Translated by MATCHA_En
Arita - The Historic, Traditional And Futuristic Town Of Porcelain
Arita, Saga prefecture, is perhaps best known for Arita-yaki, a fine porcelain that has been produced in this area for 400 years. Beloved by European nobility and still produced in tis traditional methods, Arita is a must-visit city for those interested i
Written by Sebastiao Pimenta
Sueyama Shrine, also often called Tozan Shrine, is a rather special Shinto shrine found in Arita, in Saga prefecture. Arita is where you will find Arita-yaki or Arita ware, a traditional type of porcelain that originated in this city. Today, the author of this article, Sebastiano Pimenta, who came all the way from Brazil to study Japanese pottery, would like to introduce you to the history of this amazing traditional handicraft and of the area that produced it.
Sueyama Shrine and Ri-Sanpei's Monument
Sueyama Shrine was built in 1658 to enshrine Ri-Sanpei (Yi Sam-pyeong), the father of Japanese porcelain. Only here will you find unusual items like porcelain komainu, large water vessels, handrails and more; through these touches it is easy for anyone to understand the charms of Arita's porcelain.
These various Shinto implements and other architectural features made from Arita-yaki can be seen throughout the tranquil atmosphere of this shrine.
The Shinto priest, Mr. Miyata, was kind enough to take the time to give me a detailed history of Arita and of the nature of Shinto itself, despite the language and culture barrier. If the shrine is not too busy and you are lucky, you may have the chance to speak to him yourself and learn more about the secrets of Arita’s history.
If you walk along the path through the shrine, in about 10-15 minutes you will be able to see the monument to Ri-Sanpei rising up before your eyes.
From the top of this hill you can enjoy a panoramic view of Arita - this is my favorite spot in the city. Whenever I have time I come here to enjoy the view. The scenery gives me the impression that the old houses, the red-brick chimneys and the mountains in the distance are all closely linked to one another.
Arita and Arita-yaki Crockery
Towards the end of the Asuka period (during the 7th century), Japan began to import porcelain from China, and started its own porcelain manufacturing at about the same time. The Japanese of the time were very interested in the blue and white pottery coming from the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) in China and from the Goryeo and Chousen eras in Korea. It wasn’t until the Edo era however, that Japan established its own porcelain-manufacturing methods.
It is said that Ri-Sanpei discovered high quality pottery stone in the Izumiyama area, and in 1616, the first Japan-made porcelain was successfully produced. Early Arita-yaki took a great deal of influence from the works imported from China and Korea as they were white with indigo blue-only patterns, but in 1640 the first Kakiemon (Sakaida Kakiemon) perfected the ‘akae-jiki’ porcelain, which is a vibrant red color, and soon multi-colored porcelain works could be made.
From 1650, Arita-yaki began being exported to many countries in Europe by the Dutch East India Company; it is said that the royalty and nobility of Europe at the time were passionate collectors of these porcelain items.
Photograph location: The Saga Prefectural Art Museum Kyushu Ceramic Museum/Aritamachi Museum of History and Folklore
The collection in the above photo was assembled over many years in Europe by the late Kanbara Hakaru from Arita. These incredible works that found such favor in Europe's upper classes serve to tell even the people of today of their splendor.
Even today, Kakiemon, Imaemon, Genemon and other traditional manufacturers still produce their own Arita-yaki according to the conventions that their individual histories have passed down to them.
Photo location and copyright: The Saga Prefectural Art Museum Kyushu Ceramic Museum/Aritamachi Museum of History and Folklore
Arita-yaki is known throughout Japan for being the highest quality porcelain, and, despite the introduction of modern manufacturing technology, much of the pottery produced in Arita still retains the traditional designs and production methods that began so many years ago. Not only on display in museums and shops, visitors to Arita can also view Arita-yaki in the showrooms of pottery shops here. The people that you meet there and the various works that you see are sure to be wonderful; you're bound to have a fantastic experience.
Photo location: Koraku Kiln
2016 marks the 400th anniversary of the start of porcelain production in Japan and the establishment of Arita-yaki. With many people coming from all over the world to see and celebrate this, many events and projects have been planned. In fact, the author of this article has also been invited to be the Artist in Residence at Koraku Kiln, and will be working with an Australian team as well.
Many lovely accommodations have been prepared for visitors as well, so when you visit Arita, please get in touch with me. I would be happy to tell you more about the history, traditions and future of this fantastic traditional craft.
Address: 2-5-1 Odaru, Arita-cho, Nishi-Matsuura, Saga prefecture
Nearest Station: Arita station
Access: 15 minute walk from Arita station or 3 minute taxi ride