Japan Architecture Tours – Robert Day Travel Blog

Unique Japan Tours in Architecture, Art, Design and Culture by Robert Day Travel



The Tombai walls are a unique feature of Arita. Located throughout the town the walls are made from the bricks of old kilns which are covered with the glaze that has been deposited on them over the years of firing porcelain before the kilns are dismantled

Although Japanese ceramics production has an even longer history, the town Arita in Saga Prefecture, Kyushu, is widely regarded as the “Birthplace of Japanese Porcelain” and 2016 marks the 400-year anniversary of this “birth”. (The November 2016 “Autumn Leaves” Japan Tour will visit Arita. There is so much to see and do in Arita. For more information contact http://www.japanarchitecturetours.com/contact-us.html)


The Torii gates of Tozan Shrine are made of porcelain. The only ones in Japan.

Kyushu is an island in Southwestern Japan, geographically located close to Taiwan, Korea and China. For this reason port towns such as Hakata (modern-day Fukuoka) and Nagasaki thrived as trade developed between Japan and Asia.


Gen-emon is one of the “old kilns” in Arita. They still fire their porcelain using red pine as they have for more than 250 years ago.

On an invasion expedition to Korea in the late 16th Century, Nabeshima Naoshige, head of the local clan and Hideyoshi Toyotomi, the warlord who ruled over Japan at that time, returned to Arita with a Korean potter named Ri Sam Pei (also know by his Korean name Yi Sampyeon) to assist with ceramics production. It is he who is credited with discovering kaolin, the key ingredient for porcelain production at Izumiyama quarry in Arita.


Tsuru-san tells the May 2016 Japan Tour group about the history of Arita at Izumiyama quarry

Due to the challenges associated with the producing high quality porcelain, much of the porcelain was reserved for the ruling and upper classes such as the Shogun, nobles and high-ranking samurai. The secrets of porcelain production needed to be protected and for this reason Arita was placed under the direct control of the Shogun. Access to and from Arita was restricted and without an wooden style passport inscribed with the necessary details, one would not be allowed to enter or leave.


A fragment of porcelain depicts the insignia of the Dutch East India Company

Dutch traders took up residence on the man-made island of Dejima in Nagasaki and Porcelain production in Arita took off 1659 when the Dutch East India Company (VOC – Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) was no longer able to source porcelain from China due an export embargo and ongoing political chaos there. Consequently the VOC transferred their porcelain production orders to Arita. Artisans in Arita where busy producing porcelain works with intricate glazed patterns of items that they had never seen before and had no idea what use they had. Items such as chamber pots, clock housings, candelabras, snuff boxes and many more.


Displays of porcelain works at the Kyushu Museum of Ceramics show some of the ornate pieces produced in the 18th and 19th centuries

The hectic production of porcelain meant that the smoke from the wood fired kilns hung thick and heavy in the valley of Arita and the thud of the rock crushers were a constant day and night . Eventually the influence of the Dutch traders waned as Japanese ports were opened to other foreign traders and the Dutch East India Company collapsed. When the Tokugawa Shogunate was overthrown around the same time, the future of Arita was uncertain.


Ornately decorated porcelain vases were a popular item produced in Arita during the late Edo period

This uncertainty didn’t last too long when around the turn of the 20th Century, there was of a revival in the popularity of Arita porcelain mainly due to the interest in “Japonisme” in Europe. Local Arita porcelain producer Fukagawa Seiji won the Gold Medal at the Paris Worlds Fair in 1900 and porcelain production in Arita again thrived.


The prize-winning piece from the 1900 Paris Worlds Fair is on display at China on the Park

From 133 kilns at the end of the Edo period, porcelain production in Arita continued to grow with 206 kilns at the end of the Meiji era and hit its zenith in 1991 when there were over 299 kilns producing porcelain in Arita. With the burst of the Japanese economic bubble in 1991 came the decline in porcelain production in Arita, once again creating an uncertain future for Arita.


The Tozan Shrine, where Ri Sampei and other are memorialised, sits high on the hill overlooking the town of Arita

Today, Arita is experiencing another revival with “rebirth” of Arita Porcelain (or Arita Yaki as it is known in Japanese) and currently there are 114 kilns in operation in Arita. Despite only two of the oldest kilns still employing the ancient wood firing methods, there are many others producing modern ceramic pieces worthy of the heritage of Arita porcelain production.


The wood-fired kiln at Gen-emon. One of only two still in operation in Arita

Kilns such as Densaku-gama (Shining China) and Yazaemon (Arita Porcelain Lab) are redefining Arita Yaki and creating brightly coloured pieces and employing innovative firing methods and glazing techniques to continue the legacy of Arita porcelain production that will no doubt carry it forward for another 400 years. To visit Japan and Arita, join one of our Japan Tours. Contact us for more information


Densaku-gama is redefining Arita Yaki with their colourful glazes and innovative firing techniques


Yaza-emon or Arita Porcelain Lab, as it is known in English, is producing very stylish and contemporary Arita Yaki that helps to continue the legacy of porcelain production in Arita

What to do in Arita – Visit the Old Kilns of Gen-emon and Kaki-emon. Go “Treasure Hunting” at Koraku-gama. Have your own ceramics experience. Learn how to do Ikebana and learn about the art of the Japanese Tea Ceremony.

When you visit Arita with a Robert Day Travel – Japan Architecture Tours, you get special access to restricted areas and the chance to participate in unique cultural activities. For example, we can arrange to tour the workshop areas and visit the private ceramics museum of Gen-emon, paint your own design on authentic Arita porcelain and have it fired and send to your home or learn how to do Ikebana and participate in an authentic Japanese Tea Ceremony. For more information about visiting Arita and our specialised Japan Tours, contact us at http://www.japanarchitecturetours.com/contact-us.html


The Japanese gardens at Gen-emon are exquisite


A worker at Gen-emon reproduces one of the signature pieces


The finer points of porcelain production at Gen-emon is explained to the May 2016 Japan Tour group


Some of the priceless porcelain pieces at the Gen-emon private museum


The oldest continuous operating kiln in Arita is Kaki-emon


Colourful carp at Kaki-emon


Porcelain production at Koraku-gama is being viewed up close by the May 2016 Japan Tour group


Boxes to porcelain await the “treasure hunters” at Karaku-gama


The May 2016 Japan Tour groups gets some instructions before commencing the painting of their porcelain pieces


Painting with the glaze requires concentration and a steady hand


Participation in an authentic Japanese Tea Ceremony is treat for the May 2016 Japan Tour group


It takes years to master the processes involved in a Japanese Tea Ceremony


The beautiful “look to good to eat” sweets are an integral part of the Japanese Tea Ceremony


Tsuru-san explains the elements of “Freestyle” Ikebana


Historic buildings line the both sides of Arita “Main Street”


The tranquil gardens of Densaku-gama

For more information about visiting Arita and our specialised Japan Tours, contact us at http://www.japanarchitecturetours.com/contact-us.html





  1. margiefraser
    June 17, 2016

    Hi Rob

    Glad to see you are still visiting Arita. I thought in case you hadn’t heard, you should know that dear Cory is terminally ill with brain cancer. Lucy and I visited her this morning, and it looks like she doesn’t have long to go. Shin is constantly at her side. She has just published a book called “Dying – a Memoir” which has already done well, and records her thoughts about the whole process. She was the one who got us going to Arita in the first place. I will really miss her.



    Margie Fraser Writer

    Adventures in design in the Asia Pacific

    +61 411866273

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