27 January 2023

 Kutani Ware Styles Born from Japan's Modernization 

Kutani ware, characterized by its vivid designs, has undergone changes over the 360 years since its birth–incorporating a variety of cultures.

This article introduces seven Kutani ware styles that have emerged in the course of Japan's modernization and internationalization from the Meiji period (1868-1912) onward.

To learn more about the history of Kutani ware, please click below.


  • The Colorful and Flowery Hanazume Style
  • Beautiful and Gold Yuri-kinsai
  • Sophisticated and Silver Yuri-ginsai
  • Finely-Dotted Aochibu
  • The Jewel-Like Luster of Saiyu
  • Fine and Detailed Mohitsu Saiji
  • Unique and Alluring Ceramic Sculptures
  • Travel to Ishikawa and Discover the Charms of Kutani Ware

The Colorful and Flowery Hanazume Style

Hanazume (filled with flowers) is a luxurious and gorgeous style that enables you to enjoy a richness in color as well as the extravagance of gold pigments. The rich use of colors makes it as though flowers are continuously blooming from the depths of the pottery piece. The combination of Kutani ware and the glamorous gold pigment gives this long-established painting technique a novel feel.

The Hanazume style covers pottery pieces with many kinds of flowers. After its first firing, the flowers are further outlined in gold and fired again. The elegant colors and gorgeous overglaze decoration are very popular. 

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Beautiful and Gold Yuri-kinsai

Yuri-kinsai is known for its glossy glaze and beautiful shimmer of gold leaf. This style was created by combining gold leaf, a traditional craft of Kaga City in Ishikawa Prefecture, and Kutani ware.

Yuri-kinsai is a production technique in which a pattern is painted onto a pottery piece using gold leaf, gold paint, or other gold pigments, glazed over, and fired. Unlike the Kirande technique, in which gold is painted using a brush, gold leaf of varying thicknesses is cut out along the lines of a picture or pattern, pasted onto the pottery piece, and then glazed over with a transparent glaze before firing. The thin and difficult-to-handle material of gold leaf cannot be shaped and expressed without skillful technique.

Sophisticated and Silver Yuri-ginsai

Yuri-ginsai uses a technique in which a pattern made of silver leaf is applied to a pottery piece, glazed over with a transparent glaze, and fired.

Transparent pigments and Kutani Gosai are used for the glaze. Unlike gold, which has a powerful sparkle and presence, silver has a subtle luster and exudes profound beauty. Because of its subtlety, the silver blends beautifully with colored glazes, offering a refined beauty. Typically, silver oxidizes and turns black, but covering it with a glaze prevents oxidation. Another advantage of Yuri-ginsai is that pieces of beautiful silver leaf can be enjoyed for a long time.

Finely-Dotted Aochibu

Fine, small dots fill the area around a beautiful, three-dimensional gold pattern. The dots are painted one by one in a layering style–showcasing superb craftsmanship through their small size and detail. This is a relatively new style of painting that began in the Taisho era (1912-1926).

Aochibu (blue dots) is a technique in which a pattern painted on an even base of black paint is struck with a tool called an “Icchin” to create numerous raised dots. It is extremely difficult to draw small dots of the same size without losing the collective beauty of the entire pattern. The pattern as a whole creates a beautiful appearance of ripples. The smaller the dots are, the more skillful the craftsman is. In addition to Aotsubu, there are also techniques in different colors such as Shirochibu (white dots) and Kinchibu (gold dots). 

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The Jewel-Like Luster of Saiyu

Saiyu (colored glazing) evokes the unlimited possibilities of Kutani Gosai (red, green, yellow, purple, and navy blue). The expression of the glaze changes depending on the reflection of light, which creates a jewel-like luster on the surface of pottery pieces.

The application of glaze to the surface of pottery pieces is called Saiyu–a technique that expresses beauty not through patterns but through color itself. The glaze applied to the base material becomes glassy when fired, which gives the colored porcelain's surface its luster.

Saiyu uses a technique that involves mixing colored glazes and applying different shades to a pottery piece's base, creating not only luster but also a beautiful gradation of colors on a piece of pottery's surface. While overglaze painting is generally done at low firing temperatures of around 500-800℃ (982-1472℉), the firing of Saiyu porcelain is done at medium firing temperatures of 1,040℃ (1904℉).

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Fine and Detailed Mohitsu Saiji

Mohitsu Saiji (fine brush writing) is a style of writing classical literature, such as Chinese poetry and waka poems, on pottery pieces. The Manyoshu (the oldest anthology of Japanese poetry) is difficult to read and waka poems are hard to understand without modern translations. This enables you to further appreciate the calligraphic style without distractions. Kutani Mohitsu Saiji began in the Meiji period, when Kutani ware was at its peak. In order to differentiate it from other types of ware and make it unique, characters were written on the inside of pottery pieces–which were not usually painted.

The fine characters were only a few millimeters in size, and were so detailed and beautifully drawn that they needed to be seen with a magnifying glass. This is a very rare technique in the pottery world. The small letters are written in a straight and even line from top to bottom.

After the Meiji period (1868-1912), Mohistsu Saiji developed independently in the southern region of Ishikawa Prefecture as a form of expression that complimented the delicate painting techniques of Kutani ware. There are many pieces with writing on the inside of the vessel– surprising its viewers with a high level of craftsmanship. The glaze for the writings contain manganese and is very sticky. This makes it possible to write fine and beautiful characters.

Unique and Alluring Ceramic Sculptures

Kutani ware sculptures are very expressive and warm. These sculptures look so animated, it's almost as if they have a soul.

Ceramic sculpting is a technique of forming people, Buddha, animals, and lucky charms out of clay. This technique has been used in Kutani ware since the Meiji period (1868-1912). The production process involves sculpting a clay mold and then creating the sculpture by hand. Facial expressions and poses are largely determined by the artist's sculpting skills and sense of style. This enables you to enjoy both the attention to detail and the rich colors of Kutani ware.

Travel to Ishikawa and Discover the Charms of Kutani Ware

Throughout its long history, Kutani ware has continued to carry on its traditions while introducing new techniques and designs. As aforementioned, there are many styles of Kutaniyaki, enabling you to enjoy the individuality of each one. You are sure to find a favorite through discovering Kutani ware's many techniques and styles. Please visit Ishikawa Prefecture to learn more about the charms of Kutani ware introduced in this article!