2 July 2024

Taka Toshifumi: Bringing All Things Into Balance

The bold go-sai, five colors, of Kutani ware are instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with traditional Japanese artistry. The patterns and motifs that cover porcelain pieces have withstood the test of time to become representative of the industry. Yet, every artist who finds their calling in the Kutani genre finds a way to make it fully individual and keep the timeless craft evolving to meet the needs of the future.

One such artist is Taka Toshifumi.

The third generation of Kutani Kougai Kiln, he was born into the craft. Having learned from the masters that came before him including his grandfather, Kougai, who founded the kiln where he now practices and perfects his art, Taka revitalizes the techniques of his predecessors to plant them firmly in the modern age. His motifs of flowers, birds, people, and patterns are brought to life with soft colors and delicate strokes, accentuated with gentle flashes of gold to add a new dimension to the unique elegance that characterizes Kutani ware.

We visited his workshop to speak with the artist and learn firsthand about his passion for the intricate art form, his story of being born into a family of Kutani mastery, and his vision for the future.


  • Seeking Inspiration from the Past
  • The History of Kutani, Expressed Through a Master’s Art
  • The Creative’s Balancing Act

Seeking Inspiration from the Past

“I’ve been surrounded by pottery since I was old enough to understand it.”

Entering the kiln, the reception area is adorned with his creations alongside those of his father and grandfather, giving visitors an instant look into the third generation’s formidable heritage.

Taka’s grandfather, the first-generation founder of Kougai Kiln, didn’t begin his creative journey surrounded by Kutani the way his descendants were. Instead, Kougai’s aspirations were for Japanese-style painting, painting hanging scrolls that decorated the walls of Taka’s childhood home. This early introduction to traditional painting has proven to be a large influence on the master’s current work.

Despite being born into the world, it wasn’t until high school that he set his sights on continuing the family business. And a successful boom during Japan’s economic bubble led him to enroll at the Osaka University of Art to study molding—a course not directly related to the work of Kutani ware.

Following his university studies, he joined the path that had been laid out for him by the generations before him by entering the then-newly established Kutani Ceramic Training Institute. As the curriculum hadn’t been solidified yet, his learnings were mostly conceptual: “That way of thinking about art is still useful to me now.”

Then, at last, he became a working member of Kougai Kiln, taking his place in the family business under the tutelage of not only his grandfather, but the talent that filled the workshop. ”When I joined, there were about 10 craftsmen. It wasn’t like you worked directly side-by-side. I learned by watching.” Even during tea breaks, he gained invaluable knowledge by speaking with local artisans who shared their experiences and insights into the industry and the work. And the education he received from the pottery collective from Kyoto taught him the delicate touch needed to paint small items like teacups.

Despite his extensive and varied experience across the field of fine arts, Taka maintains that Japanese painting holds the most influence over his work—especially the renowned Kano school of painting, which was prominent from the late Muromachi period (1333 CE–1573 CE) to the early Meiji period (1868 CE–1912 CE). “When creating, I tend to lean in that direction, but it can become too standard. I want to do something a little more free.”

The History of Kutani, Expressed Through a Master’s Art

Shoza Painting

Setting the tone of Taka’s pieces is the vibrant, elaborate design that signifies shoza style. Originating in the Meiji period, this genre combines intricate overglaze painting in a rainbow of hues with opulent gold details.

At the beginning of his journey, the shoza designs he produced were copies of existing pieces. Now, he maintains shoza-style copies as the core of his pieces but fills the surrounding parts with his own designs. Shoza designs were cutting-edge during the Meiji period, but Taka believes that he and other Kutani craftsmen need to evolve to make the work suit contemporary style. As a result, although Kutani ware traditionally features patterns and designs covering the entire surface, Taka has shifted his style to include designs and colors that lighten the visual load.

Hanazume Design

Another aspect of the painting process was handed down to Taka from his grandfather: hanazume. A classic Kutani design, hanazume was invented in 1913 and depicts a dense arrangement of flowers, with each bud outlined with gold. Taking the first-generation master’s technique, Taka has made it his own with an untraditional color palette. In the past, dark, rich colors were favored for hanazume, but his style has evolved to include white in unique ways, creating pastel hues not commonly seen in Kutani ware.

The flowers used on the design lean abstract over realistic. Although the artist says that he sketches, he mentioned that he deliberately avoids realism, explaining: "If I simply fill the space with flowers, it becomes nothing more than a flower field. I stylize the design to express that it's Kutani ware."

Kinsai Touches

A distinctive marker of Taka’s work is the use of kinsai, a decorative technique that places gold leaf or gold paste on top of the painted porcelain. Especially because gold is part of the artist’s signature in his hometown of Kanazawa, where he sources the gold leaf used in his pieces. During our visit, we were able to bear witness to the process of converting gold leaf into gold paste—a process that takes several hours and requires considerable effort.

He uses gold to enhance or even correct parts of the painting as it happens. “It’s the kind of thing you think about at each stage of the work. The final result isn’t decided from the beginning.” When placing gold, Taka says, it is necessary to carefully consider its distribution: too much and it feels overwhelming, even gaudy.

The Creative’s Balancing Act

As with other things in life, the theme of balance came up often throughout the interview. Taka is dedicated to exploring the freedom in his art, but finds optimal shapes and colors through extensive research of traditional motifs. He incorporates traditional designs and motifs in more than half of his work, while the rest is his own creation. One example is the kingfisher and sparrow, both deeply traditional motifs in Japanese paintings, which he has included in his paintings since he was a university student. Contrasting this is his extensive studying of color, achieving unique hues that evoke images of watercolor paints.

This approach is not only reflected in his artwork but also in his teaching style. Currently instructing the new generation of artists at the Kutani Ceramic Technical Training Institute, he no longer teaches solely through copying, instead encouraging students to think and create independently. He believes in the importance of not only preserving traditional techniques but also embracing creativity in the process.

This can be seen in the motif known as The Seven Lucky Gods. Seen on Kousai Kiln pieces since the first generation, these figurines vary in facial expression depending on the artist. Now, when the third generation paints the faces on these figures, he always strives to make them beautiful.

And although he’s renowned for the beautiful, hand-painted designs that cover the pieces, something that sets him apart from other artists is his attention to the form. He considers the experience the user will have—a concept that stems from his university course in molding and the 10 years’ experience in molding that came after graduation. Because his pieces are not only painted, but also shaped by hand, they represent an inimitable passion for the work from concept to final result.

And with that passion, Taka Toshifumi is shaping the future of Kutani ware.

View Taka Toshifumi Collection