Imari Kakiemon porcelain bowl, Imari, Japan, circa 1640.

Kakiemon (Japanese:柿右衛門) is a style of Arita ware, usually porcelain, with overglaze decoration called "enameled" ceramics, originally produced at the factories around Arita, in Japan's Hizen province (today, Saga Prefecture) from the mid-17th century onwards. The style shares much in common with the Chinese "Famille Verte" style. The superb quality of its decoration was highly prized in the West and widely imitated by the major European porcelain manufacturers.

In 1971 the craft technique was designated an Important Intangible Cultural Property by the Japanese government; a double climbing kiln in Arita used for the firing of Kakiemon has also been designated a National Historic Site.[1][2]

Art of enamelling

Imari Kakiemon porcelain jar, Imari, Japan.

The potter Sakaida Kakiemon (酒井田柿右衛門, 1596–1666) is popularly credited with being one of the first in Japan to discover the secret of enamel decoration on porcelain, known as akae. The name "Kakiemon" was bestowed upon Sakaida by his lord, after he perfected a design of twin persimmons (kaki), developing as well the distinctive palette of soft red, yellow, blue and turquoise green now associated with the Kakiemon style.

Kakiemon is sometimes used as a generic term describing wares made in the Arita factories using the characteristic Kakiemon overglaze enamels and decorative styles. However, authentic Kakiemon porcelains have been produced by direct descendants, now Sakaida Kakiemon XIV (1934–2013). Shards from the Kakiemon kiln site at Nangawara show that blue and white and celadon wares were also produced.

Kakiemon decoration is usually of high quality, delicate and with asymmetric well-balanced designs. These were sparsely applied to emphasize the fine white porcelain background body known in Japan as nigoshide (milky white) which was used for the finest pieces. Kakiemon wares are usually painted with birds, flying squirrels, the "Quail and Millet" design, the "Three Friends of Winter" (pine, plum, and bamboo), flowers (especially the chrysanthemum, the national flower of Japan) and figural subjects such as the popular "Hob in the Well", illustrating a Chinese folk tale where a sage saves his friend who has fallen into a large fishbowl. However, because manufacture of nigoshide is difficult due to hard contraction of the porcelain body during firing, the production was discontinued from the former part of the 18th century to mid-20th century. In this period, Sakaida Kakiemon produced normal 'akae' wares. Sakaida Kakiemon XII and XIII attempted to reproduce nigoshide and succeeded in 1953. It has continued to be produced since then.


Meissen hard porcelain vase, 1735. Indianische Blume ("Flowers of the Indies") in imitation of the Kakiemon style of Arita porcelain, Japan.
Chantilly soft-paste porcelain bottle in the Kakiemon style, 1730–1735.

The Kakiemon porcelain was imported into Europe via the Dutch East India Company, and beginning in the 1580s, through a variety of other avenues. Augustus the Strong of Saxony and Mary II of England both owned examples. The earliest inventory to include Japanese porcelain in Europe was made at Burghley House in 1688; these included a standing elephant with its trunk raised and a model of two wrestlers.

Wares included bowls, dishes and plates, often hexagonal, octagonal or fluted with scalloped edges. The famed white nigoshide body was only used with open forms, and not for closed shapes such as vases, bottles and teapots, or for figures and animals. The hexagonal Kamiemon vases and covers known as "Hampton Court" vases were named after a pair at Hampton Court Palace, London, recorded in an inventory of 1696. Around 1730, this shape was copied at Meissen, Germany, which entered into a "sister city" contract with Arita, in 1979. The style was also adopted and copied in Chelsea and Worcester in the 1750s and by Samson Ceramics in the 19th century.[3]

The Kakiemon porcelain proved a major influence on the new porcelain factories of 18th-century Europe. Meissen copies could be extremely close to the originals; alternatively, the factory painters sometimes just borrowed designs, and used them with other shapes and styles.

Kakiemon style was also adapted in Germany and Austria by the Du Paquier and "Vienna factories" and in France at Chantilly, Mennecy and Saint-Cloud. Kakiemon was also an influence on Dutch Delft pottery and Chinese export porcelain.[3]

Kakiemon family

See also


  1. 柿右衛門(濁手) [Kakiemon (nigoshite)] (in Japanese). Agency for Cultural Affairs. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
  2. 柿右衛門窯跡 [Kakiemon Kiln Site] (in Japanese). Agency for Cultural Affairs. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
  3. 1 2 The Collected Writings of Modern Western Scholars on Japan Carmen Blacker, Hugh Cortazzi, Ben-Ami Shillony p. 338.
  4. 14代柿右衛門さん死去 78歳 有田焼、人間国宝 (14th Kakiemon passes away, age 78, Living National Treasure of Arita wares), Tokyo Shimbun, 15 June 2013.


  • Henry Trubner, Japanese Ceramics: A Brief History, in Seattle Art Museum, Ceramic Art of Japan, 1972.
  • Tsuneko S. Sadao and Stephanie Wada, Discovering the Arts of Japan: A historical Overview, 2003

Further reading

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