About Kutani Ware, History and Characteristics - Japanese Kutani Store

About Kutani Ware, History and Characteristics

Much like unique art forms of the world, Kutani Ware is colorful pottery hailing from Japan. The original name is Kutani-Yaki and there is nothing else much like it. Kutani ware is made in the southern cities of Ishikawa Prefecture like Nomi, Komatsu, Kaga and Kanazawa.

The beautiful and bold colors have attracted fans from across the world along with opportunities for export. Ever since these unique pieces were spotted and exported around the world, it gained popularity. Ranging from mugs, pots, tea sets, bowls, serving dishes and spoons, Kutani ware is perfect for gifts and for serving special dinner on special occasions.

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You can learn about Kutani ware on youtube video created by Ishikawa Kutani Ceramics Federation of Cooperatives below.


The Origin of Kutani Ware

The story of Kutani-yaki goes as far back as the 17th century. Maeda Toshiharu, the first Lord of the Daishoji Domain instructed his retainer Goto Saijiro to seek the education of pottery in Hizen-arita. This happened soon after the magnetite technique was discovered in Kaneyama, Kutani.

Today, Kutani is Sannaka cho in Ishikawa Prefecture where the retainer adopted the ancient techniques. Then, he built a kiln in Kutani which is popularly known as the beginning of Kutani-yaki. The bold use of colors, birds and animals in unique patterns painted on pottery id what makes Kutani ware what it is today.


Characteristics of Kutani Ware


The beauty of these porcelain pottery is what makes it one-of-a-kind dinner ware and enthusiasts from around the world go to lengths to collect these pieces. The following characteristics are unique to Kutani kiln:

  1. The Mokubei style which is inspired by the Chinese ink painting techniques.
  2. Yoshidaya style has prominent colors of purple, green, yellow and dark blue. These colors are used as the basis of further patterns.
  3. The Eiraku style is an extension of the Yoshidaya style where the base colors are enhanced with coatings of gold over the first coat of red color. The end result is a beautiful combination of Kutani ware that is eye-catching.
  4. The Lidaya style is also known as the Hachirode is a break from the traditional theme of nature of the Kutani style. This style instead focuses on the paintings of human figures that form on dinner ware like a beautiful story.
  5. The Shoza style is a beautiful blend of all the four techniques of the Kutani styles.

Usually, the artists picks up a plain white ceramic piece and will start with a pattern of komon. The outlines are painted individually by using zaffre that includes cobalt oxide as an ingredient. The piece is kept in the kiln for heat that allows the zaffre to turn dark in color. This technique alone in the kiln takes up to seven hours.

The surface is then painted again with thicker strokes to create the intended the patterns. Each stroke and pattern determines the colors and the final design of the ceramic piece. The end result is much like a three-dimensional painting which makes it a unique design.

Every piece, be a teacup, a spoon, a bowl or a saucer is hand-painted and every stroke is done so by professional artisans. Once the patterns and designs are completed, the vessel is kept in the kiln again to be heated at about 800 Celsius. The chemical reaction that takes place due to the high heat converts the pigment into the translucent colors intended by the artist. Electrically heated kilns are used today in order to minimize the margin of error.


Popular Kutani Kiln

The first location of the Kutani kiln have now been turned into archaeological sites. These were claimed by the National Historic Site of Japan back in 1979. In 1955, an excavation survey was conducted by the Ishikawa Prefecture Board of Education. This excavation discovered two continuous-cell step kilns on the right side of Diashoji River.

The first kiln included a combustion chamber and another series of burning chambers which were thirteen in total. These extended up to a hillside which was 33.4 meters in length. The height of the combustion chamber was as high as 10.75 meters. Each of the firing chamber consisted of a sand bed along the length of bricked wall.

The second kiln is located fifteen meters south and has a total length of 13.02 meters. However, the second kiln which was discovered is smaller than the first one, it has been well preserved. This site also contains another Yoshiyada style kiln that has a length of 16 meters. This third kiln dates back to the Edo period. Additionally, the sites also have remains of a workshop for the mixing of pigments and purification of clay materials.


Taking Care of Each Kutani Piece

Since each Kutani piece is hand painted and crafted, there is a certain way of using them and looking after them. Follow the given instruction to make sure that each piece stays the way it was created for a long time.


Before Using

Since the clay has an absorbent nature, the texture takes in watery foods like oil and sauces from the food being served. After sometime, the Kutani ware can have a consistent smell of the food coming off each piece. In order to avoid this problem, it is advised to glaze each piece before using it for the first time.

The glazing technique at home is easy. Simply boil the pot with rice water or water with flour or potato starch dissolved in it. This helps in filling the gaps between the clay that locks in odor and food chemicals. This creates a layer, which prevents the glaze from coming off. The process can be completed in the following steps:

  1. Take a large pot and fill it with starch water up to the brim. Add the Kutani tableware and make sure it submerges completely.
  2. Boil the water over low heat for about 20 minutes. Make sure that large bubbles do not form and the heat is constant.
  3. Turn off the heat after 20 minutes and allow everything to cool down – do not remove the tableware from the large pot.
  4. Wash the tableware properly.
  5. Dry each piece with a clean towel.

