Arita, Imari and Karatsu. Explore the villages of ceramics.

Arita ware, the origin of Japanese porcelain.

The town of Arita, where Arita ware is produced, is situated among mountains about an hour and 20 minutes by JR express train from Hakata Station in Fukuoka City and about 40 minutes from Saga Station. The peaceful streetscape dotted with the chimneys of kilns stretches out before you.

A streetscape view of Arita with the chimneys of kilns standing tall

To learn the history of Arita ware, you should pay a visit to the Kyushu Ceramic Museum and the Arita Ceramic Art Museum. It was in the early 17th century when Japan’s first porcelain was made in Arita. Saga at that time was ruled under the Nabeshima domain. A potter invited from the Korean Peninsula discovered rock deposits containing materials for creating porcelain and established a pottery. This was the beginning of Arita ware.

Blue and white ceramics (left) and the Kakiemon style
(c)The Kyushu Ceramic Museum

Early Arita ware was mainly blue and white ceramics with a pattern drawn on a white background, but the Kakiemon style which includes colored paintings was established later by a potter named Sakaida Kakiemon. This vibrantly-colored porcelain attracted the attention of Europeans living on Dejima island, Nagasaki, which was the only place in Japan at that time where foreigners were allowed to reside, and it was exported mainly to Europe through the East India Company in around 1650. Porcelain produced in the area surrounding the towns of Arita and Imari were exported from Imari port and therefore both styles were called “IMARI”. Even though the two styles are now distinctly different, with pottery from Arita called Arita ware and pottery from Imari called Imari ware, the term “IMARI” once also included a lot of Arita ware.

Arita ware for export (left) and the Nabeshima style
(c)The Kyushu Ceramic Museum

Arita ware for export was made to cater to the opulent tastes of Europeans with pieces of gold leaf imposed on colored pictures. “IMARI” is also said to have been the start of Meissen porcelain, a famous German kiln. The high quality items Nabeshima domain potters crafted for the domain lord for his personal use and gifts are called the Nabeshima style.

The Kyushu Ceramic Museum

Address: 3100-1, Toshaku Otsu, Arita-Cho, Nishimatsuura-Gun, Saga

Phone: 0955-43-3681

The Arita Ceramic Art Museum

Address: 1-4-1 Izumiyama, Arita-Cho, Nishimatsuura-Gun, Saga

Phone: 0955-43-2678

Take a stroll and find your favorite piece

A variety of Arita ware on display at a store
Tonbai fences

Traces of the origin of Japanese porcelain can still be found in Arita. Old white-walled merchant houses, direct-sale pottery outlets, stores and galleries including “Koransha”, “Fukagawa Seiji” and “Arita Porcelain Lab” stand along the main street that connects Arita Station and Kami-Arita Station. The Arita Toukiichi or Arita porcelain market is held every year from the end of April through to the beginning of May. Walking through the back streets where Tonbai fences still stand is an experience not to be missed. Tonbai are fireproof bricks used for climbing kilns. The fences, made by putting the fireproof bricks together with red clay, show the depth of the town’s historical relationship with porcelain.

The streetscape of Okawachiyama

Located in the suburb of Imari, about a 30 minute train ride from Arita, is Okawachiyama which had a kiln dedicated soley for the use of the Nabeshima domain. They made the kiln on a rugged mountain so their advanced technology would not leak to outsiders. The Nabeshima style was made in this hidden kiln.

A climbing kiln, where multiple kilns extend across in tiers

Crossing the bridge made with porcelain tiles leading into the town, you see potteries and stores standing along the stone-flagged slope. It is a small town with a lot of stores within walking distance, making it a perfect place for shopping for ceramics. Be sure to visit Nabeshima Hanyo Park where you can see climbing kilns.

Koransha

Address: 1-3-8 Kobira, Arita-Cho, Nishimatsuura-Gun, Saga

Phone: 0955-43-2131

Fukagawa Seiji

Address: 1-1-8 Kobira, Arita-Cho, Nishimatsuura-Gun, Saga

Phone: 0955-42-5215

ARITA PORCELAIN LAB

Address: 1-11-3 Kami-Kobira, Arita-Cho, Nishimatsuura-Gun, Saga

Phone: 0955-29-8079

Okawachiyama

Karatsu ware brings out the beauty of a dish

E-Karatsu (left) and Madara-Karatsu

Karatsu in Saga Prefecture is the town known as the origin of pottery. It is located about an hour and 15 minutes by train from Saga Station and about 50 minutes from Imari Station.

Karatsu ware is pottery which is made from clay. There are various kinds of Karatsu ware such as E-Karatsu with pictures of painted plants, Madara-Karatsu with fun spot patterns and beautifully-colored Kuro-Karatsu, all of which appeal to people due to their simplicity. These styles have been especially prized in world of the tea ceremony since ancient times.

An example of Matsunoi cuisine

Karatsu ware is crafted so as to look most beautiful when food is presented on it. There are many restaurants in Karatsu where you can enjoy meals presented on Karatsu ware. The “Kawashima Tofu Shop” is popular for their hand-made Zarudofu (tofu served on a bamboo basket). Also, the “Yoyokaku” and “Matsunoi” inns serve Japanese food made mainly with seasonal fish and they also accept reservations for dining only.

Karatsu Kunchi Festival (left) and Saga International Balloon Fiesta

The “Karatsu Kunchi” festival is held every year in early November in Karatsu. The festival floats made to look like sea bream or lions paraded around town are the highlight. The “Saga International Balloon Fiesta”, a competition of hot air balloons, is also held in a suburb of Saga City around the same time. If you are visiting Saga in autumn, you should take the chance to enjoy these events as well as the towns famous for ceramics.

Karatsu Tourist Association

Kawashima Tofu Shop

Address: 1775 Kyomachi, Karatsu-City, Saga

Phone: 0955-72-2423

Yoyokaku

Address: 2-4-40 Higashi-Karatsu, Karatsu-City, Saga

Phone: 0955-72-7181

Matsunoi

Address: 2-4-32 Higashi-Karatsu, Karatsu-City, Saga

Phone: 0955-72-8131

Karatsu Kunchi Festival

Saga International Balloon Fiesta