Unique Japan Tours in Architecture, Art, Design and Culture by Robert Day Travel
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
For more information about visiting Arita and our specialised Japan Tours, contact us at http://www.japanarchitecturetours.com/contact-us.html