Essays and Articles

Japanese Ceramics - Kakiemon

Monday, April 10, 2017

Kakiemon is a style of Arita porcelain originally created and popularized by Sakaida Kakiemon I during early Edo period in the mid 17th century. Characterized by its use of brightly coloured enamels over a milky white toned base known as Nigoshide, Kakiemon porcelain artists were known for the quality of their brushwork and their asymmetric but balanced design aesthetic.

Naturalistic designs representing spring and autumn show an obvious influence from the dominant Kano, Tosa, and Shijo painting schools, while the Rimpa school’s often sparse scenes of nature also influenced designs, layouts and motifs, as porcelain artists attempted to appeal to the flamboyant tastes of their local patrons as well as demand from European markets.

The Kakiemon style is best known for its combinations of overglaze colours and minimal areas of underglaze painting.
Utilising a common colour palette of soft red, yellow, blue and turquoise green, Kakiemon pieces can be easily differentiated from the more common Imari style by their lack of gilding and trademark use of large areas of empty white space, lending an elegant aesthetic to their wares.

Traditional motif groupings often include the sho-chi-kubai (pine, plum, and bamboo, the three lucky plants of winter), peony and shishi lions (the queen of flowers and king of beasts), bamboo and tigers, quail and flowering grasses, waves and plovers, karako (Chinese children) and autumnal grasses or butterflies along with a range of less common naturalistic designs.

As with many other classical craft skills, the closely guarded secrets of the Kakiemon kiln gradually died out and faded into obscurity until the latter half of the 20th century, when a descendant of the original Kakiemon lineage undertook years of study to rediscover his ancestor’s techniques, combining his own technical knowledge with the sparse archive material preserved in the family’s documents.

Today the Kakiemon kiln is once more operating and producing high quality wares to meet the demands of a new market.
Authentic 17th century examples of Kakiemon porcelain can easily fetch tens of thousands of dollars at auction around the world, with dedicated collectors fiercely outbidding one another for rare examples and pieces with unusual designs.

Kazari stocks a range of 20th century Kakiemon wares which can easily look just as timeless and at home in modern settings as their forebears did in the grand residences of centuries past.

Above left: contemporary lidded bowl with overglaze design of acorns by Sakaida Kakiemon XV
Image sourced from The British Museum
Above right: 17th century Kakiemon porcelain bowl
Image sourced from the Tokyo National Museum


Above: Japanese Kakiemon porcelain vase, mid 20th century available at Kazari + Ziguzagu

Above: Contemporary Japanese Kakiemon porcelain plates available at Kazari + Ziguzagu