Essays and Articles

Nabeshima Porcelain

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Originally produced in the middle of the 17th century in the area of Okawachiyama, near Arita, Nabeshima porcelain was named for the Nabeshima clan who financed and oversaw its production for their own use and profit, and would regularly gift exceptional pieces to members of the elite aristocracy in a bid to gain favour with their fellow feudal lords and the ruling Shogunate of the time.

Set of 5 Japanese Nabeshima plates, 20th century

Catering to the requirements and aesthetic tastes of Japan’s elite classes, Nabeshima porcelain artisans were given special favour over other Arita ceramicists and were able to make use of the highest quality clay and premium pigments not generally available to their mainstream competitors.

In a departure from the largely standardised Chinese influenced designs seen in most other early Arita porcelain wares, the decoration on Nabeshima pieces drew on uniquely Japanese influences, with layout and pattern taking many cues from classical motifs used in textile design.

Contemporary Japanese Nabeshima vase

The studios that produced these designs were strictly controlled by the Nabeshima clan and were forbidden from reproducing their work on pieces destined for use by the general population.

As with Kakiemon wares, it is generally agreed upon that true Nabeshima porcelain does not utilize gilding in its decoration, and typically makes use of a comparatively restricted palette consisting of underglaze blue to outline the designs, with red, green and yellow overglaze enamels being reserved for the details. Although well known for their polychrome designs, Nabeshima porcelain wares were also painted in a monochromatic blue and white variation.

Production of mainline Nabeshima porcelain continued under the watchful eye of the Nabeshima clan until the Meiji period in the late 19th century, when political reforms put an end to the feudal system that had dominated Japan to that point.

Now highly valued and collectable, original 17th, 18th century and even 19th century Nabeshima pieces often attract eye watering sums at auction, due to their rarity, quality and significance within Japan’s art and design traditions.



Porcelain dish, Okawachi, Nabeshima ware, Edo period 18th century (Christie's)



One can still find modern day descendants and imitators of the original artisans creating pieces in the traditional style elsewhere in Japan to the present day.

Kazari stocks a small range of contemporary and 20th century Nabeshima style porcelain wares, with an emphasis placed on quality and originality of design.


Antique Furniture Restoration Process

Friday, June 09, 2017

When working with unrestored furniture of age there are always a multitude of 'quirks' typically encountered that have arisen through general use over the course of their considerably long life.
While many of these unique markings and textures combine to give them their charm and patina, sometimes other more drastic tales are told – shrinking, bowing and splitting of wood over time, past visitations from wood eating insects, ink spills, and even previous ‘do-it-yourself’ attempts and crude repairs.

With these hurdles as a given, and within the more-or-less standardized forms of traditional oriental furniture construction, we are able to remedy most blemishes with a variety of techniques that have been developed and refined over the past forty years of Kazari's dealings in Japanese and Chinese antiques.

In short, our processes often include the following

- Cleaning - The careful removal of old finishes that have become soiled by a variety of factors including sun discoloration, damp storage in their original settings, or centuries of over exposure to smoke and soot. Other times we simply clean of the dirt from the originally unfinished timber. If we don’t need to do this we may also leave them as they are. Sometimes just a wax can be all it takes to breathe life back into a piece, allowing the old patina and history to shine through once more.

- Repolishing – we apply organic finishes that rehydrate and revive the timber's warm aged tones. Often several layers are applied and ‘cut back’ between coats to level any bumps and build-ups of the finish materials.

- General restoration- During this stage and before the final finish coat, we also fill any holes present, mend cracks, insert new strips of wood into overly shrunken fissures, and damaged sections and corners may be also replaced with matching and appropriately aged timbers drawn from our extensive restoration stockpile.

- Metal fitting replacement - Handles, lockplates, drawer-pulls, and hinges are checked and replaced where necessary, drawing from a vast assorted collection of spare parts acquired over many years by Kazari.

- Waxing - Lastly the pieces are waxed and buffed – leveling out tones, giving a uniform sheen, and giving supplementary moisture and waterproofing to the timbers for the next few decades of their lives.

A typical late Taisho or early Showa period chest of drawers in its unrestored state and looking a little worse for wear after almost 100 years of daily use...




Crude original repair on the drawer corner of the unrestored chest, this will be removed and patched properly to blend in with the surrounding area


Ouch….An even rougher past repair to one of the other drawer fronts…yet another of the ‘quirks’ typically encountered during the restoration process



The damaged drawer corner from the first image, now neatly patched using paulownia wood of a similar age to the surrounding wood - notice the difference in colour between the newly sanded patch and the surrounding age and soot darkened area still to be cleaned




In the process of repolishing to rehydrate the wood and to level out and enrich the colours of the aged surfaces




Finished patched drawer corner, now toned to match the rest of the cleaned and polished drawer front




The restored piece, cleaned, repaired, repolished and waxed and ready to last another 100 years



Japanese Ceramics - Kutani

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Named after its original production center, the village of Kutani in Southern Ishikawa prefecture, Kutani wares can be traced back to the early Edo period in the mid 17th century.

Known as Ko Kutani, these early porcelain pieces were decorated with a limited five colour palette of blue, green, yellow, purple and red and often feature bold designs based on animal and plant motifs and other traditional themes.

Image: Ohira bowl, C17th Kutani, Collection of Kutaniyaki Art Museum, Ishikawa Prefecture


For reasons unknown, production of Ko Kutani wares suddenly ceased around the year 1730. The cause of this closure is widely debated, with most experts placing blame on financial difficulties or lack of supply of necessary pigments and materials.

The second wave of Kutani porcelain began in the early 19th century at the Kasugayama kiln in Kanazawa and is commonly known as Saiko Kutani.
Combining techniques already used in earlier Ko-Kutani examples with methods from other Japanese porcelain kilns, wares from this period are known for their detailed and lavish designs featuring predominately red enamels and gilt decoration.

Left: Rare and unusual Japanese Kutani porcelain incense burner    Right: Large antique Japanese Kutani porcelain charger


Leading on from original Saiko Kutani pieces, ‘modern’ Kutani first appeared in the early Meiji period, during the 1860’s, when Japanese artisans began to fuse traditional porcelain making and painting techniques with western methods, allowing for a much larger range of colours and richer, more lustrous gilding.


Left: Japanese Kutani pottery lion                                       Right: Vintage Japanese Kutani studio vase with design of herons

Kutani style porcelain wares are still made today, using both traditional and modern techniques and catering to all tastes, with decorative styles ranging from strictly classical traditional motifs to starkly contemporary, abstract designs.

Left: Contemporary Japanese polychrome Kutani sake set                      Right: Set of 5 Contemporary Japanese Kutani plates

Kazari sells a large range of both contemporary and traditional Kutani porcelain wares, from contemporary teacups, plates and dishes (link to tableware) appropriate for every day use to sculptural figures and rare collectable objects.