Saga, a relatively small prefecture nestled between Nagasaki and Fukuoka on the island of Kyushu is considered the home of porcelain ceramics in Japan, and has long attracted visitors from all over the world for this exact reason.
Roughly four hundred years ago, large quantities of Kaolin – a mineral essential in the production of porcelain was discovered in a local mountain. Upon this discovery Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a power-hungry Warlord who controlled large swaths of Kyushu traveled across the Sea of Japan to Korea where he sought out highly skilled craftsmen with the necessary experience and knowledge to extract the Kaolin and teach him how to use it in the production of ceramic pottery. These Korean potters were brought back to Japan against their will, but were treated in high regard once they arrived due to their in-depth knowledge on the subject.
The entrance to Okawachiyama Village
Modern examples of Arita-yaki
The towns history of porcelain design and production has influenced many aspects of everyday modern life
Attention to detail can be found throughout the area
The town of Arita and the isolated mountainside village of Okawachiyama served as the two main sites of this new-found porcelain pottery production, while the town of Imari served as the port from where the products were shipped to locations across Japan, and even overseas as far away as Europe. Several large-scale kilns were constructed in and around Arita and Okawachiyama resulting in large scale production and prosperity for the area unlike anything they had ever experienced before.
Arita is lined with shops from a bygone era selling a range of pottery, also from a bygone era!
There are plenty of opportunities to dig for your ideal piece of Japanese pottery!
Today the area continues to remain a popular place for ceramics enthusiasts, with a large collection of pottery shops, studios, museums and other related attractions. Large parts of the area have seen little modernization over the past couple of centuries meaning they retain a feeling of a by-gone era, similar to that of when the pottery boom first started.
The town of Arita is generally considered the center of the area with the bulk of the pottery production happening here. It is famous throughout Japan for its pottery, which is known as Arita-yaki, and pretty much all of the town’s attractions are related in some way to pottery including large commercial kilns, museums, galleries and an abundance of shops. Arita is also home to Izumiyama Quarry, the site at which Kaolin was first discovered.
The entrance to Tozan Shrine in Arita is torii gate made from Arita-yaki
Shops of all sizes are well-stocked with a variety of porcelain goods
Inside a ceramics shop in Arita town
Izumiyama Quarry, where the production of local ceramics began
There are a number of places in and Arita that offer workshops where you can experience pottery making with the locals. One such place is Kouraku Kiln, situated a short drive from Arita Station. They offer one-day workshops where you can try your hand at simple pottery techniques as well as more immersive experiences that involve staying onsite and working with members of their local collective. They also offer “treasure hunting” sessions, where you can rummage (with care) through crates of Aritayaki searching for your perfect opiece of treasure to take home and cherish!You can read more about Kouraku Kiln here
Smiles all Around at Kouraku Kiln
Treasure hunting at Koraku Kiln
Treasure hunting at Koraku Kiln
Boxes and boxes of Arita-yaki, made over the decades sit in a warehouse ready for you to sift through, looking for your ideal piece to take home
Whatever you can fit in your basket you can take home. There are two basket options, one priced at 5000 yen and the other at 10,000 yen
Inside the pottery studio at Koraku Kiln
Koraku Kiln is also a space where artists come from overseas for internships or to work on personal projects
Gallery Arita is somewhat of a special place, as soon as you step foot inside you are surrounded on all sides by floor-to-ceiling walls of finely crafted teacups from local pottery towns. They have over two thousand cups in total, which you are free to peruse and select your favorite for a cup of freshly brewed tea!
The café, which is more like a restaurant in terms of quality and service, also offers a great selection of cakes, ice cream and hot meals with several local specialties on the menu.
An adjoining building makes up their gallery, which displays a number of porcelain teacups from the region, many of which are also available to buy in their well-stocked and varied shop.
Keep your eye out for the Arita-yaki inspired Mini Cooper, this is where Gallery Arita is!
The café at Gallery Arita has over 2000 teacups for you to choose from for your cup of tea!
Gallery Arita is a stylish and relaxing place to kick back and sample good local food
Which of the 2000 odd teacups will you choose?
Locally sourced and produced food is served in a tei-shoku style
Gallery Arita is also a great place to stop if you have a bit of a sweet-tooth
Maruhiro Inc (Hasami Brand)
Maruhiro is an ultra-stylish pottery shop located on the very edge of Arita, the pottery however isn’t technically Arita-yaki. as its produced in the neighboring town of Hasami, another area famous for its porcelain production. You can read more about the town of Hasami here. (INSERT LINK TO HASAMI ARTICLE HERE)
Originally established in the 1950s, Maruhiro is a family-run outfit specializing in Hasamiyaki ceramics. Now in its third generation of business, Maruhiro is fronted by Kyohei Baba, the grandson of the company’s founder. His fresh and original approach to their product line sees an interesting blend of traditional aesthetics alongside elements of youth culture including street-fashion, skateboarding and contemporary music.
The store itself is very different from your average pottery shop, with the feel of a fashion boutique. A lot of attention has been paid to presentation, atmosphere and the physical dynamics of the space.
Maruhiro Ince Flagship Store in Arita
The mark of style
The interior of the shop oozes style and creativity
Inside the Maruhiro Flagship Store
Maruhiro have several lines of products, some more traditional than others
Maruhiro ware is proving popular among young Japanese
A Maruhiro teapot on display in their shop in Arita
A set of Maruhiro plates on display in their shop in Arita
A collaborative effort with a Tokyo based skateboard company, this deck is made 100% from porcelain and then hand painted by a local artist in the town of Hasami
If Arita is the heart of local ceramic production in Saga Prefecture, then Okawachiyama is the soul of it all! This tiny village is home to a number ok kilns that have been in use for hundreds of years producing goods destined to be shipped around the world from the nearby port-town of Imari. The pottery produced here is known as Imari-yaki.
It doesn’t have anywhere near the number of shops, cafes or galleries that Arita has, but it has plenty of evidence of a community steeped in a history of ceramics.
Every which way you look you can find red-brick chimneys protruding from kiln houses. Of course there are small businesses to be found in among the many pottery studios, but they are lowkey in comparison to those over in Arita. The real treat here is slowly wandering the cobbled backstreets, exploring the beautiful aesthetics of the village, which feels as if it hasn’t changed in many, many years!
The village of Okawachiyama sits nestled in the mountains
The village map which is displayed as you enter the village is of course made of porcelain!
Many kilns that have been used for hundreds of years still stand today
The streets of Okawachiyama Village
The streets of Okawachiyama Village
Some of the shops allow you to see where the production of their pottery takes place
A small café sits on the outskirts of Okawachiyama
A small pottery studio at the far end of Okawachiyama
The river banks are also decorated with examples of Imari-yaki