Japan's Porcelain Legacy - Arita & Imari -
With Koshun Ichikawa of Oniwa-yaki Kiln
In the 17th century, porcelain known as Imari ware was exported from Japan to Europe despite the country's isolation policy. An elegant style called Kakiemon especially astonished people around the world for its vivid colors on a lustrous white body. Our traveler, Kristina Mar, visits Arita and Imari, where these porcelain pieces originated, and meets Hiroshi Sakaida, the head of the Kakiemon family. He will succeed his father, the 14th Kakiemon Sakaida, who passed away this year. Hiroshi shows Kristina the quarry at Izumiyama and the spectacular scenery there, which holds the secret of the gorgeous Kakiemon white. In Arita, she learns about a new project underway to share ceramic production methods with artists from other countries. She also visits a kiln run by a family who has passed down their techniques for more than 300 years in a mountainous village in Imari. There she explores the essence of their craftsmanship and traditions.
Kristina is a ceramic artist from Portugal who has been living in Japan for 20 years. During her journey, she comes in contact with the special sensibility of the Japanese.
Ceramic Merchant's Home Museum
The old home of a merchant that shipped porcelain overseas beginning in the 17th century has been preserved and is open to the public. Visitors can view exhibits of antique Imari pieces. Guides are available.
Address: 555-1 Imari-cho Ko, Imari City, Saga Prefecture
The premises house a shop and museum, as well as the Kakiemon workshop. The workshop is not open to the general public.
Address: 352 Nanzan Tei, Arita-cho, Nishimatsuura-gun, Saga Prefecture
The quarry is often described as an entire mountain that has been transformed into porcelain over 400 years. Some areas are off limits.
Artists, such as Sebastião Pimenta and students are invited to use its workshop.
Address: 2512 Maruo Hei, Arita-cho, Nishimatsuura-gun, Saga Prefecture
The manufacturer has successfully created works with clear colors by developing porcelain that can be fired at low temperatures. Many ceramics are on display.
Address: 3576-17 Obo Hei, Arita-cho, Nishimatsuura-gun, Saga Prefecture
Ureshino Onsen Seiunso (Hotel)
The hotel is located in the Ureshino hot spring resort, which has a history of 1,300 years. Guests can soak in an Arita ware bathtub. The room rate starts at 10,000 yen per person per night (including dinner and breakfast). Even if you are not staying at the hotel, you can take a bath for 2,600 yen per hour (for up to 2 persons).
Address: 871-5 Shimojuku Otsu, Ureshino-machi, Ureshino-shi, Saga Prefecture
Okawachiyama is known as the "village of secret kilns". It has about 30, including the Oniwa-yaki, where the tradition of high-quality porcelain called Ironabeshima is kept alive by Koshun Ichikawa. Each kiln has a shop, and some offer workshops.
For more information, contact the Nabeshima cooperative.
Address: 1806 Okawachi-cho Otsu, Imari-shi, Saga Prefecture
The hilltop shrine overlooks the town of Arita. It was built in 1658 to pray for the safety and prosperity of the porcelain industry and people involved in it. The shrine has a torii gate and a pair of guardian dogs made of porcelain.
Address: 2-5-1 Odaru, Arita-cho, Nishimatsuura-gun, Saga Prefecture
Guests can enjoy carp, eel and other freshwater fish, as well as Saga beef, which are presented exquisitely on fine tableware including Kakiemon. The garden view is also splendid. A set meal with carp arai (slices of sashimi rinsed in chilled water) starts at 2,100 yen.
Address: 2373-4 Hiroseyama Ko, Arita-cho, Nishimatsuura-gun, Saga Prefecture
From Tokyo, fly to Fukuoka Airport and transfer to subway and JR lines to Imari (1.5 hours). It takes 25 minutes to travel between Imari and Arita on the Matsuura Tetsudo railway. Highway bus service runs between Fukuoka Airport and Imari and Arita.
Traveler:Kristina Mar (Ceramic artist)
Date :Aug. 7-12, 2013
My journey began with a visit to one of the highest places in the area, Iroha-jima Islands observatory. There, as the fog lifted like a veil, I was amazed by the extraordinary view over the Imari port and the surroundings. The calm and nurturing bay contrasted with the strong lines of the mountain coast and dozens of small islands. It felt like a curtain was lifted and the gorgeous port was welcoming me to enter a once secret yet still enigmatic place.
Arita is enhanced by its warm and bright people so I head to meet them! One of the kilns I visited was Kakiemon. I felt respect and gratitude towards the skilled artisans who despite many obstacles have kept these techniques alive. Their hearts are calm in the face of change in today's modern pace. They are motivated by the importance of working by hand and cultivating deep skills to create beauty in their work. I felt like I had entered a sanctuary! I also went deep into the mountains to visit the once secret kilns of Okawachiyama. Walking in the village I felt the ambience of the old town with all the kiln chimneys along the way. I visited a kiln of a family of artisans that goes back 5 generations. Koshun Ichikawa is the strong and lovely family head that welcomed me. Artisans like Ichikawa have such an important place in society, along with the innovative designers and the younger generation of visionaries. On this trip, I experienced the established ceramic culture and the new, emerging styles.
Excellent ceramic minerals exist all over the world, but it's the aesthetics and culture of the people who find, and use them, that is remarkable. For many Japanese various gods live in all forms of nature from water, trees, soil, to wind and fire. A piece of porcelain has the soul of the natural materials and the soul of the craftsman who made it. That is what I felt deeply once I visited this place: dedicated masters and artisans whose work and life are a living dream, one and the same.