The exquisitely colorful Kutani porcelain comes from the region between Kanazawa and Kagaonsen, in Ishikawa prefecture, the former domains of Kaga and Daishoji. In this region, a kiln near Daisyoji produced tea ceramics in Seto style from the end of the 16th century. In 1655, after the discovery of kaolin and quartz in the Kutani region, Lord Maeda Toshiharu, from the Daisyoji line of the Kaga dynasty, ordered the construction of two kilns in Kutani for the production of iro-e porcelain with overglaze painting for the tea ceremony. In 1661, when the products did not meet expectations, his successor sent a retainer, Goto Saijiro, to Arita to learn the techniques of porcelain production practiced there. After Saijiro’s return, both kilns are reported to have produced sometsuke porcelain with cobalt underglaze painting, as well as the characteristic ko-Kutani ware, a type of porcelain with overglaze enamels, for about 50 years. Two types were produced: ao-de(green) porcelain, in which the entire surface of the pot?and yellow, or more rarely in aubergine; and the colorful gosai(five-colored) porcelain in the characteristic shades of Russian green, maize yellow, Prussian blue, red, and manganese purple. Around 1670 and 1710, production from the kilns came to a standstill, but the reasons for the closures are unknown. Archaeological evidence from the vicinity of the kilns also gives reason to doubt that this really was the production site for ko-Kutani. The latest research suggests that ko-Kutani was in fact produced in Arita on instructions from the Maeda family.
Over the next century, stoneware and raku were certainly produced in the domains of Kaga and Daisyoji, but not porcelain. Only from 1807 on, when the Kaga clan attempted to revive ko-Kutani ware, was porcelain with overglaze enamels produced in a number of kilns. The term saiko-Kutani(revived Kutani) has been established for Kutani-yaki from this second phase of production. There were five main styles: Mokubei, Yoshidaya, Iidaya, Eiraku, and Shoza ware.
The earliest attempt to revive the production of porcelain goes back to the famous potter Aoki Mokubei from Kyoto, who in 1807 started up the Kasugayama-gama, near Kanazawa, but by 1808 he had returned to Kyoto. Figures painted in five colors in the Chinese fashion on a red background were characteristic of Mokubei’s porcelain.
The yoshidaya-gama, built by the merchant Yoshidaya Denemon in 1824, produced ceramics known as YOshidaya ware, initially in Kutani, then in yamashiro. This was intended to replicate ko-Kutani in the four basic colors of green, yellow, blue, and aubergine, but withut red; or, as in ao-de ware, replicated in yellow and green. In spite of the brief production period of only seven years, the yoshidaya-gama inspired the opening of many other kilns, in Komatso and Terai in particular.
At the Miyamato-gama(1832-1859)?the reopened Yoshidaya-gama in Yamashiro?the porcelain painter Iidaya Hachirouemon developed the Iidaya style named after him, with its decoration painted in very fine lines(aka-e saibyo) of red with touches of gold. The so-called Eiraku style goes back to Eiraku Wazen, son of the famous Kyoto potter, Eiraku Hozen. For the five years before his return to Kyoto in 1870, Wazen ran the Kutanihon-gama, formerly the Miyamoto-gama. Similar to Hozen’s his work was completely covered with underglaze red, and rich gold ornamentation was apploed over the glaze(akaji-kinran-de).
Shoza ware made by Kutani Shoza at the Terai-gama built in Terai in 1841 had elements of previous ko-Kutani, Yoshidaya, Iidaya, and Eiraku style,melded into a rich aka-e kinran-de decoration in overglaze enamels and gold. The addition of Western pigments later made nuances of color possible that could not be achieved previously. The kilns from the late Edo period were private enterprises, but they were supported by the han administration by, for instance, a ban on sale of ceramics from other regions. In 1811, the Wakasugi-gama set up in what is now Komatsu to produce large quantities of sometsuke domestic porcelain was directly under the control of the han administration.
After the Meiji restoration, and with the advances in industrialization, many of the workshops became small porcelain manufactories. Shaping and painting increasingly became separated in these workshops. Shoza ware satisfied European tastes with its somewhat overladen style, and after being presented at the World’s Fairs in Vienna and Paris(1873 and 1878), it provoked and export boom that laster until 1916. between the two world wars, there was a drastic decline in production, but in the second half of the 20th century, Kutani porcelain was able to maintain its share of upmarket porcelain sales alongside Arita and Imari ware.
Today, there are 474 firms in the region, ranging from manufactories to small, traditional artists’ workshops, which together employ more than 2000 workers. Terai, where 80 percent of Kutani-yaki is made, is the center. The product range of contemporary Kutani-yaki includes tableware of all kinds, tea and sake utensils, incense burners(koro), vases, ornamental plates(kazarizara), ornamental ceramic figures(okimono), and weights for picture scrolls(fuchin). Beseides sometsuke ware, porcelain in ko-Kutani yoshida style and Iidaya style, as well as the other described styles of saiko-Kutani, can be seen. Aka-e kinran-de appears in many variations; in Shonzui style, for example. In addition, traditional designs, such as the “Hundred Persons poem” that appeared in the early Meiji period and the Aochibu technique that was poplar in the Taisho period, are cultivated unchanged.
Studio potters such as Takayama Kazuo(born 1947) and Akaji Ken(born in 1938) consciously draw inspiration from the Kutani tradition. In 1997,Tokuda Yasokichiⅲ(born in 1933) was designated ningen kokuho(Living National Treaure) for his enamels, high-fired to 1904F(1040℃), with their brilliant color in the tradition of ao-de ko-Kutani. In 2001, Yoshida Minoriⅲ(born in 1932) was honored for his difficult-to-fire work in yuri-kinsai technique, for which gold leaf is used as underglaze decoration.
Modern Kutani porcelain varies from a coarse body similar to stoneware or a thick porcelain to an almost transparent eggshell porcelain. The glaze is matte and ranges form gray, blue, or greenish white to the typical milky white. Production follows the manufacturing process developed for porcelain in Arita. Even today, the greater part of Kutani porcelain is painted by hand with great artistry, and it is characteristic for the reverse of the object to also be carefully executed, often continuing the designs from the front.
Credit: History of Japanese Pottery and Porcelain
Image Copyright © Fumio Sawa Fine Art, 2014. All Rights Reserved