Why Arita? Here is my top ten list of social and economic factors that converged to create optimum conditions for the export of Japanese ceramics to the West:
- 1490s – Vasco de Gama links Europe and Asia by ocean route, paving the way for a higher volume of exports from India and China from the early 1500s
- 1500-1600s – Chinese porcelain becomes highly valued in royal houses of Europe
- 1592-1598 – Japanese invasions of Korea by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Skilled workers (including potters) are kidnapped and brought back to work in Japan
- 1602 – VOC (Dutch East India Company) is founded
- 1603 – Edo period established in Japan, ending a nearly 150 year period of military conflict and social upheaval and bringing the provinces a period of relative stability
- 1616 – Kaolin clay is discovered in present-day Saga prefecture, near Arita. The discovery is historically attributed to Korean ceramist Yi Sam-pyeong, who is enshrined at Sueyama Shrine in Arita. Production of porcelain ware in Arita dates from this time.
- 1633-39 – Tokugawa shogunate establishes restrictive policy on international relations (Sakoku), which limits trade with the Dutch to a small area near Nagasaki (next to Saga prefecture)
- 1643 – Sakaida Kakiemon begins producing porcelain wares in Arita
- 1644 – Ming dynasty falls, disrupting porcelain exports and forcing Dutch traders to look for alternate sources, ultimately leading them to Japan
- 1708 – Meissen (Europe’s first porcelain manufacturer) is founded
(Has anyone already written a book about this? If so, please let me know. I want to read it.)
#11 – 2017 – Cone decides to take a trip to Arita because she was curious about a plate she found in the china cabinet at home.
Now that I list out the points above, I am tempted to spend more timing writing out more of this backstory in chronological order. I may rethink my schedule…stay tuned for updates.
For now, let me show you pictures of Arita. I spent one day in Arita (previous two days were in Karatsu and Hagi), and then spent the night in Imari. The best things about this trip were 1. Getting from Imari to Arita meant taking the “Yellow One Man Diesel Car” 2. My awesome travel companion and 3. The Kyushu Ceramic Museum
For reference, here are the museums and exhibitions that I went to during this trip (and books):
The Kyushu Ceramic Museum has a huge amount of educational information on the porcelain development in the region and different types of ceramic development in Japan as a whole. There is one collection of porcelain that had been exported to Europe and bought back piece by piece by a local collector:
And another gallery of works for domestic consumption arranged by time period, so that visitors can appreciate the evolution of the craft over time:
It was a great place to start our day in Arita. Since I was already on day 3 of staring at pretty ceramics, it was a bit of a visual overload, but a drastic change from the stoneware (hagi and karatsu) that I had been looking at the past two days. As we were leaving the museum, we noticed a small garden outside and stepped out to take a look particularly at a fountain topped with a ceramic bird. It’s a Meissen bird! It all comes together. Also, now I know what a cassowary is.
After a lovely lunch served in Arita yaki dishes, we trekked over to the Kakiemon kiln site. Sadly, no pictures were allowed inside, but showing here a couple of pictures from the outside…including one really stunning door handle:
In the gallery, I was extremely tempted to buy a bowl. I did not, spent the rest of the day thinking about it, and now need to start planning my next trip. I really wish we had been able to take pictures inside, because at the exhibition area of the Kakiemon site there were some really interesting examples of the Kakiemon original side by side with the Meissen copy. There was also a large platter made by Kakiemon for the VOC. After Kakiemon we also stopped at the Inoue Manji gallery (right around the corner), and were blown away by the elegance of these cool, white and green porcelain wares. If I had an unlimited budget, this is all I would want to use in the summer. We did not get to the Imaemon site (next time!), and headed back to Imari in time to see the sunset.
A few pictures on the main bridge in Imari:
It was an amazingly lovely day, and I cannot wait to go back and spend more time wandering around. In conclusion, let me share my favorite moment from this trip:
This photo is from a gift shop in Imari. A set of Imari-yaki dessert plates. The name of the design? “Royal Crown”. I almost died laughing.