Kutani ware Photo:Ishikawa Prefecture Tourism League

Kutani ware Kutani yaki

A powerfully depicted world of flowers, birds, and landscapes
in five vivid colors (green, yellow, red, purple, and Prussian blue)


What is Kutani ware ?

Kutani ware is a kind of pottery manufactured in and around the city of Kaga in the Ishikawa prefecture. These ceramics first appeared in the early Edo period (beginning of the 17th century).
Kutani ware's characteristics are vivid colors, bold and graceful designs and a particular technique of overglaze painting. This technique consists of using pigments to paint a pattern over a glaze and then firing the piece again. Because the paint used for the overglaze painting can be fired at about 800℃, a variety of colors can be created with few limitations as to pigments. This is a technique that is employed in the production of Arita ware too.

Kutani ware are all very colorful but the colors differ slightly depending on the type of pottery created. There are approximately 6 types of pottery in Kutani ware.
Two types (kokutani and mokubeifu use five colors (red, yellow, green, purple, and Prussian blue), commonly referred to as Kutani gosai (litteraly, "the 5 Kutani colors"). Yoshidayafu is beautiful with four vivid shades of blue, yellow, purple, and Prussian blue. The red used in Iidayafu is so distinctive that this type of pottery is called Kutani aka-e. (as in "the red Kutani"). Eirakufu is characterized by the application of attractive red and gold. Finally, shozafu combines the techniques of kokutani, yoshidaya, Kutani aka-e, and eirakufu in an impressive well-balanced ceramic.


Kutani ware - History Photo: Ishikawa Prefecture Tourism League

Kutani ware became an official type of pottery in 1655. The name of Kutani comes from the fact that the pottery was produced in the village of Kutani which was then in the domain of a feudal lord, Saijiro GOTO, who learned ceramic-making techniques in Arita, set up a kiln for a while, but in just half a century it fell into disuse. The circumstances that led to the abandonment of the kiln are not known, but there is a theory that it was due to the suspicion that smuggling was involved. The ceramics produced in this short period were called kokutani, and have gorgeous colors and distinctive designs.

About 100 years after the kiln fell into disuse, the production of Kutani ware started once again, spurred on by the encouragements from the family of Saijiro GOTO.
First, in 1807, a famous literature painter, Mokubei AOKI, was invited from Kyoto and established the Kasugayama kiln : this marks the start of mokubeifu. Then several styles of Kutani-ware were created: yoshidayafu in 1827, named after a wealthy merchant, Denemon YOSHIDAYA; iidayafu in 1831; shozafu in 1841 and eirakufu in 1865.

General Production Process

  1. 1.Crushing pottery stone First, pottery stone is mined as a raw material and then crushed to a powder using a pulverizer. The powder from crushed pottery stone still contains impurities and it cannot be used in this state so it is soaked in water and strained to remove all the impurities. Once the impurities have been removed and the excess moisture has evaporated, the clay is kneaded to remove the air. Then only is it ready to serve as green body.
  2. 2.Creating the form Various methods can be used to create a form : a potter’s wheel, coil building, hand-pinching, slab-building or casting in a mold. Detailed finishing, such as trimming or retrofitting of the foot, making knobs, finishing the edge, pattern carving, etc., are done after the form has been created.
    When possible, the piece is allowed to completely dry in the sun, and then it is biscuit-fired for approximately 8 hours at around 800-900℃. The biscuit firing changes the color of the unglazed pottery from gray to skin color, resulting in an increase in strength. It also makes the following processes such as glazing a lot smoother.

  3. 3.Glazing After the preliminary sketches, a white glaze called hakuyu is applied. This glaze becomes transparent when fired and glost firing makes it vitreous. When the surface of a fired clay vessel is covered with a vitreous substance, the vessel becomes stronger and impervious to stains. In addition, the glaze should not be too thin or too thick. It is important to apply it quickly, carefully, and evenly.
    After the glazing is complete, the pottery is fired in a glost-firing kiln for about 15 hours at a high temperature of 1300℃.
  4. 4.Overglazing Color is added with paint. The patterns depicted in color and the colors used depend on the type of Kutani ware.
    Kotsugaki painting with black cobalt oxide paint may be done before colors are applied. Kotsugaki means outlining, which is a method used in Japanese paintings as well. When the overglaze painting is complete, the piece is fired at 800 to 1000℃. This firing fuses the paint and the glaze, producing beautiful colors.
    Depending on the design of the pottery, gold and silver may be added. Gold leaves are used for gold coloring, and silver leaves for silver. The glaze is applied over this and the piece is fired again. The firing temperature is about 400℃ and the item is finished after this later fire.

Where to Buy & More Information

Kutani ware Art Museum

Kutani ware Art Museum Photo:Ishikawa Prefecture Tourism League

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