Both widely known in Japan and throughout the world for their unique colourful designs, these traditional Japanese porcelain called Kutani are simply stunning. Even today, Kutani designs and brushwork keep evolving which is the reason why more and more collectors are embracing Kutani. In this article we introduce one of the Japan’s northern area’s traditional arts, Ishikawa Prefecture’s famous Kutani.
Japanese beauty with over 360 years of history
The Kutani designs are painted on kiln fired porcelain using a special glazing paint in 5 different colours including red, yellow, green, purple and deep blue. Once the designs are painted the porcelain is again kiln fired in the traditional way. The captivating hand painted pictures of mountains, water courses, birds, flowers and landscapes are motivated by Japan’s natural environment (Japan’s traditional rural life).
Since appearing at the Vienna International Exhibition in 1873 this traditional porcelain has been called Japan Kutani and the name has spread around the globe. Furthermore, Kutani is famous for being given as gifts from the Japanese Imperial House and was also presented to Prince Charles of England in celebration of the royal marriage.
In the 1890s Kutani became Japan’s number one export ceramic and even today the Kutani tradition is still continuing among artists including some of Japan’s famous artists labeled as living national treasures.
The history and artistic style of Kutani
Let’s talk a bit about the fascinating history of Kutani. It all started back around 1655 in Kutani village in the southern part of Ishikawa Prefecture now known as Kaga city. High quality porcelain stone had been found in the area and Lord Maeda Toshiharu of the Daishoji Clan ordered one of his men Goto Saijiro to travel to the Kutani village and startup a pottery kiln for making high quality ceramics. For the first 50 years the Kutani kiln produced porcelain-ware that was highly valued until production was stopped in the early 1700s and didn’t restart until 100 years later. The Kutani style produced back in this early period is known as KoKutani. Around 1810 production at Kutani village was re-established and new colourful brushwork styles were incorporated into the Kutani designs. This changing of brushwork styles and glazing techniques in Kutani ware can be seen reflecting the various historical periods in Japan and is another characteristic of Kutani that has fascinated fans and collectors over the years.
1655 – 1700 Goto Saijiro
The original KoKutani style used 5 different colours; red, yellow, green, purple and deep blue. It was a bold, authentic artwork centering on flowering plants and trees, waterways and Japanese natural landscapes that had a simple yet powerful charm.
1805 – 1817: Aoki Mokubei
The Mokubei style was heavily influenced from China and the artwork generally consisted of figures of people painted in 5 different colours over a red base.
1818 – 1829 Toyota Denemon
A distinguishing feature of the Yoshita style was the absence of red dye used in the designs. The fine brushwork depicted pictures of birds, flowering plants, trees and Japanese natural landscapes. It is said that the Yoshita style brought Kutani back to its roots and restored its substance, depth and uniqueness characteristic of the original KoKutani style.
1830 – 1845 Iida Hachirouemon
Using very fine red brushstrokes, detailed figures of people were drawn. The designs were filled with these detailed figures with gold trim used here and there to bring out the elegance.
1865 – 1868 Eiraku Wazen
The Eiraku style was characterized by luxurious fine gold patterns drawn over a red base layer.
1860 – 1880 Kutani Shoza
The Shoza style is a combination of all the styles used from the original KoKutani period up to the start of the Meiji period as well as some western influences. Some western made painting tools were also used which gave the designs a luxurious yet bold natural style containing the characteristic pictures of birds, flowering plants, trees and Japanese natural landscapes but with a slight western influence. The business flourished from this time and the Kutani name became very famous.
The types of Kutani pottery and how to use
Most people when hearing the word “Traditional works of art” think of something which is far out of reach of the average person. However, the Kutani range extends from the national treasure level to reasonably priced beautiful ceramics available to us all made for everyday use. The Kutani charm has captivated many of us and made collectors out of fans over the world not just in Japan. Especially popular for gifts and interior home decoration, Kutani is also perfect to use at home on the dinner table as it makes both the food and dining table look absolutely fantastic. Great for intercultural exchanges or home parties the Kutani charm is known to be a conversation starter making any party a huge success. Kutani ware is not only used for Japanese cuisine but also at some French restaurants in Japan because it is said that Kutani ware matches well with western food. Kutani-ware has a wide range of dishes, small cups, spoons, bowls, cases, and teapots, all with that unique Kutani character. Have a browse through the Kutani range, you won’t be disappointed.
