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:    

  1. 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
  2. 1500-1600s – Chinese porcelain becomes highly valued in royal houses of Europe
  3. 1592-1598 – Japanese invasions of Korea by Toyotomi Hideyoshi.  Skilled workers (including potters) are kidnapped and brought back to work in Japan
  4. 1602 – VOC (Dutch East India Company) is founded
  5. 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
  6. 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. 
  7. 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)
  8. 1643 – Sakaida Kakiemon begins producing porcelain wares in Arita
  9. 1644 – Ming dynasty falls, disrupting porcelain exports and forcing Dutch traders to look for alternate sources, ultimately leading them to Japan
  10. 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. 


The Plate

Housekeeping:  Thanks to everyone who has read and commented!   Moving forward, I will plan to update during the weekend.

Continuing from where we left off, I am starting out with the background of the plate that started my interest in porcelain.  When I was a child, I never paid too much attention to what was lying around the house.   The things you see on a daily basis quickly cease to be objects of fascination.  Mostly I liked the books.  Other than that, I would occasionally sneak into the dining room (it was quiet) and look through the china cabinet, but I never thought too deeply about what these things were, or how they came to be in my home. 

As I became more involved in tea, I started studying about different kinds of crafts involved in creating tea objects, particularly ceramics.  There is so much history and such variety that I found it difficult to be in Japan and not develop a love of ceramics.  When I returned to my hometown after living in Japan for an extended period, I started looking at the objects in my home in a different light.  I  wanted to learn more about what they were, who made them, when, and how they came to be in our home.  I continue to want to understand more the history behind each of these pieces to put them into context.  These two pieces immediately stood out: 


This is one of a set of dessert plates from Royal Crown Derby, circa 1929 (see here for background on how to date Royal Crown Derby wares).  I have been unable to locate any specific information about the pattern (8165), but it would be listed in Pattern Book 21 (Nos. 8083-8433.  June 1st 1907, February 1909).   You can see more examples of a similar pattern, 8145, here

When I first saw this set I was first struck by the bold colors and design, they are easily the most striking of anything in the cabinet.  When I started to look more closely at the design of peony, the bold graphics and the gold trim, I thought “Huh, this looks a lot like iro-e.”  Royal Crown Derby is one of the oldest porcelain makers in England, founded around 1750.  From the early 1800s, they started producing copies of “Imari ware,” which remains a popular style for the company to this day.  Current pattern names include Old Imari, Mikado, etc. 


The second piece is presumed Meissen, the first European porcelain maker, established in Germany in 1710.  The popularity of early Meissen relied heavily on copying Chinese and Japanese designs, particularly Kakiemon.  The piece pictured above is still a bit of a mystery to me.  I am unsure of its authenticity or date, but whether real or imitation, the pattern is the red bud variation of Blue Onion (Zwiebelmuster).  This pattern was first developed around 1735 and is based on Chinese porcelain designs.  The “onion” in actually supposed to be a pomegranate in the original, but was apparently changed for a Western audience. 

As I started reading more about the history of Meissen, Royal Crown Derby and other ceramic houses in Europe, I came to appreciate how deeply European porcelain development was influenced by its Chinese, Japanese and other predecessors.  It was something that I had known, but had never thought about too deeply.  When I started researching, I was struck that both Meissen and Crown Royal Derby had their inspirational roots in the same location:  Arita.  How was it that this one location in Kyushu became so influential in the development of European porcelain design aesthetic starting in the early 18th century? 

Long story short, I decided to go find out.  Next time, some background on why porcelain wares made in Arita increased their manufacturing and exports in the 18th century and subsequently became known to the Western world as “Imari ware.”  Then, I will finally get into the story of what I did/saw/learned in Arita and Imari. 

Sources and further reading: 

Twitchett, John.  Royal Crown Derby.  Woodbridge : Antique Collectors’ Club, 1988

Gilhespy, F. Brayshaw.  Royal Crown Derby china from 1876 to the present day : including Sampson Hancock King Street, Derby, 1849-1935.  London : C. Skilton, c1964

Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens.  Early Meissen porcelain: The Wark collection from the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens.  Jacksonville : Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens in association with D. Giles Ltd., London, 2011



It’s been nearly two years since I moved back to the States, and yet even now, it is difficult to feel as though I have settled into this life.  Between 2005-2015 I moved eight times; six distinct cities in two countries.  In order:  South Hadley (graduated college), Odate (JET), Boston (biotech), Kyoto (tea), Ann Arbor (grad school), Kyoto (more grad school), Tokyo (more biotech), Boston (still more biotech).  The only constants during this decade are 1.  My love of Adidas shoes  2.  An obsession with taking pictures of oddly placed traffic cones and 3.  Tea. 

I started practicing tea the first time I went to Kyoto, when I was an exchange student in 2003.  I have continued to practice everywhere I have lived, which became much more focused after I spent a year in training at the Urasenke Professional College of Chado in the Midorikai program.  For more on that experience, see my previous blog here.  My entire adult life has been spent balancing these two drastically different aspects, technology and the traditional arts. I started my professional career, by chance, in biotechnology working at a company that specialized in the treatment of rare diseases.  It was run by a man with a true vision, whose primary motivation was to help people through the advancement of science.  His vision was felt by every single person that worked there, and instilled in me that working for the benefit of society should be at the core of every business. 

After three years working here, I abruptly changed course and decided to return to graduate school, both to improve my language ability as well as for additional business training.  Before I did that, I spent a year in Kyoto living the life of a tea person.  It was and continues to be a life changing experience.  Practicing tea has changed my awareness of my surroundings, both in terms of my interactions with people as well as my physical environment.  It has also served as a point of inspiration as from this time I started to think more deeply about flows of information:  between cultures, over time, as it manifests in physical objects…

The focus of my research in graduate school was tea history, and what political and societal influences shaped tea culture in Japan over time.  It was a useful exercise in transferring my intellectual curiosity into an actual physical product.  One day, I would like to write The Silk Roads:  A New History of the World version of Japanese tea culture.  I continued graduate school in Kyoto, dividing my time between business school and more tea practice, all the while continuing to ponder topics like how Oda Nobunaga used tea as a form of social control and use of tea objects as his instruments of implementation. 

You can see why I had to go back to work again.  I do need to keep that balance between the scientific/rational and the traditional/aesthetic for my own sanity.  Unfortunately, Tokyo didn’t do a whole lot for balance or sanity.  I was working in a Japanese biotech.  It did not go well.  After about two years I decided to return to the States to salvage what was left of my sanity and regroup on next steps, both personal and professional.

So, cut to two years later.  I still work in biotech and practice tea, in Boston this time.  Each of the experiences I have had over the last 12 years have given an additional layer of perspective, and an additional path for inspiration.  What I would like to do here is to keep writing about some of those topics of interest, in the hope that I can perhaps contribute to the flow of information myself one day.  Currently, I spend a lot of time reading about the history of Central Asia, and have been doing more research on the development and export of porcelain in Japan and throughout Europe.  I visited Japan again in April this year and plan to start this blog writing about how a plate in my house growing up led me to become interested in porcelain and eventually take a trip to a little town called Arita. 

More to come, time for tea!  (tea and marzipan is an amazing combination)