What's Arita-yaki?

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Arita-yaki (Arita ware) is a general term for the ceramics goods which are made in and around the town of Arita, in Saga prefecture, Japan. Arita ware is known for its exquisite white porcelain and elegantly painted designs, which are overglazed with vivid colors such as indigo, red, yellow and gold.

The history of Arita ware 

IMARI-ARITA ware is the oldest porcelain in Japan

In the early Edo period (17th century), the first Japanese porcelain was produced in the town of Arita, in the former Hizen Province in northern Kyushu. Up to then, the Japanese had imported Chinese porcelain products, so it came as a pleasant surprise to the Japanese people when this new domestic product turned out to have a whiter base color, and to be stronger, yet cheaper than Chinese porcelain!

During the Momoyama period (1573-1603), ruled by the military dictator Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the tea ceremony was a popular pastime for warlords. At this time, tea master Sen no Rikyu developed the Wabi-cha tea ceremony aesthetic, which proposed a simpler, less ostentatious style of tea ceremony. Rikyu highly valued Korean porcelains, which coincided with Hideyoshi’s interest in Korea.

At the end of the 16th century, Hideyoshi invaded Korea. When his forces withdrew, many Korean potters and craftsmen were captured and brought back to Japan. Among those potters was Yi Sam-pyeong (Ri Sampei in Japanese), discovered white claystone at Mount Izumi in Arita, and started to make porcelain wares for the first time in Japan. This discovery rapidly established a thriving ceramics industry in Arita.

Blue and white porcelain, called Sometsuke, was the first type of porcelain to be produced, imitating the designs of Keitokuching products, the oldest porcelain production area in China.

 

The rapid growth of the porcelain industry

In 1637, the Nabeshima clan started to regulate the local kilns. Then in the 1640s, the Japanese potter, Sakaida Kakiemon, discovered the secret of enamel decoration on porcelain - known as Akae - then developed more colors, including red, yellow, blue and green.

 

Export for Europe

In the late 17th century, with the fall of the Ming Dynasty, China was in turmoil and as a result, the Chinese porcelain trade was disrupted. The Dutch East India Company (VOC), which had developed trade between East Asia and Europe, needed a replacement for Chinese porcelain and found it in Imari-Arita ware. These porcelain products were brought to the port of Imari just to the north of Arita for export – which is why Arita ware is also known as Imari, and as a result, Arita ware’s fame then spread across the world.

Numerous fine vases and large plates were brought to Europe for the decoration of king's castles, and praised as a “white jewel”. Arita porcelain greatly influenced porcelain-making in Europe, e.g. the famous German kilns of Meissen was produced due to the great research of Arita porcelain. Out of the number of styles including Ko-Imari(Old Imari), Kakiemon, and Nabeshima, the Koimari style and Kakiemon style porcelains in particular, appealed to the people of Europe.

 

Imari-Arita ware today

Today in Arita town, porcelain items intended for daily use - together with decorative pieces - are produced in factories, while fine works of art are still handmade by ceramic artists. A ceramics festival is held in Arita every year during Golden Week  (29th April - 5th May), when about 600 stores and stalls open for business around the 4km long main street. Here, you can buy various products, from a 100 yen dish to millions yen vase!

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