yoshita, the fourth generation of Kinzan Kiln.

“Wabi-Sabi”… Wabi-Sabi are words to appreciate Japanese aesthetic sensibilities, which represents “beauty within simplicity and imperfection.

Kinzan Kiln is specializing in Kutani ware overglaze painting, located in Takado-cho, Komatsu City, Ishikawa Prefecture. It was established in 1906 by Shosaku Yoshida, the first generation of the family, and has continued to produce Kutani ware for about 110 years.

At Kinzan Kiln, Mr. Yukio’s wife, Rumiko, and the third-generation potter, Mr. Minori, who is Yukio’s father, are working on the pottery. Mr. Minori is a master of “Yuri Kinsai” (gold glazing with underglaze) and is one of the artisans certified as a living national treasure (designated by the national government as an important intangible cultural property holder).

The mainstream of Kutani ware is Kinrande, a decorative technique in which gold paint is baked onto the surface of the pottery. Mr. Yukio also specializes in “Kinrande”, he layers and textures the colors and painstakingly draws the patterns one by one with a brush. Kinzan Kiln is rare among many kilns in that it has been manufacturing gold powder in-house for a long time.

They grind gold leaf into fine gold powder, a process called “Kinkeshi,” which produces finer and more colorful products than those on the market.

Only developing by myself brings a new work

Do you notice that the works of Kinzan Kiln, which continues to produce works with great attention to detail, even the gold used for the works, are different from ordinary Kutani ware?

It is the unevenness on the surface of the pieces and the watercolor-like colors.

Mr. Yukio told us about the beginnings of the unique character of Kinzan Kiln.

“One of the techniques of old Kutani ware is the layering of overglaze enamels. By layering the colors instead of mixing them, it is possible to create subtle shades. One day, I was thinking, “What if I tried this with the Western-style paints that we use now? I thought, “Wouldn’t that be beautiful? Also, I realized that if I made the surface of the piece uneven, I could change the texture of the porcelain product, and the colors would be more expressive.”

Mr. Yukio continued to brush up on his idea. Through such a process of trial and error, the style of Kinzan Kiln has reached its present day.

After listening to his talk, I assumed that his method of incorporating new techniques while respecting tradition was the spirit he succeeded from his father, Minori, the third generation.

This is because Mr. Minori once said the following.

“I don’t think that tradition means just repeating and creating something wonderful that was suddenly born in a certain time. Even if the techniques and materials are traditional, we must always add something new to suit the times. I think that accumulation is what tradition is all about. You cannot create a new work of art unless you invent it yourself. I believe that through this daily process of trial and error, traditional techniques will be universally inherited.”

I think all of his words reflect the spirit of craftsmanship that Kinzan Kiln continues to pursue. While inheriting the virtues of tradition, the artisans at Kinzan kiln successfully add the essence of modernity to create their products suitable for our tables.

Developing a new collection ‘Shugu’ Series

Lastly, I would like to introduce the new ‘Shugu’ series launched by Kinzan Kiln in 2015.

Simple, strong forms and elegant patterns with gold. These series were created under the supervision of Mr. Moritaka, Yukio’s younger brother, who is an industrial designer.

In creating this series, he selected what he thought were the best from the wide variety of techniques and patterns that Kinzan Kiln has produced in the past and took a lot of ideas from the kiln staff in terms of design.

The arabesque pattern “Shiromori” used for this sake cup is actually one of the traditional techniques of Kutani ware, and each pattern was created from the voices of the staff who wanted to make it.

“Eventually, I hope that the artisans inside will be able to produce products spontaneously without the help of outsiders.”

There is a reason why Moritaka says so. In recent years, the Kutani ware industry, including Kinzan Kiln, has been suffering from a lack of successors as the elders retire one after another. The majority of the staff at Kinzan are now young, in their 30s and 40s, so the Shugu development project was also aimed at training successors.

Once the shape and design were almost decided, he started communicating with the company in charge of creating the base material.

“The fun thing about handwork is that you can try out what you have made right away,” said Mr. Moritaka. “We make improvements little by little, getting closer to the ideal.”

That is how the Shugu series of neat and clean products in a very limited number of colors was created.

When creating the product, Yukio, the fourth generation, said that he wanted to create a product that was fun to look at and fun to use on a daily basis.

And they made exactly what he said he wanted.

Tradition continues to be developed and refined

It is easy to buy cheap, mass-produced products, but how many people continue to use them with passion and attachment?

Tradition and innovation are handed down from generation to generation, and I believe that the more we continue to use something that is filled with the passion of its creator, the more attractive it becomes. And we can feel the joy of using such things for a long time itself. The artisans of Kinzan Kiln are constantly trying to innovate their techniques, styles, and production processes. I can’ t take my eyes off the world view they create i

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