The word Kutani means Nine Valleys and is the name of an area and a village. The two characters that make up the word Kutani consist of the character for "nine", ku and "valley". Since Kutani is a place, almost all pieces marked Kutani were decorated there even if by any of the many manufacturers or trading shops, rather than just a single factory. Porcelain decorators familiar with the Kutani style could also move around so as an example we can sometimes find pieces marked Yokohama & Kobe with decoration in typical Kutani style. Many Kutani made pieces might also have just the artist's as a mark, and no location at all, leading us to also needing to look at style as a clue to the origin of a piece.
The first time we hear of porcelain from the Kutani (nine valleys) Village, was in 1655, in the in the first year of the Myoreki epoch. Japanese ceramic history has it that stones suitable for porcelain making was found in the Kutani mine of the Daishoji Clan, whereupon Lord Maeda Toshiharu sent Goto Saijiro to the Arita Village in the Hizen province to learn how to make porcelain. Kutani Porcelains from this early period are specifically called Ko-Kutani and are extremely rare. The production of this ware continued for about 50-60 years.
Restoration in 1800
Around 1800 the Kutani kilns was restored in Kasugayama, Kanazawa City to make utilarian porcelains. After just a few years this kiln was destroyed by fire. Around 1806-1820 Honda Sadakichi built new kilns in Wakasugi with the purpose of reviving the old style. In 1823-1831 Yoshidaya Kilns were built in Daishoji at the site of Ko-Kutani to concentrate on commercial porcelain with printed designs. The production continues until today. In the mid-1800s the Kutani name was again revived by a number of skilled craftsmen working in different styles of which Kutani Shoza (1816-1883), working with gaudy enamels and with gold brocade, might be the best known.
Production for Export
During and after the Meiji period (1868-1912) up until today almost all Kutani porcelain in Shoza style was exported. Most of the Kutani porcelain we see today is thus 'Shoza style', 'Yoshida Kiln' export wares, dating from early 19th century up until today.
Birds on Kutani porcelain
Birds as a major motif in a Kutani style appear quite frequently marked Yokohama. Tashiro (Tashiro Shoten - Yokohama 1930s) produced/commissioned many of them. Bird motifs on porcelain with light ink wash technique is highly suggestive of Yokohama style with strong Kutani influence, during the export period. Apparently Kamimoto produced similar pieces to Tashiro - and they were quite popular. There is not a well defined time after the Edo period (1603-1867) where pieces were marked or not marked Kutani and only names appear. They appear randomly except for modern pieces made in Kutani which are almost always marked Kutani.
Marks on Kutani porelain
A while back John Wocher commented on Kutani marks;
First of all, ceramic artists like physicians, have incredibly poor penmanship, and a great number of markings remain illegible. There are seven styles of writing, and all seven can be written illegibly if one tries hard enough. They are: Sosho style, Giosho style, Kaisho style, Reisho style, Hiragana (phonetic), Katagana (phonetic for foreign words), and Romaji (Romanized alphabet, such as "Made in Japan"). Many of the characters used in Meiji and before are no longer in use. You can't even assume that the Japanese themselves can read the markings. My guess is that 80%+ cannot. When Chinese style seals are used, all bets are off, and these remain among the most difficult to comprehend. Japanese writing can be left to right, right to left, horizontal, or vertical, but not diagonal.
Markings can be in almost any color, with red dominating Kutani, but black on green, and gold on red are common also. The mark can be incised, impressed, underglaze, over glaze, or in magic marker. They can be centered, off center, in a circle, in a square, in a double square, in a rectangle, stand alone, and can appear on the reverse or the front of a piece, or in both places simultaneously. The mark might be a place, a name of a person, artist, potter, a shop, a kiln, some marks are pictures and not words, or none of the above. The number of ways that 'Kutani' can be written, legibly and illegibly, will cause your calculator to go into scientific notation.
On the interpretations, there are at least two readings for each Kanji (Chinese character), one being the Chinese reading, and the other being the Japanese reading and interpretation. Many artist names ends with Zan (or in Japanese, Yama, both meaning mountain). Presumably when they get famous, they seem to take this kind of pen name. There are many Zans. Bizan, Shizan, Seizan, Kyozan, Kinzan, and Kyokuzan, just to name a few, come to mind. Sometimes also their fame was not long lasting. Many also have the same names, which further adds to the confusion.
Even the most common of dinner plates, cups, and saucers today are marked. Yet some Japanese National Treasures are unmarked. Increasingly also, the Chinese who are good at faking are now forging Japanese ceramics right down to the illegible or not, marking.
The best book might be the Bowes' book - Japanese Marks and Seals. A good Japanese dictionary, along with a 1.8 liter bottle of Dai Ginjo Sa'ke might also help.
