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Kutani ware was originally produced around 1655 when the Maeda clan wanted to compete with Kyoto's thriving ceramics trade. Kutani village local-man, Saijiro Goto, was sent to learn and bring the technique of Arita ware back to Ishikawa prefecture.  In this year, the first Kutani kiln was established in the village of Kutani, meaning nine valleys.  The history of Kutani ware is rich and complex.  Prized styles, such as those described below, have been established over the last 350 years.  

Archeological evidence as well as many family histories show that Kutani is an important local industry and a craft with demand abroad.  Carefully preserved pieces of this unique art are displayed in Oriental art museums in Europe and America.  As each piece moves through the production process from the clay quarry to the final firing, life is put into the piece.  Firm hands magically change clay into beautiful and functional art.

Tradition and Styles of Kutani

Ko Kutani style (1650-1670) is the old style that Ko Kutani founder Saijiro Goto worked in. The design is strong and simple; the colors are vivid and bold. The production of Ko Kutani ended in the Genroku era but the cause is somewhat unknown. Some sources say that Saijiro Goto had not passed the craft onto a next generation when he died but other sources say that it was either the unavailability of materials, financial difficulties, or suspicion by the government that illegal international trade was happening within the kiln.  The colors used in this style are exclusively red, yellow, green, blue, and purple.

Mokubei style (1805-1816) was founded by Mokubei Aoki who reinstated the local tradition of pottery making during the Edo Tokugawa era.
Red base with Chinese style figures painted in green, yellow, and blue signify this style.  Mokubei was one of the three famed potters of the time.

Yoshidaya style(1818-1829) was founded when Denuemon Toyota, a rich merchant from the Kutani area, restarted the closed Kutani kiln. This Enuma kiln was built near the previous Kutani kiln, but a year later, moved due to the harsh conditions of the region. Effects of the freely luxurious political mood can be seen in the style of painting. Bright green, blue, yellow, and purple were used, but never red. Patterns in the style include small plants, flowers, and birds. This style is considered to be Old Kutani revived.

Iidaya style (1830-1845) conspired when Iida Hachirouemon took over the Yoshidaya business. The characteristic detailed figures drawn in fine red patterns with gold ornaments were very fashionable at the time and are truly remarkable. Common subjects in China including "the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Forest" are depicted in this style which may also be called Hachirode, Hachiro, and Hoshibokufu.

Eiraku style (1865-1868) became well known when Eiraku Wazen, a 12th generation potter, came from Kyoto to manage the Miyamoto kiln, where Iidaya style originated. In this style subjects such as flowers, birds, beasts, or insects are painted in gold over a red base with a one stroke drawing technique. It is also referred to as Kinrande, Zengoro, or Kasugayama style, and is also painted and glazed in reversed colors.

Shoza style (1841 to present) originates in Kutani Ino Seiho hometown of Terai. The style is a mixture of all previous Kutani styles but characteristically uses western influenced pentachrome and gold paints over glazed enamel. The style is a unique mixture of western and Japanese styles, and it has popularized Kutani in the west. Patterns are intricately detailed with flowers, birds, human figures, and nature scenes. From the Meiji Era (1867-1912) until recently, it was the main style of Kutani production. Shoza style is also referred to as Saishiki kinrande style.

Aochibu style (Taisho Era (1912-1926) present) uses blue-green paint applied generously to form raised dots. This creates an extra dimension in the paint by giving a unique bumpy texture. Ao meaning blue and chibu (or tsubu) meaning dots, describes this style perfectly. The uniformity of size, color, and spacing of the dots must be exact. This is another technique that requires fine skill. Notice the intricate patterns formed by the placement of the dots.

Ginsai style is a modern rendition of ornately applied gold paint. Gin, meaning silver, is applied under a transparent or colored glaze, producing a long lasting, soft and simple product that will never rub off, rust, or peel.

Yusai style uses combinations of five different enamel glazes painted in a blended pattern. Overlapping colors produce a stunning gradation effect.
Hiroshi Shibata and Yasokichi Tokuda III are fine artisans producing this style of work.

Yuri kinsai style is a reversal of the normal Kinsai style, and uses methods comparable to Ginsai style. In Yuri Kinsai style, enamel glaze is applied over gold powder or film. This allows the finish to be durable and soft. Minori Yoshida has been designated a national living treasure for his work in the Yuri Kinsai style.

Mori style (1924-present) is an ornate textured pattern introduced by Takichi Nishi. It is often used with gold coloring on small figurines. In Kyoto Mori style is called Ichin Style.

Shonzui or Sometsuke style originates in the late Chinese late Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) from Jing De Zhen (Keitokuchin) kiln in Jing De Zhen city, Jing Xi province, in China. It is a type of Sometsuke style, which is the general name given to all ceramics painted with cobalt under glaze. The pattern is simple and effective with its stark cobalt blue color. The pattern is detailed, yet tranquil, simple and pleasing to the eye.

For more information on Kutani tradition and style please visit some of the links listed on our resource page

Production Process of Kutani Ware

Most of the clay used in Kutani ware is quarried locally. At the factory it is crushed and ground into a fine powder. Impurities are removed by soaking the powder in water before drying the clay to a workable consistency.   A vacuum wedging machine is used to carefully remove any pockets of air.

Once the clay enters the shaping stage it may be thrown on a wheel or slip cast.  A number of tools are used for trimming, mounting, and decorating on the potter's wheel before the piece is slowly dried by air.

Firing begins in the kiln at 800C for eight hours. Once the piece is painted and dried it is covered with a glaze by dipping or painting.  The next firing is at 1300C for 15 hours. Over glaze painting is then performed before the next firing at 800-1000C. If gold or silver are to be applied a forth fire at 400C will complete the production process.

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