Even though it is not the purpose of this site to relate in detail the history of Japan, I think that in order to better understand how Kutani wares developed and what happened with the different kilns from the origin up to now one should consider what politically and socially happened during the last 350 years firstly generally speaking in Japan and then more particularly in the area of Ishikawa Prefecture.

The Momoyama period

Momoyama period (1574 - 1602) is the time of great developments and changes in Japan called also period of unification. At that time Japan was divided into around 250 fiefs controlled by feudal Lords, the Daimyos. Independent of imperial or Shogun authority they power was based only on military strength. They defined there domains as the area that could be defended from military rivals.

Three great Daimyos, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu began step by step between 1560 and 1600 by fighting each other to unify Japan by military actions. This is the most interesting period of all Japanese history also known as Sengoku period.

Momoyama period is also the time where the ’cha no yu’ or tea ceremony was at its peak. This practice introduced from China around the 12th century had become an elite form of social gathering where imported art objects were often displayed. For this purpose, tea cups and other ceramic wares were required, and it is widely recognized that this custom helped a lot the development of ceramic wares. In addition, as a result of Shogun Hideyoshi’s decision to invade China through Korea in 1598, a lot of Korean potters immigrated to Japan and transferred technology and know-how to Japan.

Oda Nobunaga (1533 - 1582)

Oda Nobuhide was 41 years old when he died on March 3rd, 1551 in Suemori castle (Nagoya). His son, Oda Nobunaga, a young warrior from Owari took over as deputy constable in Owari castle, he was only 18 years old. He started to make a small army and established himself by suppressing members of his own family who where not supporting him. He even killed his brother and in 1599 he had managed to replace the Lord of Owari. He was then really the first in 1560 to start, by strong military actions the process of unification of Japan and finally extended his influence up to Kyoto.

Nobunaga was a warrior, ruthless without any compassion and did not hesitate to slaughter without any mercy fugitives and survivors.

On June 21, 1560, Nobunaga heard that Imagawa, his enemy, was moving to Owari from Suruga with 25.000 men. Matsudaira Motoyama (later Ieyasu) who was his military commander had won and entered the fort of Marune. Nobunaga forces were 3000 at most. Imagawa men were drinking and celebrating their success in Dengaku-hazama which is a very narrow defile. Nobunaga took opportunity of a storm to attack, Imagawa was killed during the fight. This battle is known as Okehazama battle.

For 20 years up to his death, Nobunaga kept fighting until he had eliminated almost all his enemies. Nobunaga was killed in 1582 by Akechi.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598)

After the death of Nobunaga in 1582, Hideyoshi was in a good position, Ieyasu was absent and Nobukatsu and Nobutaka 2nd and 3rd son of Nobunaga were in quarrel over succession of Nobunaga and division of estate.

Hideyoshi soon took Kaga, Noto and Etchu which were then divided between Maeda Toshiie and other Generals. In 1583 Nobutaka was found conspiring against Hideyoshi. Nobukatsu was required to get his brother to surrender. Nobutaka then committed suicide.

In 1590 he prepared for the invasion of Korea and spent a lot of energy and effort for finally a great deception. But Hideyoshi had probably lost some of his mental capability and he decided in 1597 to launch a second attack to Korea which was also unsuccessful.

Even though, Hideyoshi was supported by great Lords such as Maeda Toshiie and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Hideyoshi had lost his two-year-old son in 1591. But he had a mistress named Yodogimi who gave him, in September 1593, a son named Hiroi, later Hideyori (1593-1615). However Hideyoshi became sick and decided to setup a council of regency formed with five Lords called the Elders (Go-Tairoo) which included Tokugawa, Maeda, Mori, Uyesugi and Ukita and five commissioners (Go-Bugyo) to ensure continuity. They agreed to continue his policy, to protect his son Hideyori, not to engage in plot and to support Toyotomi family until Hideyori reached an age in which he was capable of conducting the affairs.

Ieyasu was nominated guardian of Hideyori and responsible to appoint him as regent when times come. Toshiie was also guardian of Hideyori. Tokugawa Idetada was assisting his father, same for Maeda Toshinaga. It was decided that Ieyasu shall stay in Fushimi, Hideyori in Osaka and that Toshiie became governor of Osaka. Soon after, Hideyoshi died on 18 Sept. 1598 at 63.

Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542 - 1616)

Matsudaira Hirodata was Lord of Okasaki a small domain in Mikawa Prefecture. He was surrounded by famous Lords, Imagawa Yoshimoto Lord of Suruga and Oda Nobuhide Lord of Owari.

