kutani porcelain

The History and Characteristics of Kutani porcelain (Kutani yaki)

Kutani porcelain is one of the most famous porcelain made in Japan.It has long history and interesting aspects.

What is Kutani porcelain?

Kutani porcelain is a type of porcelain produced in and around Kaga City, Ishikawa Prefecture. Kutani porcelain is characterized by its vivid colors, bold and elegant patterns, and the use of a technique called kami-etsuke (overglaze enameling).

Although both porcelain and ceramics are manufactured as “Kutani-yaki”, it’s called when overglaze painting is done in Kutani.Kami-etsuke is a technique in which pigments are applied on top of the glaze and fired again.

The pigments used for overglaze painting can be fired at around 800 degrees Celsius, allowing for fewer constraints on the pigments and providing a wide range of colors to enjoy.Kutani-yaki is actually a traditional craft with a slightly different history.

History of Kutani porcelain


The beginning of Kutani porcelain dates back to the Edo period in 1655. It began when Saijiro Goto, who had learned pottery techniques in Arita under the orders of the Kaga Clan, opened a kiln in the village of Kutani.

However, the kiln closed the curtain on its history once only half a century after it was opened. Kutani porcelain made during this short period of time is distinguished and read as "Ko-Kutani", while Kutani porcelain made after production resumed is distinguished and read as "Re-established Kutani(Saiko-Kutani)".

Ko-Kutani (early Edo period ca. 1655-1700)

Saijiro Goto opened a kiln in Kutani, but it was closed down after only half a century.The details of how the kiln was closed are not known, but there is a theory that it was due to suspicion of smuggled goods. The ceramics produced during this brief period are called "Ko-Kutani" and their gorgeous colors and distinctive designs can be seen.

For 100 years after the kilns were closed, Imari-yaki was considered the representative porcelain of Japan. However, the success of the porcelain industry in Seto in the late Edo period (1603-1868) triggered a movement to revive Ko-kutani in the Daishoji clan, which had once produced Ko-kutani. A central figure in this movement was Yoshidaya Den'emon, a wealthy merchant in Daishoji. In 1823, he built a climbing kiln next to the ruins of the old Kutani kiln in Kutani Village and resumed Kutani porcelain production the following year.

Re-established Kutani (Late Edo Period, 1807~) 


The history of Kutani porcelain began when the Kaga Clan rekindled the flame of the kiln 100 years after it was closed. In 1807, master craftsman Mokubei Aoki was invited to open the Kasuga-yama Kiln at the foot of Mount Utatsu in Kanazawa. Thereafter, various other famous kilns opened one after another in the Kaga region, including the Wakasugi kiln, which was under the control of the Kaga clan, the Ono kiln, which received assistance, and the Gen'emon kiln.

While each kiln inherited the techniques of Ko-Kutani, the individuality of the kiln leaders gave rise to a variety of styles. Mokubei Aoki established a style that used red all over and painted figures in five-color Chinese style. The Yoshidaya kiln did not use red, and instead used mainly ground patterns and layers of heavy overglaze pigments, a unique characteristic of this kiln. Other styles of painting included the elaborate depiction of figures by the Miyamoto-ya kiln and the use of red and gold colors by the Eiraku kiln.

In particular, the Shoza style, established by Shoza Kutani, appeared at the end of the Edo period and quickly elevated the reputation of Kutani-yaki. The influence of the Shoza style is so great that even today, when people think of Kutani-yaki, they associate it with the flamboyant and colorful Shoza style. With its diverse kilns and unique style, Kutani-yaki has established a tradition of beautiful ceramics.

Characteristics of Kutani porcelain

Kutani yaki MAG

Kutani-yaki is all about the painting, and each type of Kutani-yaki has its own unique characteristics.Kutani-yaki can be classified into six types: Ko-Kutani, Mokubei, Yoshidaya, Iidaya, Shoza, and Eiraku.Each of them will be explained below.


Period: 1650-1700 Founder: Saijiro Goto

The Ko-Kutani style is bold, powerful, dynamic, and beautiful to the heart. Using the five colors of dark blue, red, purple, green, and yellow, the style has a painterly perfection of expression and bold composition, with a spontaneous and free line drawing that is very attractive. It is a type of Ko-Kutani style, and there is also a type called "Aote," which uses a lot of blue for the surface pattern.


