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Yokohama Kutani

Published on : 26 December 2018

This title seems at first rather awkward, how ceramics produced in Yokohama could be considered as Kutani which are produced on the other side of the Island of Honshu. Well the story began early Meiji, Kutani producers were getting stronger, the demand was high, especially for export thanks to the success of the different Universal Exhibitions. London in 1862 had the first attendance of a Japanese official delegation, but no official exhibits. Some Japanese pieces were presented from the personal collection of R. Alcock first British Ambassador to Japan and this created a general interest in the west for the art of Japan.

Then came Paris in 1867, Vienna in 1873, Philadelphia in 1876, again Paris in 1878 and so on. This is the period of ‘’Japonisme’’ in Europe and US. It is consequently the peak period of production for Kutani and his gorgeous Meiji style.

It was Meiji period and the opening of Japan, it was also the end of financial support made by the feudal clans, in fact a kind of privatization of activities. Many ex samurais who had lost their job saw this opportunity to make business and established companies, shops and kilns. But Kutani is far from everywhere! At this period the only port available for export was Kobe, and to transport painted ceramics all the way was a hard and long task.

The first one who moved was Watano Genuemon (綿野 源右衛門). He was a merchant and had a shop in Terai. He had started his Kutani business in 1860 and in 1876 he opened a branch office in Kobe, the Watano Shoten (綿野商店) - Shoten means Shop. I believe that pieces signed Watano (綿埜製) belong to this period.

Made by Watano

Soon the shop was transferred to his son Watano Kichiji (綿野吉二) and he is well-known under the name of Watano Kichiji Shoten (綿野吉二商店). The idea was to be present locally on the port to make business with the foreign companies who had also offices on the port for exporting Japanese goods. But Watano Kichiji wanted to export directly to foreign countries without third parties. With the help of Imamura Yurin who had studied overseas he succeeded in direct export to Europe and in 1880 to sale directly in Paris.

Tokyo city was growing fast, so was Tokyo port which is in fact in Yokohama. In 1880 Watano Kichiji decided to moved his shop from Kobe to Yokohama in order to reach more easily Tokyo market and also expand his export business as Yokohama was getting more important than Kobe. Incidentally we can find some Kutani which are marked made in Kobe! Not so many and looks like only one producer did so.

Made by Kita Kobe

Watano Kichiji Shoten was certainly one of the biggest Kutani export merchant and many pieces having the signature of his shop can be found overseas, some are exceptional and have been presented at different universal exhibitions. He was famous for making big vases and big incense burners. Pieces are very often signed Made by Watano (綿野) painted by ’’Painter name’’.

Made by Watano Painted by Hakujuken Nishimura Saichi

It seems that Watano Kichiji did not have a painting shop in Yokohama and that the painters were located in Kutani area. In 1887 he enlarged his activities and opened several nishiki (enamel) kilns in Kutani and took the name of Watano Tenraido (綿野天籟堂). Pieces are signed Tenraido (天籟堂).

Painted by Hakusen Tenraido Great Japan

One other relative opened the Watano Yasutaro Shoten (綿野 安太郎) in Yokohama in 1885. Pieces are signed Wataya (綿 安).

Made by Wataya

All the family had the same Meiji style, not easy to recognize beside the signature and considering that no one was a painter, they always seconded the painting job to outside painters. That was the normal situation in Kutani most of the painters were independent.

This is what happened for the most famous export merchant but many other did the same and opened either branch offices or painting studios in Yokohama. Motomachi was the central street and it seems that everybody had a shop there.

To name a few others amongst the most famous classified by opening date:

1875 - Matsubara Kanshiro (松原 勘四郎) opened the Shokan Shoten (松勘商店) in Kutani in 1865. He started export business from the beginning of Meiji and tried mainly to sale Kutani ceramics to foreign company which had been established in Yokohama. In 1875 he established a branch office in Yokohama (closed 1945).

Kaga district - Made by Matsubara in Sanpudo Co

1876 - Watano Shoten started in Kobe, then move to Yokohama (see above).