In 1540 Oda Nobuhide attacked Anjo castle which was a branch of Okazaki castle. Mizuno Tadamasa was Lord of Kariya in Owari and a vassal of Oda. He wanted to make peace with Matsudaira and also with Imagawa family. In order to conclude alliance, in 1541 he married his daughter Odai who was 14 years old to Matsudaira Hirodata who was 16. Ieyasu is born on December 26, 1542 from this marriage, his given name was Takechiyo.

Mizuno Tadamasa died on July 12, 1543, he was 51 years old, his son Nobumoto took over. Nobumoto decided to join Oda Nobuhide, as a consequence he was banned from the clan of Imagawa Yoshimoto, he was 26 years old. But also Matsudaira Hirodata had to divorce from Nobumoto sister Odai. At that time Ieyasu was 1 year old.

In 1547 Oda Nobuhide attacked Okazaki castle and tried to get Mikawa city. Matsuda Hirodata asked Imagawa Yoshimoto (29) for help. Yoshimoto accepted at one condition, someone had to be kept as a hostage. Hirodata decided to send his own son Ieyasu to Sumpu castle in Suruga.

The transfer of Ieyasu was done on August 2nd, 1547 by Toda Yasumitsu, a retainer of Yoshimoto. But during the transfer Yasumitsu betrayed Imagawa for Oda Nobuhide and took Ieyasu to Atsuta (Nagoya) in Owari.

On November 1549 Imagawa Yoshimoto (31) attacked Anjo castle which was under the protection de Oda Nobuhiro, the 1st son of Nobuhide. During the fight Nobuhiro was caught by Yoshimoto who exchanged him against Ieyasu. But Imagawa and Oda made peace and he was taken back to Sumpu by Imagawa and stayed there for 10 years.

On January 15, 1557 Ieyasu get married with Tsukiyama Dono, called Princess Sena, the daughter of Sekiguchi Yoshihiro from Imagawa family. He changed his name to Motoyasu. He had a son Noboyasu and a daughter Kame Hime.

On May 19, 1560 Imagawa Yoshimoto is killed by Oda Nobunaga at the Okehazama battle. At that time Ieyasu was Yoshimoto military commander. Ieyasu is then free and on May 23rd come back to Okazaki castle.

On January 15, 1563 Ieyasu who is now 21 years old visited Nobunaga at his Kiyosu castle (Aichi Prefecture) in order to make an alliance which is known as Kiyosu Domei. They also decided to engage their children, Nobuyasu, son of Ieyasu and Toku Hime, daughter of Nobunaga. This was done on March 2 1563. They were both five years old.

In May 27, 1567 they got married at the age of nine. The same year, on December 29, Ieyasu changed his name from Matsudaira to Tokugawa. At that time he had Mikawa area under complete control and had evinced totally Imagawa family, he started to be appreciated at the Kyoto court and his influence was growing strongly.

Nobunaga had suspicion that Tsukiyama Dono, Ieyasu wife, was in secret contact with Takeda, their enemy. On August 29, 1579 Ieyasu killed his wife and few months later on September 1579, his son Nobuyasu committed suicide. But during a rebellion, in 1582 Nobunaga killed himself to avoid his assailants.

On August 1st 1590, Ieyasu is appointed Lord of Kanto by Hideyoshi Toyotomi and he went to Edo castle. Kanto was covering 6 countries, Izu, Sagami, Musashi, Kozuke, Kazusa and Imousa.

When Hideyoshi died of illness in 1598, the process of unification was almost completed and Ieyasu was appointed guarantor of Hideyoshi young heirs Hideyori. Uyesugi Kagekatsu started in May 1600 to revolt against Ieyasu. Ieyasu decided then to attack Fushimi castle. On September 15, 1600, Ieyasu together with an army of 100.000 warriors attacked his rivals at the Sekigahara battle. Sekigahara is close to Mino in Gifu Prefecture, Maeda Toshinaga was with Ieyasu on the east side. On the west side were 90.000 fighters. The battle lasted around 8 hours and Ieyasu defeated his opponents. Ieyasu emerged then as the Japanese military leader.

He decided soon after in 1600 to move the capital to Edo, he put his son Hidetada there and went to Sumpu (Shizuoka). He was appointed Shogun in 1603. He established the foundation of a feudal supremacy of the Tokugawa family which will last until the Meiji revolution in 1867. From 1603 his influence grown up rapidly, on the opposite Hideyori power was decreasing.

On April 16, 1605 Ieyasu is 64 and he decided to retire in order to be free and to devote his time to establish firmly the power of Tokugawa family and maybe also to show that the power will pass on an hereditary basis. His 3rd son Hidetada, 27 years old, took over as the second Shogun.

