Kokutani (old Kutani), Japan's earliest enameled porcelain, is prized for its rich, dark colors and its bold designs, no two alike. Examples such as this which use luminescent green enamel are a coveted subgroup known as Aode (Blue or Green) Kokutani. Large green leaves are arranged dramatically against a mustard-yellow ground densely patterned with small dots and florets.
The sensuous decoration of Aode Kokutani is notably unlike the restrained, linear patterns on later 17th-century Nabeshima and Kakiemon wares from nearby kilns in and near the porcelain center of Arita. Kokutani ware flourished in Arita for a short period in the mid-17th century. The Kokutani designs were revived later in the village of Kutani in the Kaga region of Ishikawa Prefecture, northeast of Kyoto. Some late pieces even have the name "Kutani" inscribed on the base. Until recently it was thought that all Kutani wares (old and new) were made in Kutani. Although scholarship has advanced, the old nonemclature has been retained.
Sherds of this rather coarse enameled porcelain have been found at Yanbeta No. 2 and No. 4 kilns in Arita, dated to around the 1650s. More finely potted Green Kokutani pieces, including bottles and jars intended for export to Europe, have been excavated from Yanbeta No. 3. kiln. The cut of the foot ring, grit on the interior of the foot ring, and diagonal slope of the brown-glazed rim suggest that this dish comes from the No. 7 kiln, built over No. 3. Porcelain scholar Hiroko Nishida speculates that the immediate source of the dark palette of colors, including green, yellow and purple, was 17th-century Ming-dynasty su sancai ware fired at the Zhangzhou kilns, Fujian Province. She suggests that Chinese potters from Fujian Province actually travelled to Japan around the 1650s and 1660s and served as advisors to the Yanbeta No. 3 kiln. 1
Large bowls and dishes were made for domestic use, of course, but the lush designs of Kokutani were especially popular in Indonesia, where they may have resonated with the local tropical vegetation.
Within the foot is an auspicious fuku (fortune) mark enclosed in a square covered in green enamel.
1. For more on this subject see Hiroko Nishida, "Seventeenth-Century Japanese Enameled Porcelain: Research Developments in Imari and Kutani Porcelains," in The Arts of Japan: An International Symposium (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000): 183-209.