What is Kutaniyaki porcelain? How about Yamanaka Shikki lacquerware? Learn about their histories first, then try making it on your own! There are many places for those experiences in nearby spa towns!

Getting Academic:
Visiting Ruins, Museums, and Shops.

KUTANIYAKI KAMA-ATO TENJIKAN (Kutaniyaki Kiln Museum and the Ruins)

How much do you know about Kutaniyaki porcelain or Yamanaka Shikki lacquerware? Acquiring a basic knowledge of these crafts may somewhat help you to know their worth.
Kutaniyaki porcelain: In the mid-17th century, the Kaga domain started the first Kutaniyaki porcelain tradition, the so-called “Ko-Kutani” in old Kaga (city), as one of their public industries. Unfortunately, it mysteriously disappeared from history. The kilns were closed down only about 50 years after they had begun operation. It was in 1807 that they finally started up again. We call the second Kutaniyaki, “revival” Kutani or Saiko-Kutani. Now, five lines of Kutaniyaki designs are well known. Kokutanifu: old Kutani style with five colors, Yoshidayafu: the Yoshida family’s design with bluish colors, Iidaya’s Akae: the Iidaya family’s red Kutani, Mokubeifu: depicting lovely Chinese people, and Aochibu: patterns of fine blue dots. Needless to say, pottery making and glazing are different stages of the process. Kutaniyaki Kama-ato tenjikan is an amazing museum for learning about both types of work, and you can even try your hand at glazing and making pottery there.

From affordable works to exquisite masterpieces, Kutaniyaki wares are sold everywhere in Southern Ishikawa.

Yamanaka Shikki lacquerware: Yamanaka Shikki’s history is older than Kutaniyaki’s. In the late-16th century, a group of skilled woodworkers settled in Yamanaka. This is the origin of the craft. They had a license from the shogunate to cut down trees all over Japan, and so started making lacquerware for visitors to the spa village. Yamanaka’s carving skills have been said to be the best since then. Compared with Wajima's or Kanazawa's output, most of their wares are strongly built, with chic designs, and are quite affordable for daily use. However some delicate masterpieces have also been created, such as the “Jitsugetsuwan.” This original set of bowls was created in the village by Rosanjin Kitaoji, an illustorious restaurateur, and Sekisai Tsuji, a Yamanaka artisan. Many replicas of the bowls are now seen all over Japan.

In any case, the secret of the solidity of Yamanaka ware’s lies in the trimming of the wood. Most lacquerware uses horizontally trimmed wood, yet Yamanaka's woodworkers trim it vertically.
This makes Yamanaka ware more durable. Yet if this is so, why is vertical trimming not the standard? The reason lies with material usage. Vertical trimming can't avoid wasting wood. People typically want to promote efficiency of production, but sometimes this can be trumped by the pursuit of quality.

The artisan shows you his work at his open studio in MOKUME.

MOKUME offers you an craft experience complete with a lacquered bowl for 3,000 yen.

Following the carving process, woodworkers pass the carved pieces on to lacquer painters. This is the next step.
They rub raw lacquer into the surface, and wipe off the excess.
This will be repeated many times to make the wood grain clear. Another technique of using washi paper is often used to completely cover the grain.

Making Your Own:
Woodworking, making pottery, and glazing.

Shaving piece of log (MOKUME)

Rough-shaved wooden bowl

Denis Kuznetsov from Russia visited the woodworking shop Mokume in Yamanaka with us. The artisan Mr. Sato manages the shop, and also helps visitors shave a piece of log as an experience within their studio which is connected to the shop. Oh, it smelled so good in there! To begin, he gave an apron to Denis to avoid any sawdust. Well, let’s get started! Near the wheel there are many tools for shaving, such as chisels of various shapes and sizes. Mr. Sato taught us how to hold the chisel, and how to hold the wooden brace. Surprisingly it was not as difficult as it seemed at first sight. This was likely due to Mr. Sato being such a good assistant. Denis said that he had experienced a similar activity at school back in Russia when he was a child. “This woodworking reminds me of the process of making Matryoshka (Russian nesting dolls)” he said. “The spa town is charming, away from the chaos of the city. I will definitely bring my family to Yamanaka when they visit me in Japan.”

