Japanese seals & marking

The production of Kutani ceramics can be separated into several periods :

1) End of Edo period (up to 1868)

The potters and painters mainly marked their ceramics with a - 福 - Fuku mark.

Therefore it is difficult to identify the kiln just from the mark. There are some exception like Ono, Minsan, Kasugayama kilns... where specific marking has some times been used. But be careful this fuku mark has been copied so many times up to now.

2) Meiji period 1868 - 1912

It is may be more easy to understand the marking made during this period as many information are generally written on the pot. There is always at the minimum the Kutani mark - 九谷- . This mark is often combined with -大日本 - Dai Nippon (Great Japan) or with - 日本 - Nihon (Japan).

The mark Kaga no Kuni - 加賀国 - or Kaga Kutani - 加賀 九谷 - can be also found. In fact up to Meiji period Kutani ceramics were only known under the name of Kaga ceramics. Kaga being the old name of the Prefecture (Kaga Han North part of Ishikawa Prefecture today). The name Kutani became known outside the area only from middle or end of Meiji.

The name Kayo - 加陽 - or Kashu - 加州 - is also found sometimes and as the same meaning.

Regarding cities, we may find Kutani Kinjo - 九谷金城 - Kinjo being the old name of Kanazawa, or Yokohama - 横浜 for Kutani pieces decorated in Yokohama for export.
In addition we can also get either the name of the kiln or the name of the shop which has commercialized the production or in rather rare cases the name of the painter who did the actual work. There are exceptional cases where you get the name of the kiln and the name of the painter. On the other hand there has been so many kilns producing Kutani wares from that period that it is difficult to identify every kiln, shop or painter.

There are several terms used to identify the different manufacturing places - 窯 - Kama (kiln) , -商店- Shoten (shop) or - 堂 - (Do) trading firm/Merchant and more scarcely - 軒 - Ken (Factory), - 亭 - Tei (house), -舎- Sha (company), - 園- En (garden),

Then finally whether it is a potter name, a kiln or a shop name it is generally followed by the expression - 製 - Sei or - 造 - Zo (made by), sometimes both - 製造 - Sei Zo, and more scarcely by - 工- Ko (made), - 画 - Ga (painted) - 筆 - Hitsu (drawn by), or - 着画 - Tchakkuga (drawned by).
於 - oite -  found at end of a marking after 製 - Sei or - 造 - Zo, meaning "made at" or "made in".

製之 kore tsukuru - can also be found after the name of the painter, meaning " painter made this"

謹製 Kin Sei Respectfully made by...
慎画 Shin Ga Carrefully painted by....

There is a difference between "made" and "painted or drawn by", the former being understood that "made" includes the manufacturing of the pot itself when the later "painted by" means that the artist bought the pot from a nearby kiln which generally was doing only white pots and therefore did only the paint job.

Japanese kanji are written from left to right (European way) since Meiji period. They were written from right to left before. But there is no exact rules. In addition kanji can always be written from top to bottom. Horizontal and vertical writing can be used simultaneously.

3) Taisho period 1913 - 1926

Marking is getting more simple, However we almost always get also at the minimum the Kutani mark - 九谷 -. This mark is often combined with - 日本 - Nihon (Japan).

4) Beginning of Showa up to W.W.II

Ceramics are also always identified with a Kutani mark - 九谷 - . The mark is also often combined with - 日本 - Nihon (Japan).

5) Modern Kutani

There are mainly 2 cases :

  • either the kiln or the painter is well known, he will be using in this case a specific marking which can be identified. Quite often a stylistic writing of his potter’s name in a square.
  • or the kiln is just producing pieces for tourist shops or Department stores, then probably only a Kutani mark will appear. I call this mark "generic" and we cannot therefore trace the exact origine of the piece.