Period: 1805-1817 Founder: Aoki Mokubei

Mokubei style was born at the Kasuga-yama kiln in Kanazawa under the guidance of Mokubei Aoki, around 80 years after the Ko-Kutani was closed down. Chinese-style figures painted in delicate five-color on a red base color adorn the front surface of the base. The lovely expressions and expressive patterns invite the viewer into a heartwarming world. Mokubei style, which is one of the three most famous ceramics in Japan, is a distinctive feature of Kutani-yaki, and its elegant painting style is sure to attract the heart.


Period: 1818-1829 Founder: Toyoda Den'emon

Yoshidaya style was born at the kiln opened by the Toyoda family (shop name: Yoshidaya), a wealthy merchant of the Daishoji clan. This style is said to be the most representative of the Ko-Kutani style. The four colors of green, yellow, purple, and navy blue are used instead of red, and the dense and dignified patterns add color to the entire surface of the ware. The style is inherited from the Aote Kutani style, with almost no white areas and no red, giving the vessels an appealing sense of presence. The Yoshidaya style, with its unique atmosphere and exquisite harmony of light and soft brush strokes, is a beautiful pottery especially recommended for those who seek a sense of dignity.


Period: 1830-1845 Founder: Hachiroemon Iida

Iidaya style was born at the Miyamoto Kiln, which succeeded the Yoshidaya Kiln. The figures are painted in fine red enamel and surrounded by small patterns and other decorations, while gorgeous gilding creates a sense of elegance. The exquisiteness of the fine red painting is hard to describe in words. Among Kutani-yaki ceramics, the term "Akae" generally refers to the Iidaya style. The fine lines and red patterns drawn freehand create a beautiful design perfect for decorative objects. Iidaya by Uemon Miyamotoya is a highly recommended style for those seeking an elegant space.


Period: 1860-1880 Founder: Shoza Kutani

Shoza style is a blend of Japanese and Western styles that incorporated Western culture during the Meiji period. It is characterized by gorgeous patterns decorated with colored gold brocade that incorporates various traditional Kutani-yaki techniques. It became popular as "Japan Kutani" after the Meiji period and played a central role in exporting Kutani.


Period: 1865-1868 Founder: Eiraku Wazen

This style was born at the Kutani main kiln, which was established by the Daishoji clan, a branch of the Kaga clan. Inspired by Eiraku Wazen of Kyoto, the technique of "Kinrande," in which the entire surface is painted with red undercoat, over which gorgeous patterns are painted only with gold, is used.

The beautiful contrast between the red and gold colors has a strong impact, and exudes the refined beauty of Kyo-yaki. Although the style is distinct from the typical Kutani-yaki image, it is known as one of the most representative Kutani-yaki pieces. It is especially recommended for celebratory gifts, those interested in pottery, and those seeking rare pieces.

Two Living National Treasures of Kutani porcelain

Kutani-yaki is a representative Japanese porcelain with a long history.We are pleased to introduce two living national treasures who possess exquisite techniques.

Yasokichi Tokuda, the third generation

Kutani Mangetsu

Yasokichi Tokuda is a Kutani-yaki ceramic artist who has been succeeded by the first generation for more than 100 years. In particular, the third generation created a unique technique called “Yosai”, which is characterized by the use of gradations of approximately 70 different colors. “Reimei”, which is said to be the culmination of Yasokichi’s work, is an attractive piece with its unique use of color and gradation. He has also devoted himself to the academic study of Ko-Kutani, and in 1997 was recognized as the holder (living national treasure) of the important intangible cultural property colored glazed porcelain ware.

Minori Yoshida

Kutani Mangetsu

Specializing in the technique of “Yurikinsai (underglaze gold leaf)”, Minori Yoshida is a certified living national treasure. As the third generation of the Kinzan kiln, which has been passed down since 1900, he has produced elegant pieces with gold decoration covered with glaze. Many of his works feature botanical motifs, and his designs of attaching gold leaf in the shape of flowers and leaves are very attractive. As a leader in “Yurikinsai”, he was certified as a holder of Important Intangible Cultural Property (Living National Treasure) in 2001.