7 May 2024

Mitsui Tatsuya: Guardian of Kutani Ware's Eternal Beauty

Kutani ware, a symbol of Japan's rich tradition in porcelain artistry, stands out with its vibrant Kutani gosai palette—red, yellow, purple, navy blue, and green. Its allure lies in the breathtakingly detailed painted motifs of flora, fauna, landscapes, and seasonal scenes.

And for over three centuries, this artistry has been meticulously preserved, embodying an enduring craftsmanship that weaves through the fabric of generations. Among the torchbearers of this art form is Mitsui Tatsuya, a craftsman whose dedication to Kutani ware is unwavering. His devotion shines brightly in his adoration for its beauty and his steadfast dedication to the ko-Kutani style of painting.

During a visit to the studio of the Mitsui family, we spoke with Mitsui Tatsuya. Here, he shared the nuances of ko-Kutani style overglaze painting, his artistic journey, and the profound reverence he has for both the craft and those who cherish it.


  • Commitment to Kutani Ware
  • Harmony of Senses: The Multifaceted Allure of Ko-Kutani Painting
  • Preserving the Essence of Excellence

Commitment to Kutani Ware

The name Mitsui Tamekichi carries the weight of generations. Tatsuya's father, the revered third generation Mitsui Tamekichi, is a towering figure within the tradition of ko-Kutani style. His creations are distinguished by meticulous hand-drawn designs in the vibrant palette of Kutani gosai, five iconic colors. They pay homage to the artful use of white space on the porcelain surface, a nuanced dance between color and white that captures the essence of this ageless craft.

Tatsuya's entry into this venerable lineage was spurred not by family. Tatsuya ventured into pottery being inspired by a friend's encouragement, leading him to Kyoto to immerse himself in studying painting, pottery wheel techniques, and sculpturing—skills he initially believed he lacked, as per his family's opinion.

Tatsuya reminisces about the initial, humble stages of his apprenticeship after his studies. Those days were filled with basic tasks that, in hindsight, laid the foundation for his skill in overglaze painting. From preparing niwaka—a type of glue mixed with colored pigments—to performing repetitive tasks without the opportunity to paint, he learned the importance of precision and patience. This period of silent dedication, without direct guidance from his predecessors, culminated in his ability to paint intricate designs, a milestone reached after three years of diligent practice.

By the ten-year mark, his journey had become a blend of exploration and skill refinement, with recognition gradually shifting from the legacy of his father to his own creations. Fifteen years in, earning the title of Traditional Craftsperson marked a watershed moment, elevating his profile in this traditional art.

Harmony of Senses: The Multifaceted Allure of Ko-Kutani Painting 

Tatsuya holds a strong belief in the power of the unseen—the thoughts, the emotions, and the intentions that breathe life into each piece of Kutani ware. In a world that often prioritizes the visible and the tangible, Tatsuya champions the beauty of ko-Kutani drawn out from white spaces of a piece. 

Tatsuya also spoke about the strong presence of a piece rich in meticulous artistry. "Regardless of size, truly great pieces have a way of defining a space. Even the smallest of works can possess a powerful aura. The ability to assert presence can mark the greatness of a piece."

Painting a piece is about striking a balance between traditional charm and modern appeal for Tatsuya. He hopes to have his works resonate with younger audiences as well as with longtime patrons. He cherishes the principle that while beauty is subjective, quality is universally recognized. 

In today's world, there's a discerning appreciation for items that marry aesthetic appeal with functionality, particularly those that invite touch and interaction. Crafting such pieces transcends mere visual delight; it involves a sophisticated art of imbuing objects with a tactile quality that resonates on a personal level. There's something incredible about human intuition when it comes to appreciating quality through touch—pondering over how surprisingly light something is, or how unexpectedly delicate, or marveling at the texture of the paint. 

 Preserving the Essence of Excellence

In the meticulous world of Kutani ware, Mitsui Tatsuya wields his brush with a profound commitment to bridging the past and present. "Each stroke is a conversation with history," Tatsuya muses, emphasizing the delicate balance between honoring the rich heritage of Kutani ware and infusing it with a breath of contemporary life. His dedication to the craft is palpable, not just in the vibrant hues that dance across the porcelain but in the thoughtful selection of every pigment and the careful curve of every line.

"It's about creating something that resonates on a personal level," Tatsuya explains, revealing his approach to crafting pieces that engage the senses beyond sight. His creations invite touch, drawing admirers closer to experience the warmth and texture unique to each piece. "True beauty in Kutani ware," he believes, "lies in its ability to connect—whether it's through the story it tells, the history it carries, or the sheer pleasure of holding it in your hands." Through his art, Tatsuya not only aims to preserve the essence of excellence inherent in Kutani ware but also to expand its reach, ensuring it continues to enchant and inspire.

Mitsui Tatsuya upholds Kutani ware's traditional boundaries, embodying a connection between past and present, craftsperson and customer. His dedication to the craft preserves a cherished heritage and enriches the cultural dialogue with each piece he creates, inviting a deeper appreciation and understanding of the intricate art form of the ko-Kutani style design.

View Mitsui Tamekichi Collection