Overview of Kutani kilns

The name of these wares is coming from a place named Kutani, (9 valleys) a remote village in Ishikawa Prefecture in the northern part of the main Japanese island.

However, the origin of pottery in Daishoji Han goes back to the end of the 16 century in a small place called Suizaka. Suizaka is a small village between Daishoji and Yamashiro in Enuma Gun.

Enuma Gun, was the domain of a Samurai called Yamaguchi Manebu. Manebu was found of tea ceremony and for this purpose he brought back from the Korean war a Korean potter who started a kiln in Suizaka.

In August 1600, Manebu was defeated and killed by Maeda Toshinaga , 2nd Lord of Kaga Han, who took his Daishoji castle. At that time Enuma Gun and of course Suizaka became the domain of Maeda family.

The pottery made at that period were totally different from what is called today Kutani, they were mainly wares to be used for tea ceremony, based on Korean style and which look like Seto wares. Until the beginning of ko-Kutani, for 50 years, the Korean potters supported also by potters coming from Seto continued there to make pottery.The origin of the actual Kutani style goes back when Maeda Toshiharu 1st Lord of Daishoji dispatched in 1656 Goto Saijiro Tadakiyo to Hizen, Imari in Kyushu to master the secret of a new enamel overglaze technique imported from China.At that time ships from China carrying white and blue and red enamel porcelains were frequently entering the port of Hirado in Hizen Prefecture. Historically Kyushu had always been a place with a lot of kilns. There are several reasons for this, first, lot of clay material can be found in this area and secondly many Koreans potters have been brought back by Samurais coming back from Korean war. As a result many kilns have been established by the feudal Lords for their own usage and privilege.

The local potters had always been stimulated by the Chinese ability to master white porcelain and enamel overglaze.

After coming back from Hizen, Goto Saijiro brought to Kutani a pottery style very similar to Imari. This was the beginning of Kutani style known as ko-kutani; however there is two types of Kutani, one which resemble, we can understand, very closely to Imari and is very difficult to distinguish and a second, based on enamel overglaze technique, which has lead to the success of Kutani through the development of a five colors glazes in green, dark blue, light purple, red and yellow.

The first overglaze enamel technique which uses the five Kutani colors is called "iroe". There is also green Kutani, called "Ao or Aode" or Ko-Kutani . Two kilns have operated close to Kutani village from around 1650 up to 1730, however there is no possibilities to clearly confirm these dates nor the fact that the ceramics we call now Ko-Kutani were really made there.

When Goto Saijiro died in 1704, he had no children and no pupils to whom he could transfer his know-how, furthermore this is a period where the production of Imari style pottery reached its peak in Arita. Arita potters had mastered the technique of colored enamel as well as quality of the pottery itself and in addition these pottery were also quite cheap. On the contrary Kutani wares were produced on a small scale, had problems of quality and had no distribution channel. The production decreased a lot and around 1730 it almost disappeared.

It is only 80 years later, that at the request of Maeda Narinaga the 12th Lord of Kaga, that Aoki Mokubei, a famous Kyoto painter, was invited to restore the Kutani industry. He became the leader of the Kasugayama kiln. Mokubei style is also quite particular, the ground is generally red and there is often figures of Chinese style. This is the beginning of what is called Kaga Kutani.

On the southern part we found the Nomi Kutani which started with the Wakasugi kiln in 1811 with also an important support from Maeda Toshikore 9th Lord of Daishoji who prohibited the purchase of all pottery from outside his Han. They produced daily wares until 1875.

On the other hand, it is also the period of the "red" kutani which was particularly developed by Aoya Genouemon from the Ono kiln.

Finally the Enuma Kutani has started around 1824, when Yoshidaya a rich merchant of Daishoji, decided to restart the old Kutani. For this purpose he built a kiln in the old Kutani village, however the conditions were too hard and he stayed only one year before moving his kiln to Yamashiro. Yoshidaya wares are called revived or restored Kutani and are mainly of green colors. This style is now so famous that it is often referred to as Yoshidaya style.

But, financial problems occurred, and after his death, the kiln was taken over, around 1835, by Miyamoto. Iidaya Hachirouemon who was one of the main painter of Miyamoto kiln has left an unforgettable style, which was very fashionable at that time, called Akae , Hachirode or Iidaya style and which is even today reproduced. This is a minute painting of figures with red color as a ground and the use of gold in some places. Of course Miyamoto as a successor of Yoshidaya was also producing green Kutani.

But Yoshidaya had revived and stimulated the Kutani industry and many private kilns opened in Daishoji and Nomi areas at that period. Komatsu and Terai villages became the center of a mass production. Moreover the pottery which was mainly made in Daishoji and in Enuma Gun, gave the main stream of character of Kutani. The name of Enuma Kutani had a notation of history and was synonym of good quality.

Miyamoto kiln became later Kutanihon kiln and became well known around 1870 when a famous Kyoto potter, Eiraku Wazen or Zengoro, was called to manage the kiln. He established a technique called Kinrande which is a use of gold paint on red ground.

One other famous painter named Kutani Shoza has left a specific design from the beginning of Meiji period. He had a technique of mixing all Kutani style and using modern paint. This period is also the beginning of the export of Kutani wares to Europe.

Many good potters and painters participated in the development of the Kutani wares. They led out the ground of the future Kutani ceramic by educating and training at that period many good potters and painters who established later through their kilns such as Kutanihon, Matsuyama, Chokushi, the basis of the future Meiji Kutani. It is worth to note that some of these kilns are still in operation today.

The production of Kutani has repeatedly raised and failed down in Daishoji and Kaga Hans, this was due to the fact that Kutani kilns were always private ventures, even so they were promoted and some time supported financially by the Maeda family as a mean to stimulate local business and develop industry.

Furthermore their scales were always too small, the management changed too often, and no technical continuity was maintained. It was also very rare to found workers who were skilled at doing pottery and also painting at the same time, and this is still true today.

It looks like a system of "head hunter" had already existed at that time, as the kilns were always fighting each other in order to get the service of the best painters. We can trace some of the top painters such as Honda Teikichi, Saida Isaburo, Aoya Genouemon, Matsuya Kikusaburo, Kutani Shoza in almost all the kilns which operated in Enuma and Nomi districts at the beginning of the 18th century.

But the Meiji restoration put a brief stop to almost all Kutani activities, then when town and village have been unified in 1871, Daishoji and Yamashiro were absorbed by Kaga City, the name of Enuma Kutani, Nomi Kutani and Kaga Kutani slowly disappeared. But quickly the business revived specially due to export activities which was very successful and by 1885 around 1000 persons were employed in the Ishikawa Prefecture. The reel peak of production came around 1916 when the output of ceramic was multiplied by 3 or 4 in a few years. But the great Kanto earthquake in 1923 stopped for a while the activities and we have to wait until 1940 to reach the same level. Today Kutani industry is quite successful but mainly limited to domestic production.