The Tokugawa family ruled Japan from their castle town in Edo. They had carefully distributed the land among their trusted vassals Daimyos, relatives and outside Daimyos in such way that they could keep one eye on the Tozama and avoid any possible alliance between them.

Even though Hideyori was married with Tokugawa Hidetada daughter, Ieyasu started in 1611 to make pressure on Hideyori and finally in 1614 he decided to destroy Toyotomi family. Hideyori had regrouped warriors who had lost their properties, thanks to Ieyasu. In 1614, Hidetada took this opportunity to surround Osaka castle and begin a siege known as Fuyu no jin (winter siege) which ended on January 21st 1615 when they started peace negotiation. But in May a new siege called Natsu no jin (summer siege) started. On June 4, Hideyori committed suicide and his mother Yodogomi was killed.

Ieyasu had completely broken the parole he gave few years ago to Hideyoshi. but he had finally destroyed the Toyotomi family and was now the only leader. Tokugawa family had now a complete supremacy all over Japan and will keep it for 250 years. Ieyasu died in June 1616, he was 75 years old.

The Bafuku rules

Every Daimyo was subject to the power of the Shogun, in principle they were bound to govern their fiefs in accordance with the laws and orders of the Shogun. In practice there were two types of Daimyo distinguished by a difference of origin and treatment from the Bafuku or government. The Fudai, hereditary vassals of Ieyasu or his successors and the Tozama, Lords of great domains inherited from their ancestors and not granted by Tokugawa family. The Tozama were not under direct control of the Shogun, they had been adherent of Hideyoshi or Nobunaga who have been the main adversaries of Ieyasu. But after the destruction of the Toyotomi family they had no national leader and accepted reluctantly the dominance of the Tokugawa family.

The wealth of the Lords was determined by their revenues expressed in Koku. One Koku (around 180 Liters) was equivalent to the quantity of rice needed by one person for one year. At that time the population of Japan was around 25 millions people, so as there was no importation of rice we can conclude that the local rice production was around 25 millions Kokus.

The partition of the revenue after Sekigahara battle was 8.5 millions Kokus for Tokugawa family, 6 millions was given to Fudai Daimyos and 10 millions for the Tozama Daimyos. Among the 250 fiefs more than 200 had a revenue below 100.000 kokus, and the great majority were below 30.000 kokus. But a few Tozama Daimyos had a great domain and the Bafuku had to maintain his pressure and keep the Tozama under control and surveillance.

Tokugawa established in 1615 a sort of code known as the Buke Sho-Hatto or Rules for Military Houses which defined the rules applicable to every Daimyo. Soon after, a practice known as Sankin kotai or the rule of alternate attendance was started on a voluntary basis but became in 1635 mandatory. The Daimyos had to attend the Shogun in Edo during four months every year or in some case alternate year and was leaving his family in Edo as hostage when returning to his fief. This had a severe consequence of putting an heavy burden on the wealth of the Tozama who was supposed to keep up a grand style when in Edo.

The Daimyos concentrated their vassals around their castle. The cities became then market and industrial centers. This system saw the increase in urban culture, especially Edo which had 1 million inhabitants, same happened to Osaka and Kyoto which had both around 400,000 people. Osaka was the center of the rice market and every Daimyos came here to sale his rice to support their Edo residences and traveling expenses back and forth to their domains.

The Samurai stood at the top of the legally established 4 classes system. Below were the peasants, the artisans, and the lowest, the merchants. But as urban life developed they became more and more essential to the development of the economy and became quite powerful.

The Christians and the foreign policy

One other important point to consider is the relation with foreign countries. The Portuguese ship started trade with China in 1512 and with Japan in 1542 quickly followed by the Dutch. The Pope had granted Portugal monopoly of trade with Asia, as a result only Portuguese missionaries could take place on board Portuguese ships. Spanish were trading with Philippines and were bringing with them Franciscans, and Dominicans missionaries. In 1549 St. Francois Xavier d’Assise is among the first Jesuit missionary to come to Japan.

Hideyoshi was not interested in religion but he treated the Jesuits quite well. Similarly Ieyasu was enthusiastic in the promotion of foreign trade. Until 1640 hundreds of Japanese vessels were licensed to trade as well as Chinese and Portuguese ships. Buddhists were degenerating and the Jesuits were accepted probably mainly because of their connection with Portuguese ships and this was good to stimulate import trade.

However, on July 25, 1587 Hideyoshi published an order to get rid of missionaries probably to take control of Kyushu area which was controlled by Christian Daimyos. However Nagasaki continued to protect Jesuits until 1590 when it became under direct control of Hideyoshi.

In January 1597 Hideyoshi issued again an order this time for execution of Christians, some were tortured and put to death. He wanted to eradicate them from Japan. The Christianity was somehow conflicting with feudal loyalties and due to the increase in number of missionaries and evangelists, this anti Christian policy increased seriously from 1611. The total number of Christians at end of 16 century is estimated at 300.000.

