Kutani Porcelain

The export of Kutani wares started around 1868, at the beginning of Meiji restoration. It was the period of the opening of Japan to the outside world.
Export of Japanese ceramic started much earlier: at first Chinese and Dutch merchants were buying mainly Imari ceramics in Japan for resale in Europe. The East India Company started to export Imari ceramics towards Europe around 1700. At this period Kutani production was only starting: European customers were probably more appealed to the colorful copy of China porcelain in which Imari suceeded. There are two different types of Kutani porcelain: the one produced for the domestic market, that followed the basis of the Japanese taste and the other one made for export adapting to the demand of European customers. Ceramic, especially the shape of the objects, had to fit European needs (for instance, flower vases, dinner plates, coffee sets, etc.) in which Japan had few interest. As a matter of fact, Japanese customers ignored this production which was so different from what was made for the Japanese daily use.

It is the change in the political landscape that suddenly allowed the opening to the world. Many foreign companies established offices in Kobe and Yokohama with the aim of doing import and export business. Representatives from Kanazawa Prefecture opened offices in these ports: in 1877, Watano Kichiji established a branch office in Kobe. The best Kutani potters and painters were present at the International exhibition held in Paris in 1867, greatly stimulating the production. Watano Kichiji was the biggest Kutani merchant, being one of the first to succeed in 1880 in doing direct export shipment to Europe and to sale locally in Paris.