KUTANI-YAKI (KUTANI WARE)

Kanazawa is famous for its Kutani ware (Kutani-yaki), a style of Japanese porcelain characterized by its use of bold colors and innovative designs. Produced in Kanazawa, Komatsu, Kaga, and Nomi city in the southern part of Ishikawa prefecture, Kutani ware is one of Japan’s most popular traditional crafts. 

Kutani Chawan Matsuri (Kutani-ware Festival)

Event

This popular annual festival in the home region of Kutani ware (porcelain) began life in 1908 and takes place every year between May 3rd and 5th. Attracting over 200,000 visitors, it features more than 50 street stalls displaying a full range of Kutani ware products, ranging from luxury to daily use. The venue is Kutani Togei Mura (Kutani Pottery Art Village). A large number of tourists come to the event to buy valuable Kutani ware at reasonable prices. During the festival period, a free shuttle bus operates every 40 minutes from the west exit of Kanazawa station.

The word Kutani means Nine Valleys, the name of an area and a village. Kutani ware was first established by Goto Sajiro in 1655, under the direct order of Lord Maeda Toshiharu, first lord of the Kaga Daishoji clan. At the time, Goto Sajiro was digging a gold mine when his group discovered stone suitable for the production of porcelain. Lord Maeda Toshiharu promptly dispatched Sajiro to Hizen Arita to learn all about that area’s advanced porcelain-making techniques. The porcelain made in this early period is referred to specifically as Ko-Kutani (literally meaning old Kutani), and is nowadays extremely rare. Production of this ware continued for a period of around 50 years, when it suddenly stopped. The reasons for this sudden end to production remain unclear, although theories include difficulty in finding supplies of the pigments necessary for the glazing, or financial difficulties. 

Around 1800, the Kutani kiln was restored in the area around Kanazawa, although this was later destroyed by fire. Honda Sadakichi built news kilns in Wakasugi around 1806–1820 with the intention of reviving the old style. From 1823–1831, Yoshidaya Kilns were built in Daishoji at the site of Ko-Kutani to concentrate on commercial porcelain with printed designs, and production continues there today. Kutani ware was introduced to Europe from the 1860s onwards, by which time it was in its third period of production and was known simply as Kutani.

Decoration is an essential characteristic of Kutani ware – it is said that “without decoration, it is nothing.” The decorative designs can be in the form of pictures drawn on the pottery, or colored glaze painted on, and are what gives Kutani ware its appeal. Ko-Kutani was referred to as the king of overglaze porcelain (porcelain decorated with pictures in colored glazes) and there were two main styles of decoration, which are still visible in the Kutani ware found today.

 

The first style is “gosaite,” which makes full use of its five colors – green, yellow, purple, dark blue, and red – to paint a bold picture on a white body. The attraction lies in the skilful brushwork used to create the decoration, which often consists of a geometric pattern or distinctive scenery, flowers, or birds. The spacing and dimensions used in the painting create a harmonious effect.

 

The second style is “aote,” which consists of covering the surface of a plate, for example, with colors including deep green, yellow, and purple, just like an oil painting. The thick colored glaze used in “aote” gives a great sense of depth to the decoration.

(C) JTA/ (C) JNTO

(C) JTA/ (C) JNTO

(C) JTA/ (C) JNTO

Many of the practices and techniques from the days of Ko-Kutani have been passed down through the generations and are used to produce today’s contemporary Kutani. The spirit of Ko-Kutani lives on in today’s Kutani ware and continues to evolve with the incorporation of new ideas. Recent years have seen the introduction of designs more in keeping with Western-style dining rooms, reflecting the increasing and ever-present popularity of Kutani ware both in Japan and around the world.      

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Photo: Ishikawa Prefecture