Arita Ware and Imari Ware
The term "Arita Ware" appears sporadically in records of the Edo period, but came into widespread use after 1897 during the Meiji period. In that year a railroad line to Arita was opened, making it possible for pottery to be shipped directly from Arita instead of going through the port of Imari. Previously in the Edo period, when porcelain made in Arita and other towns in the Hizen region was shipped from the port of Imari, the ware was called “Imari Ware.” Shipments from Imari port destined for the Japanese market were sent to Osaka and other domestic ports, while ware for overseas markets was routed from Imari through Nagasaki.
The History of Arita
Arita is located in the Hizen region, where pottery was produced, mainly in Karatsu, from the end of the 16th century. Pottery techniques were introduced to the area by potters from the Korean peninsula, who were forcibly brought to Japan during the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592-98). Excavations of kiln sites from the time have indicated that the first porcelain was fired together with stoneware. The earliest porcelain production was centered around kilns in the western part of Arita.  Led by Kanagae Sanbee (Li Sanpei) who moved to Arita in 1616, a group of potters from the Korean peninsula produced blue-and-white ware in the Chinese style. This ware, produced from its inception until around 1650, is known as Early Imari Ware.
Izumiyama Clay Mine and Saraya Magistrate
Arita ware made great progress in a surprisingly short period of time. One of the reasons for this is the development of the Izumiyama clay mine as a reliable source of high-quality porcelain clay. In 1637, to prevent erosion of the mountains due to excessive logging of trees for fuel, the Saga clan consolidated the Arita Saraya (later known as Sarayama) kilns. Potteries were concentrated in eastern Arita near the Izumiyama clay mine, and a manufacturing system dedicated to pottery production was established. Later, the office of the Saraya Magistrate (later Sarayama Magistrate) was established, enabling materials, technology, and labor to all be controlled by a central authority.

This plate depicts Arita potters around 1820-1840. From digging clay at Izumiyama clay mine to forming, decorating, and shipping the pots, this plate features more than 30 artisans performing over 20 different jobs. The basic process of creating a pot remains the same today.

Japan's First Porcelain with Colored Overglaze Decoration
Less than 30 years after the birth of porcelain in Japan, Arita ware underwent a major transformation. Colored overglaze decorating techniques were introduced from China, and by 1622 the first porcelain decorated with colored overglaze was being fired in Japan. Early examples of this style were fired around 1640-1660. Patterns were developed for use with colored enamels, and a variety of new products were fired. Part of the reason for this development was the transition from the Ming to the Qing Dynasty in China that occurred in 1644, and the resulting freeze in exports from China. Arita ware from around this period shows the influence of Chinese ceramic technology beyond merely copying form and design. Arita ware suddenly assumed the style of Chinese Jingdezhen ware.
Overseas Exports
Exports of Arita ware to overseas markets began in 1647. After exports from China became unstable after the transition from the Ming Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty, Arita ware became popular as a replacement for Chinese ware in both domestic Japanese markets as well as overseas (in Asia and Europe.) To meet the demands of new markets, Arita kilns produced work in a variety of styles. In addition to Chinese style designs, an increasing amount of work with Japanese designs was fired.

After 1684, however, as the Chinese political situation stabilized, exports from China were resumed and Jingdezhen and other Chinese porcelain quickly regained its share of the overseas market.

In 1757, the Dutch East India Company terminated its official export business, and Arita kilns turned their attention to establishing domestic markets, stimulating domestic demand, and boosting domestic sales of their ware. As the diet of ordinary Japanese improved, more pottery with simplified designs was produced to be used by common people, and during the Edo era Arita ware made for daily life began to play a part in their lives.

Manufacturing A Variety of Ware
With the Meiji Restoration, the national government designated certain industries and products as part of its export strategy. Arita kilns were quickly modernized and porcelain ware became an important item for export to foreign markets. Arita porcelain was already on exhibit at the 1867 International Exposition in Paris. In later years as the Japonisme boom swept Europe and America, Arita ware continued to be prized for its intricate decoration, delicate craftsmanship, and large scale.

From the Taisho through the beginning of the Showa era, apart from industrially manufactured pottery, individual artists began to create their work. From individual artists, to local kilns, to mass-producing factories, to fine ceramics: Arita ceramics are created in a variety of ways on many levels, from one artist to factories with hundreds of workers.

The fact that Arita has sustained this system of production represents the town's strength and attraction as a pottery producing region.

The Making of Arita Ware : Forming
In Arita, forming porcelain ware is called "crafting (saiku)." Craftsmen do this work at crafting studios. A pot goes through a number of delicate forming processes before it is finished: the wet clay is thrown on the potter's wheel; if necessary it is pressed into a mold; the foot rim and surface are trimmed. Trimming a pot is performed meticulously, maintaining a sharp edge on the trimming tool.

Throwing on the Potter's Wheel

Forming tools "Cow's Tongue" "Rib" "Dragonfly"


Steel blade for trimming pots

Blue-and-White Ware
The decoration is painted on the surface of the bisque-fired pot in cobalt pigment. This decoration is painted on under the glaze. "Line painting," painting the outlines of the pattern, and "thickening," filling in the outlines with a cobalt-loaded brush, are performed by different specialized artisans.

Outline Painting


Glaze Firing Kiln
After underglaze decoration, the pot is glazed and fired to a temperature of over 1300 degrees. Porcelain is fired in a single-chamber kiln. At the Imaemon kiln, the kiln is fired eight times a year, with three people taking turns firing for 32-34 hours. Oil, pine wood, and coal, in that order, are used as fuel to bring out the rich surface texture and coloring of Arita ware.
Overglaze Decoration
After underglaze decoration, glazing, and firing, the surface of the white porcelain or blue-and-white pot is decorated with a variety of colored enamels. The studio where this painstaking work occurs is enveloped in an atmosphere of tension.

Box of Brushes for Decorating Porcelain

The tips of the brushes are kept moist to prevent them from drying out.

Arita Ware "Decorative Plate with Peony and Dianthus Pattern"
by Imaemon Kiln

Arita Ware "Colored Nabeshima Plate with Pedestal, Peony Pattern", Imaemon Kiln

Arita Ware “Bowl with Pattern of Snow Flowers and Chintz in Ink Resist and Overglaze Enamel”
by Imaizumi Imaemon XIV

Arita Ware "Coffee Cup with Colored Overglaze Chrysanthemum and Bird Pattern"
Kakiemon Kiln
Photo: Kajiwara Toshihide

Arita Ware "Flower-Shaped Plate with Colored Overglaze Peony, Scrollwork, and Phoenix Pattern"
Kakiemon Kiln
Photo: Kajihara Toshihide

Arita Ware “Lotus Flower-Shaped Plate with Peony Pattern"
Riso Porcelain, Ltd.
Photo: Kajihara Toshihide

The Kyushu Ceramic Museum
The Kyushu Ceramic Museum is dedicated to the comprehensive collection, preservation, exhibition, and research of the ceramics of Kyushu, the Hizen region, and Arita. As one of the leading institutions of its kind, the Museum is indispensable in the appreciation of Japanese ceramics.
Kyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory
Credits: Story

Reference materials and cooperation: The Kyushu Ceramic Museum, Imaemon Museum of Ceramic Antiques, History and Folklore Museum of Arita

Supervised by: Kyushu Ceamic Museum

Text: Nagamine Mika


Editor: Sakai Motoki (Sakai Planning Co.)

English site translation:Darren Damonte

English site supervised by:Darren Damonte

Project Director: Maezaki Shinya (Associate Professor, Kyoto Women’s University)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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