So far John Wocher. Some Kutani marks are listed here. For any further specialist information on Kutani porcelain and marks the web page run by John Wocher and George Bouvier is the best on-line resource there is. See the Links page for the address.
|Kutani - Generic two character mark|
|1411. Generic Ku tani (Nine Valleys) mark. Two different marks occurs on same tea set imported to the USA before WW I. Tentative date around the first decades of the 20th century.|
|591. Mark: Kutani. c. 1930|
|983. Mark: Kutani.|
|620. Kutani. c. 1930|
|1513. Kutani. c. 1930|
|506. Seal script generic Kaku (square) style version of "Kutani". Probably 1960's.|
|Kutani - Mount Fuji symbol|
|1232. Kutani two character mark under a Mount Fuji symbol. Date: probably around 1930-50.|
|1489. Dish, good quality shape and motif of Chrysanthemium. Mark: Kutani Bunpo. Probably a kiln, producer, exporter or importer name. Probably early to middle showa period, tentative date 1960s.|
|Kutani CPO - Central Purchasing Office|
|1209. Sake cups, two out of a set of seven. Top 2 characters says 'Kutani'. Three characters below, within the diamond reads She Pee Yoo phonetically = CPO meaning Central Purchasing Office. This double marking indicates that such marked items were sold on the U.S. Army and Navy Bases in Japan. However. This set of seven with decoration of the seven lucky gods in mythology is marked in katagana phonetic characters used for foreign words. Tentative date is the 1950s.|
|1284. Vase. Top 2 characters says 'Kutani'. The three characters below within the diamond is 'CPO' meaning Central Purchasing Office. This double marking indicates that such marked items were sold on the U.S. Army and Navy Bases in Japan. However. Tentative date is the 1950s.|
|Kutani (Nine Valleys) Province of Kaga|
|1449. Vase. Mark: Kutani Sei. Meiji (1868-1913) period. Probably around 1880. Height 30 cm.|
|1448. Vase. Mark: Kutani zo, Wataya Sei. Meiji (1868-1913) period second half. Wataya was the shop/pen name of Wataya Heibei. He had also a shop in Yokohama for export to Europe and the US. It is a well known producer.|
|980. The artist is Kutani Ichigo (ie single hair), real name Asai Ichimo. Asai Ichimo was born in the present Kaga city in 1836. He learned pottery from Iidaya Hachiroemon of the famous Miyamoto kiln. Later, he became an Akae (Crimson painting) pottery painter, creating his own original designs. In 1879, together with his brother Takeuchi Ginshu, he established a very successful Kutani porcelain company.|
|1366. Small vase, enamels on cracked porclein body. Iron red hand painted mark "Kutani". Date early 20th century.|
|586. Kutani incense pot, made by Tokuda Yasokichi I (1874 - 1956) who was human cultural asset and the piece was made in early 20th century. Currently Tokuda Yasokichi III continues the artistic activity and holds the Japan's national treasure title.|
|1167. Dish. Kutani mark. Contemporary.|
|375. Kaga-kuni Shimizu-sei, "Kutani" plate in "Satsuma" style but on porcelain body. Meiji period (1868 - 1912). The mark indicates that the plates are made in Kaga province by a studio or factory called Shimizu.|
|475. Kutani. Mark: Kaga-kuni Nishiki (unclear) sei sei = manufactured/made by Keiju (second character unclear) -egaku.|
|685. Dai Nippon Kutani Tsukuru - "Made in Japan by Kutani". It is generally accepted that marks that includes "Dai Nippon" in Japanese characters on the whole date to the Meiji (1868-1912) period, reflecting the greatly increased nationalism of that period. Probably c. 1900|
|484. Kaga kuni, Kutani tsukuru (reading top to bottom, right to left) Tsukuru may also be rendered â€œzoâ€. Late Meiji 1880-90.|
|485. Kutani ... Tsukuru. Late Meiji 1880-90.|
|590. The top character in a circlecan be read as Miya which is a contraction meaning "August House", and is probably the studio or hall where the vases were made. The other characters simply read Kutani Tsukuru, meaning "Kutani made", a standard mark on this ware.|
|901. Mark: Kato Zo meaning, "painted by Ka To". Japanese porcelain, probably Kutani. Date: Taisho (1913-1926) period, Mid to late 1920's.|
|922. Mark: Bizan, Taisho period (1912-1926).|
|487. Mark: Fuku ("Good fortune" or "happiness") common on Kutani porcelain.|
|398. Seals reads: "Kutani Ryusho/Ryujo" (both readings of second character possible). Possibly early Showa or late Taisho period (i.e. pre WWII).|
|908. Mark: Kutani.|
|406. Seal with seal-script: Kutani Towa. Possibly early Showa or late Taisho period (i.e. pre WWII).|
|964. Mark: Kutani, Japanese porcelain, Kutani porcelain. Date c, 1950s.|
|909. Kutani. Mid 20th century. From a teaset with three different marks.|
|910. Kutani. Mid 20th century. From a teaset with three different marks.|