Hidetada took stronger steps in 1616. All foreign vessels except Chinese, were forbidden to enter any port other than Hirado and Nagasaki. The country was slowly closing down. In 1636 all foreign residents were ordered to move to Deshima island at the entrance of Nagasaki bay. The last order of 1639 definitely closed the country. Only few Dutch traders, from very few vessel to one per year in 1790, have been allowed to continue but were required to stop in Deshima island outside Nagasaki. However trading with China and Korea was not forbidden.

There are two reasons for this exclusion policy, one of course is to prevent the expansion of Christians by closing the country. The second is more subtle and is related to the policy of the Bafuku. In fact the Tozama Daimyos in western Japan and in Kyushu profited a lot from the foreign trade and if allowed to continue they might have easily grown strong enough to have endangered the primacy of the Bafuku. The only way was then to prohibit all foreign trade at ports other than Nagasaki, which was under direct control of the Bafuku. This way he obtained not only the control of foreign trade but also a monopoly of the profits.

The natural disasters and catastrophes

The Meiriki fire in Edo on 18 January 1657 which lasted for 3 days destroyed half of the city and killed 100.000 persons. The Shogun castle was partially destroyed as well as all the Daimyos houses which surrounded the palace. It took 2 years to rebuilt the city.

Two similar catastrophes also occurred in Edo. The great fire in 1698 where a big part of the city was destroyed and the great Kanto earthquake in 1703 where 150.000 people died. All Daimyos were then requested to finance the reconstruction of the city and of the Shogun palace.

In general the 2nd half of 18 century has been terrible, flooding, pleague, severe famines, Kyoho in 1732-33 and Temmei in 1783-88. It is believed that almost 1 million people died in the last decades of the 18 century.

The deterioration of the economy

At end of the 18th century most of the Hans were in a terrible financial situation, owing to the isolation policy of the Bafuku which resulted in a general deterioration of the living standard. This together with a poor administration and in some cases family quarrels between Hans brought a catastrophic situation which even led to riots and peasants revolts. The samurai as well as the Daimyos were also badly indebted to the rich merchants. The Shogun system had almost collapsed. The Tokugawa government was showing more and more incompetence and did not resist to US Commodore Perry who forced Japan to get out of his seclusion policy in 1854.

In 1863, British vessels bombarded Kagoshima. In 1866 the Shogun army was defeated by activist forces which finally forced him to resign in 1867 and establish an imperial government. This was the end of the feudal society founded 250 years ago by Ieyasu. It is also the beginning of the opening of Japan to the world.

The Meiji restoration

In less than half a century Japan was transformed from a secluded feudal society into an industrialized world power. During the reign of Meiji emperor from 1868 to 1912, centralized bureaucracy replaced the balance of power between Tokugawa and the autonomous domains and a conscript army replaced the military authority of the Samurais. Restrictions on residence and employment were abolished and people moved in masse to Edo now renamed Tokyo and adopted as imperial capital, The government imported foreign advisors and technology for industrial, commercial and educationnal purposes.

In 1872 a centralized school system is established. In July 1873 a new system of taxes is established and the old feudal system of Han is suppressed. In 1889 a constitution is promulgated, Japan became then a constitutional monarchy with a two level legislature called Diet, the upper house composed of peers and an elected lower house. However the prime Minister and cabinet is still reporting to the emperor who is regarded as a divine figure.

The Sino-Japanese war of 1894-95 shows military superiority of Japan over China and Japan took control over Korea. This victory added to the prestige of Japan who signed in 1902 an alliance with Great Britain as an equal power. In 1904-05 Japan and Russia fought over Manchuria and Korea. Proud of this victory Japan added Sakhalin island to their growing empire which was now also including Taiwan. In 1910 they annexed formally Korea. When Japan entered World war I as an ally of Britain, Japan had established the bases of an industrialized nation.

The Taisho and Showa periods

During Worl war I, Japan extended is control over China.But a new governmemt based on party majority at he Diet was established, and this gave a trend toward a more democratic form of government by enacting social laws and pursuing less aggressive foreign policy. Japan signed in 1921-22 a naval arms limitation. In 1930 further limitations were agreed at London Naval conference.

But the military felt that politicians were compromising the nation’s security and the emperor right of supreme command. As the World depression of 1930 reaches also Japan, right wing and military terrorism increased.

In 1932 a military government replaces party politicians in leading the government. From then until 1945 the succession of cabinets as well as the young emperor Hirohito who had succeeded to the throne in 1926, were only the puppets of the military extremists.