Rosanjin’s masterpiece “Jitsugetsuwan: bowl with motifs of sun and moon” collaborated with Sekisai Tsuji (Banyuan).

Many reasonable plastic bowls are sold anywhere. However, if once you get the real, wooden items, you will adore them for sure. Mokume offers visitors a wood-shaving experience for 3,000 yen, moreover, you can choose a beautiful lacquered bowl as a souvenir. If you are an expat in Japan, they can finish lacquering a bowl you personally shaved and will ship it anywhere in Japan (6,000 yen / International shipping not available).
Leaving Yamanaka, we head to another location. In the heart of Yamashiro-Onsen spa town, Raffaele Jaffer, who is well known as Komatsu City’s CIR (Coordinator for International Relations), tried Kutaniyaki glazing. We visited Kutaniyaki gallery Coco, and enjoyed a lecture from staff person Ms. Ikeshima, who she herself is also a Kutaniyaki artist. First, Raffaele picked a flat plate from a variety of Kutaniyaki wares, such as cups, bowls, or plates, as she prepared for an artistic experience! The most confusing and also interesting thing about glazing pottery is that some colors are completely different once they emerge from the kiln. Red turns to yellow, and gray becomes green. How can we manage this? One needs to use their brain, and imagination is necessary to picture the finished product. First, draw a rough sketch with a pencil! Ms. Ikeshima says pencil lines will disappear in the end, and suggested to apply the colorful glaze thickly so as to have a nice clear coating. Perhaps preparing a design before getting there is a good idea. Raffaele decided to draw a scene of Sugarloaf Mountain from her country, Brazil, using their national colors. Very nice!

Glazing Kutaniyaki ware (COCO)


Coco offers you the experience of glazing Kutaniyaki from 1,500 yen (shipping not included.)


Later, in the kiln, they will finish the ceramic work you glazed, then it will be ready for shipping to your home.

KUTANIYAKI KANA-ATO TENJIKAN (Kutaniyaki Kiln Museum and the Ruins) / Open: 9:00-17:00; closed Tuesdays / Admission: adults (over 19) ¥310; children free / http://www.kagacable.ne.jp/~kamaato/index.html

ISHIKAWA KUTANIYAKI BIJUTSUKAN (Kutaniyaki Art Museum) / Open: 9:00-17:00; closed Mondays (Open when Monday falls on a national holiday.) / Admission: adults (over 19) ¥500 / http://www.kutani-mus.jp/ja/

COCO (Kutaniyaki Experience and the Gallery) / Open: 9:30-17:30; closed Thursdays / Kutaniyaki Glazing: 1,500 yen ~ (shipping not included) / http://www.yamashiro-map.info/contz/pages/20101025_0001.shtml

MOKUME (Yamanaka Shikki Shop and the craft-making experience) / Open: 10:00-16:00; closed irregularly / Wood-shaving experience: 3,000 yen~ (reservations recommended) / http://www.kagaenuma.jp/mokume

Spa Town & Village Information

Head office: Yamashiro-Onsen, Kaga City
Tel. 0761-77-1144 (Jpn)
Fax: 0761-77-2109

Head office: Yamanaka-Onsen, Kaga City
Tel. 0761-78-0330 (Jpn)
Fax: 0761-78-0332

Head office: Katayamazu-machi, Kaga City
Tel. 0761-74-1123 (Jpn)
Fax: 0761-74-1083

Head office: Inokuchi-machi, Komatsu City
Tel. 0761-65-1834 (Jpn)
Fax: 0761-65-2235

Ichirino Kogen Hotel ROAN: Hakusan City
Tel. 076-256-7141 (Japanese)
Fax: 076-256-7441