|911. Kutani. Mid 20th century. From a tea set with three different marks.|
|1033. Mark: Kutani Sei, Japanese geisha ware porcelain with "River's Edge" type pattern. Mark and style of piece dates it to the end of Meiji period (1868-1912), from around 1910-20|
|435. Kaga Kutani. Note: Japanese reading should be read top to bottom, then right to left, thus inscription reads Kaga Kutani.|
|692. Mark: Yamashita tsukuri, meaning "Hill Foot Made", but a last name. Probably Kutani, c. 1940's.|
|940. Mark: Kaga no (...) wataken sei, Japanese porcelain, Kutani porcelain. Mark and style of piece dates it to the Meiji period (1868-1912), before 1900.|
|505. Eiraku, for the Kutani kiln, would in Chinese be translated as Yongle. The symbol character on the inside of the dish is a shouh (=Long life) character.|
|1077. Mark: Impressed kutani, sticker "Kutani, made in Japan". Tentative date 1950s or later.|
|1215. "Ginger jar" with inner lid.|
|1216. Vase. Mark Kutani Shoei. Unknown maker, Showa (1926-1988) period.|
|Kutani Ichinichi Sei/ Ichi Hi Sei - One Day Made|
|"This Kutani Ichinichi Sei/ Ichi Hi Sei - "One Day Made" is probably a workshop. Probably Meiji period (1868-1912) or slightly later.|
|1401. Vase. Mark Kutani Ichinichi Sei/ Ichi Hi Sei - "One Day Made" is probably a workshop. Probably Meiji period (1868-1912) or slightly later.|
|Kutani Watano Sei - Watano Trading Company|
|This company lasted for 3 generations and used different kanji characters for the no in Watano depending on the generation. Watano was very famous during Meiji period (1868-1912) with export offices in the port towns of Kobe and Yokohama.|
|1261. Vase. Mark Kutani Watano Sei. Meiji (1868-1912) period. The character no used here is the most recent used by the Watano Trading company.|
|Kutani Tsukuru - Kutani Made|
|Common as it might seem a plain Kutani tsukuru is actually rarely seen.|
|1487. Bowl. Mark: Kutani tsukuru, "Kutani made".|
|1539. Water flask. Mark: Kutani tsukuru, "Kutani made".|
|Kutani 'Kyokuzan' - Morning Sun Mountain|
|Kyoku zan can literally be translated to Morning Sun Mountain. This mark occurs on both white porcelain as well as typical Satsuma earthenware why, while possibly a potter, this is probably a shop or a company name related to the decorator or more likely the exporter or importer.|
|1210. Tea set. Top 2 characters says 'Kutani'. Characters inside the frame reads Kyokuzan meaning 'morning sun mountain'. Porcelain most likely made in 'Kutani' while the decoration could be added elsewhere. Seal reads Eihou above and Kanehira below. Dates to the mid 1950s.|
|785. Mark: Kyokuzan, Japanese porcelain, mark known on Kutani porcelain. Thanks to 'Eileen' date identified as c. 1950.|
|1471. Mark: Kyokuzan, Japanese porcelain, mark known on Kutani porcelain. Thanks to 'Eileen' date identified as c. 1950.|
|1336. Part service. Top 2 characters says 'Kutani'. Characters inside the frame reads Kyokuzan meaning 'morning sun mountain'. Porcelain most likely made in 'Kutani' while the decoration could be added elsewhere. Date c. 1950.|
|KUTANI - GEISHA GIRL LITHOPHANES|
|These Lithophanes occurs almost exclusively on the bottoms of tea cups. This marking span from the late 1930's and into the late 1950's/early 1960's. Many thus dates to the Occupied Japan period (1945-52) and could have been made for the GI trade, why the US Customs "country of origin" rules would not apply. Many of this style were made in Nagoya area factories.||813. Japanese porcelain. Mark: YOZAN - "Yo Mountain". Cups with a lithophane of a Geisha Girl. Mid 20th century.|
|26. Probably a "Flower Geisha". Left looking. Characters mean wisteria [Fuji] daughter/maiden [musume]|
|407. Kutani, Geisha Girl, "Dragonware" mid 20th century.|
|498. HAYASI. Left looking Geisha girl in the cups. Probably 1950s'|
|1254. HAYASI. Probably 1950s'|
|49. Kutani, Geisha Girl, "Dragonware" mid 20th century.|
|670. Kutani porcelain with a "Geisha Girl" lithophane in the base. The "M in a wreath" mark seems to indicate Noritake Company but I find this unlikely. It is probably just made to be similar. Date: probably around 1950.|
|TO BE IDENTIFIED|
|1483. Mark: Fuku ("Good fortune" or "happiness") common on Kutani porcelain, on dish in Ko-Kutani (17 century) style. These dishes are difficult to have authenticated. Tentative date end of second half of 20th century.|
|1409. Bowl in Kutani style. Tentative date second half of 20th century.|
The gotheborg.com marks section was originally initiated by a donation of marks from the collection of Karl-Hans Schneider, Euskirchen, Germany in July 2000. The section have since then been greatly extended by a large number of contributing collectors. In particular I would like to thank Georges Bouvier, John Wocher and Howard Reed.