Kutani ware is the most popular style of Japanese ceramics that is rich in history. It has over 360 years of a storyline that continues to follow to date. While Kutani is rooted in Japan, the love for art has reached far and beyond the borders and every corner of the world. Kutani ware is famous for the figurative paintings that display nature in the form of landscapes, traditional Japanese figures and flowers and birds. The vivid use of dark colors and unique designs is what makes Kutani one-of-a-kind.
Kutani Ware & Its Ancient History
Maeda Toshiharu discovered the stone used to create porcelain in the 16th century. This led to the creation of the first-ever kiln in the Kutani village. Kutani village is now a part of Ishikawa, which at the time was under the dominion of Maeda Daimyo. Maeda gave the order to Goto Sijiro to go ahead and learn how to make porcelain. It was Goto, who built the first kiln and started production.
As time passed, the production boomed and the Kutani kiln became a landmark for over a century. However, in 1730, the production was ceased and Kutani disappeared for nearly a century. The reasons found in history were financial constraints. All Kutani ware pieces that date back to 1655 and 1730 are known as Ko-Kutani, which means old Kutani. These are rare to find but do exist and belong to museums and other art enthusiasts.
Years later in 1807, the production of Kutani ware revived and continues to this day. Thanks to one art enthusiast who decided to revive the old art and expand production plus exports of Kutani ware. This second phase of Kutani production is called the Saiko-Kutani, which means renewed interest in Kutani ware production.
Global Interest in Kutani
During a world fair in Vienna held in 1873, Kutani ware was displayed which caught the attention of everyone. This lead to a boom in business and an increased demand for Kutani ware across Europe and the world. During the event, Kutani was revealed as “Japan Kutani” which laid the foundation of Kutani being a unique and exotic Japanese art form.
In 1873, Japan was under the Meiji period, which was five years after the Edo period. The end of the Edo period was the end of Japan being a closed nation-state. During the Meiji period, Japan started to build relationships and contact with the outside world and Kutani ware became a source of comfort for Japan.
The original Kutani kilns have been turned into National Historic Site of Japan, which are currently present in Kaga. The city of Ishikawa still has a strong economic and cultural foothold with most production kilns in the Komatsu city.
Modern Saiko-Kutani Ware
After the revival of Kutani in 1805, many pottery makers joined the business and are called Kamamoto in Japanese. Saiko-Kutani took a step forward and started to create variations to the Kutani art with a variety of color combinations and techniques. The intricate designs of Kutani ware are achievable through the layers of enamel glaze designs that are applied to the finished product. The designs are formed after a few complex steps that lead to the final pottery design. The firing process is the most important one and that is what makes the finished product unique.
The Process of Making Kutani Ware Plate
Different producers use different methods of making the Kutani ware piece. However, the basic steps are all the same and are adopted from the 16th century. The process of making a Kutani plate is a lengthy one where collecting the porcelain clay is the first.
Here is how a Kutani Ware Plate is made:
- The Hanazawa area of Ishikawa is where the porcelain stones are mined. Once the stone is collected, it is purified until a level is achieved where it can be molded. Every stone mined comes in a raw form that cannot be used until purified, be it precious stones or even gold.
- Once the clay is purified, it is molded for its specified purpose using different methods. The traditional method of molding is through a pottery wheel, which is manually operated. However, this method is time-consuming and so most kilns use cast molding.
- Once the clay is molded into a plate, it is baked in a kiln. After the first fire, the plate is glazed with a coating of enamel. Once again, the plate goes into the kiln at a higher temperature this time. Every time the plate is baked, it absorbs the enamel, which makes it long-lasting.
Finally, the last step is to paint the Kutani ware with the desired landscape. Artists use their talent to create masterpieces that are high in demand across the globe. Each piece of Kutani ware consists of the name of the artist embossed, painted or stamped at the bottom. This stamp or signature is a testimony that the Kutani piece is original and authentic.
How to Use Kutani Ware
Kutani ware is an art, which is a prized collection that can be passed onto future generations. Kutani is used as tableware or a decorative item at home. The sizes, colors and theme differ so you may find that best fits your home and personality. When using tableware, it is important to follow instructions as directed by the manufacturer. This ensures that the Kutani ware lasts long without the glaze and colors fading quickly.
When cleaning your Kutani pieces, make sure that you use mild detergent and lukewarm water to ensure the colors stay bright. The glaze on the dinnerware will not absorb the oils and smells from the food being served in it. Therefore, it is important to keep that glaze intact for a long time. Using strong detergent or soaps rich in chemicals will remove the enamel and eventually affect the colors on the Kutani ware.
Find your authentic Kutani ware piece here to liven up your dining experience or add colors to your home and garden.