Discovering Japanese Craftsmanship: Kutani Porcelain in Kanazawa

Kanazawa is home to some of Japan's best artisanal works.  Among its best representatives for the ceramics category hails from Ishikawa Prefecture on the west coast of Japan.  If you have the pleasure of visiting Ishikawa's capital city of Kanazawa during your journey to Japan, you will invariably run into this fine porcelain at some point whether in a souvenir shop or, as I recommend below, by trying your hand at painting this fine pottery.  So without further ado, allow me to help you discover the fine Japanese craft know as...

KUTANI-YAKI


Kutani pottery is named after its place of origin and emerged as a prominent type of Japanese pottery during the Edo Period.  At the time, the head of the Maeda clan commissioned the construction of a kiln to take advantage of ore deposits discovered in the area.  That original kiln in Kutani perfected the craft that later spread to other areas of what is now Ishikawa prefecture, including the city of Kanazawa (for more on the history of Kutani-ware, check out this site here).

Kanazawa is now the best place in Japan to shop for, learn about, and enjoy hands-on experiences with Kutani products.  They offer everything from porcelain figurines (like the owls seen in the cover photo), to dishware to sake cups (like the Totoro ones I took home below). 

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My favorite place to shop for these products was at Kanazawa station's gift market, since it has the widest range of products.  Just go inside the Motenashi Dome and hang a left, and you'll be greeted by shelves and shelves of Kutani products.

Just inside here and to the left is a fantastic market with loads of kutani-ware!

Still, one of the great things about Kanazawa is that almost every artisan's shop offers taiken, or hands-on experiences, and you're missing out if you don't check out the kutani experience at Kutani Kosen-gama (pottery kiln) in the Nishi Chaya district.
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Kutani Kosen Pottery Kiln offers a fairly comprehensive foray into Kutani-ware, providing a tour of the facilities, explanations of the firing process and some of the unique characteristics of Kutani porcelain, and a chance to paint one of 20 different pottery items (dishes, cups, etc.). 

In the hands-on experience, you serve to paint the outlines of whatever objects will be colored later--similar to the way that Kutani masters do it by drawing the shapes of their designs in a single color first before adding a multitude of colors later.  After you've painted the outlines, you hand it over to the kiln with an address (international is okay) and they will color it and ship it to you later!  Here's my personal example:

This is what mine looked like when I had completed the outlines on a small dish...
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...and here is what it looked like after they colored it and shipped it to me.  The thing that struck me most about the level of craftsmanship at Kutani Kosen-gama was the signature portion on the underside of the dish: just look at how messy my brush strokes were compared to the tight, precise lines spelling out "九谷光仙."

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The whole experience starts at 1,300 yen (prices vary depending on the type of porcelain you choose to paint).  The Kiln is open 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily (10:00 AM to 3:00 PM during Winter months).  Reservations for the hands-on experience are required--just dial 076-241-0902.  They can usually accommodate day prior reservation requests and will sometimes be able to honor same-day appointments.
 

So there you have it...


...Your introduction to Kutani-ware and how to enjoy it while you're in Kanazawa city.  So if you happen to be heading to Ishikawa Prefecture on your next trip to Japan (perhaps on the new Hokuriku Shinkansen), I say zehi, go discover this beautiful and interesting style of Japanese porcelain!

Mike B