Kutani ware is one of the most famous styles of Japanese ceramics. With a history of more than 360 years, Kutani is loved not only in Japan, but also in other places around the world. The pottery is known for its elaborate figurative paintings of landscapes, flowers and birds, as well as for it’s vivid use of dark colors and unique enamel design.
The history of Kutani ware
The art of kutani ware was established in 1655 in what is now a part of Kaga, Ishikawa. At the end of the 16th century, this region became the domain of the Maeda daimyo, who are celebrated to this day for their cultivation and celebration of cultural pursuits. Maeda Toshiharu (1618-1660), the first lord of the Daishōji domain, decided to start porcelain production after the discovery of the stone used to make porcelain. Maeda Toshiharu ordered Gotō Saijirō to learn how to make porcelain, and Gotō built a kiln in Kutani village and started production. Later, this became known as Kutani ware.
Over time, the kiln that were established in this region would become a landmark of the region. However, for unknown reasons, the production of kutani ware suddenly ceased in 1730, and would disappear for nearly one hundred years. Kutani ware that was created during this original period of 1655 to roughly 1730 are known as ko-kutani (literally, old kutani). Some theories as to why the production of kutani ceramics stopped are that it was difficult to find certain pigments are materials that were necessary for production. In addition, it is theorized that in the process of creating kutani ware producers may have faced financial difficulties. Because of this halt in production, kutani ware that were created using traditional production techniques from this period are exceptionally rare. In 1804, or possibly 1807, the production of kutani ware would see a revival, and a new wave of kutani production would commence that would continue to this day. This second phase of kutani production is known as Saiko-kutani (literally a renewed interest in the production of kutani ware.)
All about traditional Ko-Kutani ware
It is said that kutani ceramics were first made in Kutani which is now a part of Kaga in the Ishikawa prefecture of Japan. Traditional Kutani designs incorporated a distinct style through the implementation of the Kutani Gosai (久谷五彩) which are the five colors of ko-kutani. This color pallet involves the use of greens, yellows, purples, and shades of cyan, as well as red. I believe you can observe this color palate below through our Red Red Flowers and Bird Kutani Sauce Plate
Ko-kutani incorporates a style of design that emphasis a more lavish and extravagant aesthetic through the use of vivid colors. It is thought that long winters may have encouraged the use of vibrant colors to provide contrast to the bleak landscapes of Ishikawa when kutani was first being established.
You can see one of our designs that is modeled to resemble a tradtional ko-kutani below.
Interest in kutani ware grew worldwide with an exhibition at the 1873 Vienna world’s fair
When kutani ware was exhibited at the 1873 Vienna world’s Fair, interest in kutani ware grew in Europe and across the world. At the time of the event kutani ware was unveiled as “Japan kutani”, which cemented kutani ware as an exotic and unique Japanese art form. This was at the beginning of the Meiji period, just 5 years after the end of the Edo period, and the end of the closed nation state of Japan. In this time period, Japan would take their first steps to begin establishing relationships and contact with the outside world. We can think of kutani ware as one of the first Japanese ceramic pottery styles outsiders to Japan ever saw! The picture below is of the exhibition area of Japan during the 1873 Vienna world’s fair.
In 1979 the original kutani kilns located in modern day Kaga were designated as a National Historic Site of Japan. In modern times, Kutani production still has a strong cultural and economic foothold in Ishikawa, with many producers located in Komatsu city.
All about modern Saikō-Kutani ware
Production of kutani ware would see a revitalization in around 1805 through the assistance of additional Potter’s known in Japanese as a kamamoto. Over time, Saiko-kutani would incorpoate a variety of different design concepts and color combinations.
Aka-e style (赤絵) incorporates designs centered around the use of vibrant reds.
Kinran-de style (金欄手) incorporates designs centered around the use of gold
Mokubei style (木米) would be based on Chinese-inspired design philosophies painted over a base red background. Approximately 80 years after the decline of the Ko-Kutani, the Kasugayama kiln was founded in Kanazawa(Kaga Han). Aoki Mokubei introduced the Mokubei style.
Yoshidaya style (吉田屋) style mainly uses three colors, yellow, green, and aubergine. Yoshidaya Style, which is one of the most famous traditional style of Kutani Ware, was first created by Yoshidaya Denemon in 1824.
Shoza style (庄三) is a fusion of multiple previous kutani design philosophies, and would become the mainstream kutani style that would come to be known as “Japan Kutani”
This complexity of design particularly achieved by Kutani ware’s especially intricate designs. Kutani ware is renowned for this level of complexity. One reason kutani ware is able to continually evolve and achieve this level of complexity and its design is through the firing process and many layers of enamel glaze that are applied to the finished product. the designs of kutani ware are applied in many steps, where the outlines of a design are first added. Through many processes of firing the pottery in the kiln, a level of depth can be achieved which is not often seen in other forms of pottery.
The modern Mecca of kutani ware is located in Komatsu Ishikawa with many notable modern creators establishing production facilities in the area.
How kutani ware is made
There are many steps producers have to incorporate in order to make a successful kutani piece. I have summarized them briefly below. First, porcelain stone must be collected as a base material. Kutani ware is made from porcelain stone that is mined in the Hanasaka area of Ishikawa prefecture’s Komatsu city often called Hansaka porcelain. Hanasaka porcelain is sourced locally from Komatsu city, and has some unique properties that producers will have to consider during later steps in production. The harvested Hanasaka porcelain stone will contain many impurities, so producers will have to incorporate techniques in order to first purify the clay mixture for the molding process.
Subsequently, to achieve the desired look, many different means of molding the clay for each specific purpose exist. For example, the traditional means of molding clay is through the use of a pottery wheel by hand through the method of hand pinching. However this takes considerable time and effort, and so cast molding has become the mainstream option. After molding, the shaped clay must be fired in a kiln, And will then go through the process of glazing where a coating of enamel will then be applied. The glazed pottery will then go through the Kiln one more time, this time at a much higher temperature.
The final last step is to decorate and paint the kutani ware. For a more in-depth explanation of this process that includes pictures, please check out our article here:
How to use Kutani ware
Kutani ware can be used for a variety of purposes from basic tableware to use as a decorative piece. There really are countless different applications for kutani ware. In addition, kutani ware is produced in a variety of sizes that should allow you to find a piece that will perfectly match the requirements of your home or work space. Perhaps you could use kutani Ware to liven up your kitchen, a flower vase for your garden, or as a way to provide an extra sense of visual flare to your favorite room. The designs of Kutani ware itself can be modern or traditional, but they can add a touch of color to any styling of your table.
At Musubi Kiln, We offer both more traditional and more modern designs and have categories for each in our store. Perhaps you can find something that will suit your exact needs.