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Arita — The Origins of Japanese Porcelain

Arita is the birthplace of porcelain in Japan and since the first porcelain was fired in the early 17th century, the town has flourished as the center of porcelain production in Japan.

The porcelain made in and around Arita Town in Saga Prefecture is referred to collectively as Arita ware, but in the early days (1610s~1650s) it was called Imari ware because it was shipped from the port of Imari. Originally it was a thick-bodied porcelain primarily decorated with simple glazing. Around 1643, Sakaida Kakiemon established a method for colorful glazing. Using various colors, he painted intricate designs directly on the milky white porcelain body. Soon, other potters shifted away from the simple, single-color scheme used until then, and the Kakiemon style became mainstream.

The Dutch East India Company began exporting Arita ware to Europe in the 1650s, and there it became a status symbol for the wealthy. After Arita ware was presented at the Paris Exposition in 1867, its popularity grew, and it was featured in several expos held throughout Europe after that, thereby cementing its reputation abroad. In 1870, German chemists were invited to Arita to teach the potters about Western chemical and industrial processes, after which production was ramped up. Even today, porcelain dishes and artworks are created in the area using a division of labor. The history and culture of Arita ware has received wide recognition as evidenced by the designation of the Izumiyama Quarry ruins as a National Historic Site and the Arita townscape as a Group of Traditional Buildings (a preservation district stipulated by the Agency for Cultural Affairs).

By car
5 minutes from the Hasami-Arita IC on the Nagasaki Expressway / Nishi-Kyushu Expressway
By train
Get off at JR Arita Station (about 1 hour and 20 minutes from JR Hakata Station)

Chimneys of Kuromuta and Obo
These neighborhoods have been home to porcelain kilns since the Edo era. There are many historic sites here including old kiln ruins.

Arita Dam
The reservoir is called the “celadon-colored lake” because its hue is akin to greenware pottery also known as celadon. The surrounding forest reflects on the surface of the lake to create the greenish-blue tint, and the color changes with the seasons as the foliage turns from green to yellow, red and orange.

Tozan Shrine
A unique shrine whose torii gate and guardian lion dogs are made from porcelain. This shrine is dedicated to Ojin Emperor, Nabeshima Naoshige, the origin of Saga domain and Yi Sam-pyeong, the father of Arita ware.

Izumiyama Quarry
The birthplace of Japanese porcelain. The production of porcelain in Arita is said to have begun in the early 17th century when the Korean-born potter Yi Sam-pyeong discovered a deposit of high-grade kaolin clay on this site.

Arita Ware Tours

Choose from three guided tours of Arita ware production sites. All tours start and end at JR Arita Station.

Arita Ware Kaiseki Lunch

Enjoy an elegant kaiseki course lunch served in Arita ware at a restaurant run by an avid Arita ware collector. You can view his collection, which spans many eras and styles, and some items are available for purchase. After lunch, you will visit the Gen-emon Kiln where you can see the workers in action and tour a traditional kiln.
4 hours / Read more and book a tour here

Make Your Own Coffee Mug

The Kouraku Kiln hosts artists in residence from overseas who want to learn about Arita ware. Here you will work with local potters to create your own Arita ware tumbler using special decals to transfer designs to the clay before firing.
2 hours 45 min. /  Read more and book a tour here

Private Tour and Ceramics Treasure Hunt

The Kuromuta neighborhood is home to many renowned kilns, but it is not easily accessible, so this private tour will afford you the chance to visit kilns you would not normally be able to see. You will visit the Shin, Gen-emon and Kouraku kilns and learn about the unique styles that each one produces. You will see how the staff decorate the pieces by hand, learn how pieces are fired in the kiln and view the historic collection of antiques dating back to the Edo era. After you have learned all about Arita ware, try your luck at a treasure hunt! Walk through the warehouse and fill up a basket of ceramics to take home for a surprisingly reasonable price!
2.5 hours / Read more and book a tour here

Click here to learn more about all these fascinating tours!

Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn253, Jan 2020)

Art & Culture
Published: Dec 20, 2019 / Last Updated: Nov 4, 2020