Here are a few words from Kutani owners.
Reiko from Tokyo
I grew up having Kutani pottery around the house as my Mum always used them. The small plates called the meihin series are really handy and I use them every day. Of course they are great for parties but I recommend using them for anything. Kutani has a stunning variety of colours and can instantly give the meal a glamorous feel especially when one colour dominates the dining table. I’m looking forward to getting a set of Kutani rice bowls next.
Greg from Adelaide, South Australia
These plates are so cool, such beautiful designs and top quality they really make eating nice Japanese food that much better. My wife made traditional Japanese New Year’s food called Osechi and we used these plates. Our guests couldn’t stop talking about them. I’m collecting the plates and also want to get some of the small cups for green tea and sake!!
How did you like the story of Kutani? Even today, Kutani designs and brushwork keep evolving and changing with the times. Kutani is sure to give your home dining experience that extra something you’ve been looking for.
You can purchase Kutani in Australia too here!
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About Ishikawa & Kanazawa
From March 2015 access to the established hometown of Kutani in Ishikawa Prefecture has become very convenient due to the opening of the Hokuriku bullet train. From Tokyo to Kanazawa, the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture, only takes 2 hours 28 minutes. Apart from the great sightseeing and food Kutani is now another one of Kanazawa’s fantastic tourist attractions.
<Ishikawa Prefecture at a glance>
Located in the Hokuriku region in central Honshu, Japan Seaside. Ishikawa Prefecture is shaped like the letter F running from north to south. In the Edo period the traditional culture was centered around the old castle town of Kanazawa. Kanazawa has retained its culture including Noh (classical musical drama), Kaga Yuzen (traditional cloth dyeing technique), Wajima city and the Kaga area where high traditional techniques in artistry have been inherited such as Kutani. The number of selected art works from Ishikawa Prefecture for the Japan Fine Arts Exhibition (Nitten) is the most in the country.
- Population: 1.16 million
- Area: 4,185.66km² (Japan sea coast line extends 581km)
- Capital: Kanazawa city
- Australian sister city: Penrith (NSW) – Hakusan (Ishikawa Prefecture)
Kanazawa’s main attraction is Kenrokuen which is one of the top 3 gardens in Japan. Tourists can enjoy the garden beautifully lit up at night when in season.
English homepage: http://www.pref.ishikawa.jp/siro-niwa/kenrokuen/e/index.html
Kanazawa Castel Park
Next to Kenrokuen, it is free to enter during the season. When in season the garden is beautifully lit up at night and often concerts are held on the grounds.
This area has a real traditional atmosphere with cobble stone roads and traditional wooden buildings. With many souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants, Higashi Chayagai is very popular among tourists. There are two other areas, Nishi Chayagai and Kazuemachi Chayagai in Kanazawa which are also popular. You can often hear the sounds of Shamisen and Taiko as you stroll through the streets and may even spot a local Geisha.
Ishikawa Prefecture Kutani Art Museum
You can enjoy both the beautiful garden and also the art museum. Apart from the Kutani traditional porcelain on display, there is also a café on the second floor that uses Kutani-ware.
Called the kitchen of Kanazawa by locals, there are over 185 shops selling local produce and everyday items.
The local Hokuriku food is a hit with most tourists with many sushi and seafood restaurants within easy reach.
English guide: http://ohmicho-ichiba.com/ohmicho/pdf/en.pdf
Amenotawaraya is the oldest candy shop in Kanazawa and has been in business for over 180 years. The candy is made from rice and barley and has retained its original flavour.
Kanazawa Tourist Information