Another trick of serving the food in Kutani ware is to dip each serving plate in warm water before serving hot food. Similarly, dip the dish in cold water before serving cold food. This makes the food taste better prevents the odor and stains from the food from absorbing into the tableware.


Caring for Every Piece

Although every Kutani ware is dishwasher safe, it is recommended to hand wash everything. Using a mild detergent with a soft sponge is enough to clean every piece. Vigorously scrubbing or washing a Kutani dish can dull the shine and colors of intricate design and patterns. The golden and silver patterns on the dish tends to be delicate and can worn off with time.

Make sure that every piece is thoroughly dried before storing them in a cupboard. If it is stored wet, a moldy odor can occur. Since each piece is crafted with clay, it need to be dried before storing it neatly inside.


Microwave Safety

Every Kutani ware piece is microwave safe, however, pieces that have golden or silver color should not be used in the microwave. The electric heat from the microwave causes a reaction that results in sparks flying and the gold and silver coating is damaged.


Setting a Kutani Ware Table

It takes an artist itself to recognize art and Kutani ware is nothing less than an art form. A dinner table that is decorated with Kutani pieces is an experience in its own. Eating food with loved ones and family is a moment to be cherished and remembered for a long time. However, if handmade cutlery is present on the table, it adds value and tradition.

Family traditions and reunions can be made memorable with the use of such art form during simple events like dinners. The impact of Kutani ware on the minds of the user is something that leaves a mark forever embossed in the mind and the heart. Experience food with feelings and emotions by using the Kutani ware.

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Kutani Ware Typical Color Style and Designs

Kokutani Style - Old Kutani Style -

Reflecting the vestiges of the warring states in the early days of the Tokugawa Shogunate, it is characterized by its bold and powerful painting and the heavy, masculine colors. Painted in bold compositions using overglaze enamels, blue, yellow, and purple, many of the designs are of flowers, plants, and landscapes. After the introduction of Ming Dynasty techniques, the Kaga clan was forced by the Shogunate to demolish its kilns in response to smuggling, and the industry was suspended for about 100 years.


Mokubei Style


Reflecting the vestiges of the warring states in the early days of the Tokugawa Shogunate, it is characterized by its bold and powerful painting and the heavy, masculine colors. Painted in bold compositions using overglaze enamels, blue, yellow, and purple, many of the designs are of flowers, plants, and landscapes. After the introduction of Ming Dynasty techniques, the Kaga clan was forced by the Shogunate to demolish its kilns in response to smuggling, and the industry was suspended for about 100 years.


Yoshidaya Style

The style originated from the Kutani-yaki kiln opened by Yoshida-ya, a wealthy merchant of the Daishoji clan. Reflecting the Bunka-Bunsei period of the Tokugawa Taihei era, it is characterized by a soft style of painting. It strongly inherits the flow of the old Kutani style, in which flowers and birds, landscapes, small patterns, and flowers are painted using the three colors of blue, yellow, and purple.


Iidaya Style

Influenced by Chinese studies, the book vividly depicts the customs and manners of China, such as the "Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove. The fine red lines of this detailed painting are gilded in many places to create a sense of elegance.


Eiraku Style

Eiraku Style Kutani Dinner Plate 2021 in Winter & Autumn Version

A technique influenced by Eiraku Wazen in Kyoto. A gorgeous technique in which the entire vessel is painted with red color over gold, and patterns are drawn on top of the gold. Flowers, birds, animals, and insects are drawn in a single stroke.


Syouza Style

Syouza Style

This is the style of the Meiji era, when Western culture was introduced and the style became a blend of Japanese and Western styles. The "colored gold brocade" style copied this atmosphere, featuring delicate and gorgeous flowers, birds, figures, and landscapes. It incorporates all the techniques of the post-Kotani style, and became very popular after the Meiji period.


Aochibu Style

Aochibu Style Kutani Ware

A coloring method popularized in the Taisho era (1912-1926), in which fine green dots called "blue grains" are laid out on top of the ground color.

It is an elaborate technique that requires uniformity in the size and spacing of the grains. In addition to blue grains, there are also white and gold grains. It has a sense of calmness and dignity.


Morietsuke Style

Around 1924, Nishi-Taikichi introduced the method of Mori-e painting. This technique is often seen on figurines such as lions and beckoning cats. It is characterized by the three-dimensional patterns that are raised by using specialized paints.


Saiyuu Style


Saiyuu Style


A technique in which the entire vessel is painted and filled with a five-color glaze of red, green, yellow, purple, and blue, used like a glaze. By applying two or more glazes in layers, one can enjoy the gradual change of colors and create a graceful and vivid pattern.


Yuurikinsai Style

A pattern in which gold powder or gold leaf cut into various shapes is applied and fired with transparent glaze over it, in contrast to ordinary gilding in which gold is pasted over the glaze. Since the gold floats through the glaze, the tone of the painting is soft and has a moist and elegant shine.


Ginsai Style

Kutani Ware Vase Unkaitsuru Flying Crane on the Sea of Clouds

This is a technique in which silver leaf is applied and then transparent or five-color glaze is applied and fired. It is characterized by the fact that the silver leaf does not peel off and does not rust. The tone of the painting is soft, and elegant expression is possible.


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