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Field Trip to Ishikawa

 Ishikawa prefecture stretches from north to south along the coast of the Japan Sea in central Honshu island. Kanazawa, a beautiful historical city attracting tourists, is the capital of the prefecture. Ishikawa is a treasure trove of Japan's traditional craftworks; Kutani ware, Yamanaka and Wajima lacquer wares, Yuzen kimono textile, metalwork, woodcraft, and so on. With bounty from nature, the land has also been prosperous in agriculture and fishery for a long time.

Kutani ware,
gems of Japanese ceramics

 The Maeda clan, the family who headed the domain during the pre-modern times Ishikawa, laid the foundation for handicraft industries. The domain was then called Kaga in the Edo period(1603-1868). To establish new industries in Kaga, the feudal administration introduced production techniques of crafts from other advanced regions such as Edo (today's Tokyo) and Kyoto in the Edo period. Under the initiative of the lords of Maeda clan, various local craft industries were developed and they paved the way for prosperity of Kaga. The techniques introduced from other regions were sublimated into tradition of artistic crafts by creative craftspeople in Kaga.

 Kutani ware is one of the artistic crafts developed in the Edo priod. Unlike other Japanese ceramics, Kutani ware is no longer produced in the place called Kutani. Kutani is a place located deep within mountains, where the first Kutani ware is said to have been fired. Although there are several theories about accurate dates when the first kiln was built in Kutani, archaeological findings prove that it was roughly around the mid-17th century. Due to a deposit of pottery stone found nearby back then, the ancient potters built kilns in mountainous Kutani. It was the lord of the domain at that time who decided to start new industry and ordered his men to import porcelain production technology from Arita in Hizen, where porcelain had been produced since the early 17th century. The porcelain ware now called Ko Kutani (Old Kutani) was created at that time. With its vivid overglaze enamel colours, bold and unique designs, and also with its rarity, Ko Kutani has been an object of great admiration for centuries. The porcelain production in Kutani, however, ended after about 50 years. There are also several theories but the reason for the closure of the kilns has yet to be made clear. After the kilns had been abandoned, the domain had to wait until the early 19th century for reestablishment of its ceramics industry.

 It was in 1807 when the lord of Kaga domain of the time sponsored the ceramics industry to start it again. The Kasugayama kiln was first fired in that year in Kanazawa under the guidance of a great artist and ceramicist at the time. Aoki Mokubei (1767-1883) was invited by the lord Maeda from Kyoto. Then several kilns with their distinctive characteristics were built one after another within Maeda clan's territories. The pieces produced in this period are called the revived Kutani. The paintings influenced by the styles from the late Ming Dynasty were applied on the first revived Kutani fired in the Kasugayama kiln. Then the styles of designs and production techniques were developed in various ways from red overglaze enamel, gold-brocade, polychrome overglaze enamels, to sometsuke underglaze cobalt. Revived Kutani generated various decoration styles as the kiln director's preference was reflected on the production of each kiln. All of those decoration styles, including Mokubei, Yoshidaya, Iidaya, Eiraku, and later Shoza, have been called Kutani ware. The kilns built in this period were all private enterprises run under the protection of the feudal administration.

 In the Meiji period (1868-1912), Kutani Shoza invented Shoza style that used the pigments imported from the West to apply polychrome overglaze decoration. Pieces lavishly decorated in Shoza style, which was also called coloured Kutani, were highly appreciated overseas and that encouraged Kutani ware manufacturing for exports. The volume of Kutani ware exports rose sharply and became the largest scale of total ceramics exports from Japan, and it lasted until 1916.

 Some present-day Kutani ware ceramicists follow the traditional styles and others explore new possibilities of expressions in their creation. Since the times of Ko Kutani, bold and exquisite designs, underglaze and overglaze painting techniques, and throwing and forming skills have been handed over through creators' craftspersonship, and the ceramicists in the current generation interpret such inherited properties into artistic contemporary Kutani ware works in modern day Ishikawa.