1876 - Imura Toki Kaisha (井村陶器会社)-(closed 1912) was opened in Yokohama in 1876. The company belong to Kyoto Toki Kaisha (京都陶器会社 (closed 1890), one of the biggest ceramic producer during Meiji period and also a big Kutani producer. Pieces are signed Imura.

Made by Imura in Yokohama Great Japan for the World exhibition in St Louis in 1904

1876 - Matsuishiya (松石屋) This company belongs to Imura Toki Kaisha and was exporting ceramic from different area from Japan (Seto, Imari, Kutani.. (closed 1912).

He used this yago sign as trade mark with a double mountain over Matsu in Kanji.

Commercial advertisement from Matsuishiya

1878 - Tashiro Shoten (田代商店) - (closed 1954) was a big whole sale ceramics merchant from Nagoya. He was also selling Kutani and opened a branch office in Yokohama. Same as Taniguchi a lot of pieces signed Tashiro (田代) can be found but quality is not always top.

Made by Tashiro Yokohama Japan

1882 - Watatani Heibei (綿谷平兵衛) was only a merchant although he was from a Kutani painter family from Terai. He opened in 1882 in Yokohama Motomachi a company to export Kutani ceramics to Europe, the Kutani Kai Shoten (九谷賀易商). The shop is also called the Watatani Heibei Shoten. Pieces are signed Watahei (綿平).

Made by Watahei

He exported many pieces overseas and received many awards in European exhibitions in Spain, Chicago, Belgium...

1883 - Watatani Heibei (綿谷平兵衛) with Iwata (岩田以定) and other potters opened in Yokohama in 1883 the Ishikawaken Bussan Kyodoten (石川県物産共同店) - Shop for Ishikawa Prefecture products cooperation. This company was aimed at exporting Kutani production from the Ishikawa prefecture.

1885 - Watano Yasutaro started the Watano Yasutaro Shoten (綿野 安太郎) in Yokohama in 1885. Pieces are signed Watayasu (綿 安).

Made by Watayasu

1885 - Oda Jinzo (織田 甚三) opened in 1885 the Oda Jinzo Shoten (織田甚三商店). The shop closed down after the great Tokyo earthquake in 1923. It was moved to Kobe city.

Made by Oda in kutani Kaga district Great Japan for Paris exhibition in Meiji 11

1893 - The Dainippon Ceramic Co was registered in 1893 in Yokohama as ceramic exporter & manufacturer with 9 different producers/shops who joined together including Watano Kichiji, Makuzu Kozan and Takifuji Manjiro.

1896 - Taniguchi Kinyodo Shoten (谷口金陽堂商店) (1875 – 1954). TaniguchKichijiro had painters and kilns in Kutani. He opened branch office in Kobe in 1896. He succeeded to export directly to Europe and US by sending representative overseas. We can find many pieces signed Taniguchi exported some with a very high quality.

Kutani Made by Taniguchi

All these merchants and painters have developed important Kutani activities mainly in Yokohama. At first they exported Meiji style Kutani, big pieces, with gold and gorgeous design made in the Kutani area. By end of the century as the demand for this style was slowing down, they adapted to a new style especially for smaller pieces, dinner set, tea set, small vases with flowers, birds and Japanese landscape. The colors are more soft thanks to the use of chemical pigments imported in Japan by Gottfried Wagner early Meiji. They also established locally in Yokohama painting studios where the pottery were decorated to suit more precisely the foreign demand. This is what I call Kutani Yokohama style and is not really found on the pieces produced in the Kutani area. This situation which comes from a mixture between Kutani painters and Yokohama painters explains the emergence of this specific style during this short period of times.

Typical Yokohama style

Unfortunately this activity did not last too long. In 1923 the big Kanto earthquake devastated Tokyo and Yokohama destroying all pottery in stock and making almost a stop to all Kutani activities. Most of the painters and decorators were out of job and scattered all over Japan. Then came the big depression in 1929, then soon the war. Kutani activity practically ceased.

All photos shown here are courtesy of their owner and can be found, for the Kutani site members, in the data base for more detailed information.

Georges Bouvier