Kutani Ware Guide: Japanese Ceramics (Porcelain)

A traditional Japanese craft designated so by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Kutani ware is over 350 years old and is made in Ishikawa Prefecture in the Hokuriku region, which is also home to the famous tourist destination, Kanazawa. This craft is known for its colorful “gosai” design that utilizes reds, yellows, greens, purples, and blues. Today, craftspeople are using traditional crafting techniques to create new kinds of Kutani ware that incorporate methods such as “aochibu,” where spots of blue and white are painted onto the item.

The History of Kutani Ware

Copyright: Ishikawa Prefectural Tourism League

Kutani ware, known as “Kutani-Yaki” in Japanese, is a traditional Japanese craft that originated from Ishikawa Prefecture in the Hokuriku region, which is located in northern mainland Japan. Its history spans over 360 years.

It is believed that Kutani ware was first created in 1655 in the early Edo period. As with many other styles of ceramics, Kutani ware was named after the place it was created in, Kutani Village. People found pottery stone there, and from it created many porcelain works.

The above picture shows the Yoshidaya Kiln which was built in the latter half of the Edo Period (1781 – 1867). Even now, it remains exactly as it was at the time of excavation and is open to the general public.

Since its creation, Kutani ware designs have constantly adapted with the latest trends of the time, from the bold and colorful Ko-Kutani style to the Aochibu style (pictured above) of the Meiji Era that incorporated blue and white dotted patterns. It’s truly interesting observing the significant differences in the designs and colors based on the artist and the era.

For example, there are Kutani ware with extraordinary designs depicting nature scenes such as the mountains, sea, flowers, and birds. At the same time, there are also Kutani ware that mainly feature animals or people, dragons and other creatures of myth, or abstract patterns. Every piece of Kutani ware has a history that you can see just by looking at it, and by doing this you can unearth an entirely new perspective.

It can even be said that the reason why Kutani ware has persevered until today is because it incorporates traditional crafting techniques yet allows for freedom of expression.

The Characteristics of Kutani Ware

Copyright: Ishikawa Prefectural Tourism League

“Sometsuke” is a method of decorating ceramics which are painted on with a brush. With Kutani ware, this typically starts with a dark navy underglaze known as “gosu.” From there, red, yellow, green, purple, and blue are painted over the underglaze.

The process of applying these five colors over the underglaze is known as “overglaze,” and the result is magnificent. The finished design is bold, and when you take a closer look, you can clearly see that all the smaller details have been properly painted in.

This is an even more astounding feat when you realize that Kutani ware artisans are painting not just on flat surfaces like large flat plates, but containers, cups, and intricate ornaments!

Another type of painting method that has been growing in popularity since the Meiji Era (1868 – 1911) is “mori.” This technique involves thickly applying the paint, resulting in an almost 3D effect.

The plethora of painting methods being invented for Kutani ware is impressive, but one should also not fail to recognize the immeasurable skill, knowledge, and effort needed by artisans to create these.

When applying the paint, Kutani ware artisans need to consider not just the tone of the overall piece, but also what sort of design and finish they want the piece to have after it’s been fired for a second time. Since it’s not just about how well you can paint, it takes a lot of time and consideration to get the results you want.

Kutani Ware Today

Source: BECOS

Kutani ware is a craft that both carries on tradition while ever evolving. Since 1990, two Kutani ware artisans have been designated as Living National Treasures. Kutani ware has taken on a wide variety of expressions over time, and today you can even see it painted with sophisticated designs decorating modern rooms. Demand for Kutani ware eating utensils, ornaments, and interior goods has also risen.

Amazingly, more women have also become Kutani ware artisans. The delicate finishes and intricate beauty that they add to their Kutani ware works will surely give this traditional Japanese craft a new form of beauty.

Bean Incense Burner Cherry Blossom Map

Source: BECOS

A cute, tiny incense burner with a colorful sakura (cherry blossom) design. It’d go great in any room, and is highly recommended to anyone who likes the smell of incense.

Size: φ2.75″ x H2.75″ (Φ7 cm x H7 cm)
Material: Ceramic
Brand: Minoru Kawada (Kutani Ware)

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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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