Kutani ware is a style of Japanese porcelain that is not characterised by the object itself, or its shape, but by its pigments.
While styles may vary from studios to kilns, they all feature a similar array of colours, particularly shades of green, blue, yellow, purple and red. It is crafted in the Ishikawa prefecture and can be referred to as an Edo overglaze enamel porcelain. This area of Japan is famous for this type of pottery, both vivid and enchanting, they make excellent decorative items within the home. Often it depicts scenes of nature and people in delicate detail.
Kutani ware can be divided into two centuries, the Ko-Kutani (old Kutani) era, which existed between the 17th and 18th centuries and are considered extremely rare. The Saikō-Kutani period began in the 19th century, which marked the revival of the art. Ko-Kutani works are often characterised by their dark but vibrant tones, it is said that the long and grey winters of the area left much to be desired in terms of bolder hues.
Kutani ware has almost 400 years of history-making it one of Japan’s most beloved forms of traditional art. It originates from the village of Kutani, now known as the city of Kaga, in the early Edo period. Here they produced their signature works of porcelain for 50 years, before unexpectedly, the kilns closed their doors forever. Some say because funds ran out, others attribute it to a change in policy from the clan that oversaw the area. This mystery of Ko-Kutani will forever be unsolved but is the very reason why Ko-Kutani ware is so rare, valuable and passed down through generations. 80 years later, Kutani ware was being fired again in Kanazawa, and studios all over Japan began to follow suit. This marked the revival and prosperity of the industry.
It was in 1873 that the Wien Expo popularised Japanese Kutani ware around the globe, fascinating ceramic connoisseurs and lovers for decades to come. Kutani ware has since been collected and exhibited in museums worldwide, and this has led to studios working to preserve this tradition. Like many pottery practices, they nurture artisans to safeguard their heritage. Crafts such as these are also preserved through the likes of kintsugi, which uses gold joinery to repair broken pottery, creating a new appreciation for its beauty.
Naturally, Kutani ware crafted in the 17th century is highly prized and a rarity afforded only by collectors and museums. Kutani porcelain made in the modern day are considered objets d'art but are far more affordable.
Kutani ware has evolved over the years and can be crafted into an array of objects. More commonly though, you'll find sake cups and bottles, teaware, flower vases, incense burners and serving dishes. More modern applications included door handles, signage, chopstick holders and coasters.
Antique Kutani ware can be clearly identified by the colours used, typically green, blue, yellow, purple and red pigments. You can also identify Kutani ware by their seals. If crafted by a studio, kiln or painter that is well known, they will likely place their own unique kind of marking on the base of the item. This is often their name or moniker featured in a square, these pieces are considered more valuable.
For more general, mass-produced Kutani ware, like ones found in department stores, you will likely see the Kutani mark: 九谷, often accompanied by the characters for Japan, 日本.
Tea & Sakeware
The most common Kutani ware items you can find come in the form of tea and sake cups. These colourful designs lend themselves perfectly to gathering with friends and family.
Elaborate Kutani pottery is a great way to add colour and variety to your living room. Japanese vases come in many different styles, including designs with a narrow bottleneck. Paired with a bouquet or ikebana, it becomes a statement focal point.
Kutani ware serving dishes and bowls make for refreshing table settings a dynamic way to bring charm to the dining table. Complete with matching or mismatching cutlery rests and sauce dishes, Kutani dining ware can really set the mood.
An elegant way to hold keepsakes, Kutani ware trinket boxes often feature a minimal silhouette with a floral motif on its cover. Best placed decoratively on shelves or atop a bedside table.
Burning incense at home can be calming and reduce stress. Made all the more soothing with a Kutani ware incense holder glazed with rich patterns.
Often highly ornate and dashing, Kutani ware candlesticks make luminous centrepieces. Best placed on a mantel or amidst an elaborate table setting.
Maneki-Neko (Beckoning Cat)
Thought to bring good luck to its owner, Kutani ware beckoning cats are often found in storefronts. These make precious decorative items for the home, and when placed in the bedroom or places of study, are said to bring great life successes.
As love and appreciation for Kutani ware continues to grow, more and more modern iterations are being crafted by modern-day artisans. You can even find tree ornaments, door handles and signage Kutani ware. Nowadays, some craftsmen also take a more minimalist approach, allowing you to cherish its shape and subtle sheen.