1 March 2023

Interview with Nakaya Shinichi, Specialist of Kutani Ware - History Part 2

Shin-ichi Nakaya, Director of The Kutani porcelain Art Museum discusses historical stories and painting styles of Kutani ware.

Shin-ichi Nakaya, Director of The Kutani porcelain Art Museum

Photo by KUTANism

Now, we will introduce crafts of the Meiji Period (1868 CE–1912 CE). Once the endorsement by the Maeda family* ended, the new Meiji government began to exhibit Kutani ware at the World Exposition and the National Industrial Exposition. This gave Kutani ware the name "Japan Kutani" overseas. The style that represented Japan Kutani was akae-kinrande (red painting with gold-painted designs), defining the world of Akae Kutani. Akae Kutani was completely different from the ao-te (an overpainting technique using green, yellow and purple) or gosai-de (a five-colored way of painting with ultramarine blue, red, purple, green and yellow) styles representative of Kutani ware up until that point.

The Maeda family is descended from Toshie Maeda, a vassal of the Oda family that ruled Owari Province (present-day Nagoya City, Aichi Prefecture) and rose to the rank of lord of the Kaga Clan.

Kanazawa Castle

After the deaths of Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the Maeda family had a tumultuous history, including a plot to rebel against Tokugawa Ieyasu. Maeda Toshinaga, succeesor to Maeda Toshiie, also sought to secure the peace of his domain. Under his leadership, the rich culture known as Kaga hyakumangoku, meaning "Kaga One million-koku" (a koku being a unit approximately equal to 150 kg of rice) flourished.


  • Did the style of Kutani ware change as it shifted from the domestic to foreign market?
  • The usage of red is completely different from original Kutani ware. How did this begin?
  • Why was Kutani ware the only type of akae porcelain that became increasingly detailed?
  • How does the development of akae-saibyo lead to akae-kinrande, the core of Japan Kutani?
  • Did Kutani culture proactively seek out information from the outside?
  • How are the wonderful, traditional techniques of Kutani ware passed onto the next generation today?
  • Message to Kutani ware fans

Did the style of Kutani ware change as it shifted from the domestic to foreign market?

There was a shift to a more modern way of life in the Meiji period. In the Edo period (1603 CE–1868 CE), Japanese-style architecture dominated. However, from the Meiji period, there was an increase in Western-style architecture. Kutani ware was created to suit such new spaces. For example, Kutani ware was made larger.

Another characteristic was its symmetry. During this period, Japan Kutani was exported in pairs. This can be seen with most of the recent Kutani ware items brought back from Europe and the United States.

The Kutani porcelain Art Museum

Photo by KUTANism

Please tell us about akae. The usage of red is completely different from original Kutani ware (colored porcelain). How did this begin?

Of the Kutani gosai*, red is the only one that is not a glaze. It is not raised like the other four colors and does not have the texture of glass. Despite this, it has the great characteristic of producing bold lines and fine details similar to that of an ink brush.

The five colors of overglaze pigment used in Kutani ware are called Kutani gosai. The four colors of blue (green), yellow, navy blue, and purple are paints with a transparency unique to Kutani ware, while the red is opaque.

The akae (overglaze red enamel) style, which was introduced by China and developed in Kyoto, was brought to Kutani by Aoki Mokubei—a master potter of Kyo ware who was invited by the Kaga clan to the Kasugayama kiln in Kanazawa City.

Aka-e bowl made by Miyamotoya kiln

At the Miyamotoya kiln, one of the revitalized Kutani kilns built in the late Edo period, the master craftsman Iidaya Hachiroemon perfected the style of akae-saibyo (red detailed-drawing) by utilizing his painting ability and technique of glue placement. Today, the akae-saibyo style is also called Iidaya. Meiji crafts created a benchmark for craftsmen by evaluating them on their level of intricacy. The incredible techniques showcased in Meiji crafts is one of its highlights.

Aka-e Saibyo

Akae was produced nationwide. Why was Kutani ware the only type of porcelain that became increasingly detailed? Does this have anything to do with the paintings distinct to Kutani ware?

Crafts had already begun to become more detailed in the late Edo period. The ability to create intricate works was a sign of being a first-rate craftsman, and small patterns were preferred over larger ones—resulting in them being highly valued. This translates to all Japanese arts and crafts.

Kutani ware was no exception. As the greatest of the colored porcelains, it is thought that Kutani ware tried to set itself apart from similar, red-painted porcelains in other regions through high artistry and detailed pattern composition

How does the development of Aka-e Saibyo lead to Akae-Kinrande–the core of Japan Kutani?

The kinrande (overglaze enamel and gold decoration) technique is an essential part of akae-kinrande. Eiraku Wazen, who was from Kyoto, contributed greatly to this technique. The remarkable achievement of Eiraku Wazen was that he implemented all the techniques he had learned in making Kyo ware to Kutani ware. He was especially skilled in handling gold. The technique of applying gold on a mirror-like surface had never been done with Kutani ware, and craftsmen were amazed at his methods. Even today, one can feel the deep respect for him in the fact that the kinrande style in Kutani ware is still called Eiraku.

Furthermore, Wazen's works are very sophisticated. The base material of Kyo ware is thin, which eliminates Kutani ware’s prior dullness. Here, the refined qualities of Kyo ware dynamically unite with Kutani ware.

Kinrande bowl made by Eiraku Wazen

I have the impression that Kyoto's DNA was involved in the turning point of Kutani ware. Is this because Kutani culture proactively sought out information from the outside?

The Kaga Maeda family aspired to rise to the top of culture alongside Kyoto—the cultural center of Japan. With this strong desire, they actively sought out the finest craftsmen and artisans in the world and developed Kutani ware. In addition, they also developed Kaga textiles, Kaga metalwork, Kaga maki-e (lacquer with sprinkled gold), the Kaga Kano school (influential school of painting), Kaga Rimpa school (school of painting known for its bold colors and gold), Senke tea ceremony (three schools of Japanese tea ceremonies), and Kaga Hosho—a unique performative art of the Kaga domain.

How are the wonderful, traditional techniques of Kutani ware passed onto the next generation today?

Not limited to only Kutani ware, the traditions of craftsmanship have been passed down by one generation to the next or by students "stealing" the techniques of their masters. Besides this, nowadays training programs at schools etc. play a significant role in acquiring techniques. At art universities and technical training institutes, first-rate instructors earnestly teach the latest techniques and skills. A challenge is creating artworks with individual sensibilities and having them recognized by a large number of people.

Finally, is there anything you would like to tell Kutani ware fans around the world?

Kutani ware, unparalleled in its flamboyance and profoundness, encompasses the best of the hyakumangoku culture—the arts, wealth, and power developed during the Maeda family’s rule of the Kaga domain. The number of foreign tourists to Kanazawa is increasing every year, and we hope you will stop by Nomi City, the hometown of Kutani ware.

Chawan festival at Kutani Pottery Village

At the Kutani Pottery Village in Nomi City, there are nearly 200 masterpieces of Kutani ware from the Edo period to the present day at the Gosaikan and Asakura Isokichi Memorial Hall. Moreover, there are painting and pottery shaping experiences at the Experience Hall, a Kutani ware artisan's workshop to visit, and ten wholesale stores where you can purchase everything from daily use to luxury items. Here you are sure to find your own wonderfully unique Kutani ware piece!

The Kutani Porcelain Art Museum

Find your favorite Kutani ware 

With its vivid hue and bold pattern, just one piece of the Kutani ware adds a touch of color to the dining table. Please visit our Kutani ware collection page.

Kutani ware Collection