Explore Kyushu - Culture and Activities

My visit to the town of Arita  - Yuri

Yuri from UK, living and working in Fukuoka since September 2013.

I have recently moved to Japan from the UK. I want to learn about Japan’s rich culture, so I’m thrilled about being based in Kyushu, which is steeped in its own unique history.

I want to tell you about my visit to the town of Arita, known as the birth of porcelain in Japan. It’s in Saga prefecture in Kyushu. From Fukuoka there’s a direct train from Hakata Station which takes just over an hour. The town of Arita is itself is quite small, so you can walk to the various points of interest, or you can hire bikes from the station and the tourist information centre.

The first place we went to was the national cultural heritage site of Izumiyama Quarry, the very spot where Japanese porcelain production was born about 400 years ago. The renowned Japanese daimyo, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, was said to have been so impressed with the porcelain he had seen in Korea, that he brought back highly skilled Korean craftsmen to establish porcelain production in Japan.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi

Izumiyama Quarry

Arita was chosen by the Korean craftsman Ri Sanpei as the most suitable site for mining kaolin stone, an important material for porcelain production. Around the corner from the site is a small shrine once used by miners of the quarry, and a porcelain statue of Ri Sanpei, whose direct decedents are still making porcelain in Arita today!

Next, we went to the tourist information centre. Here, you can hire bikes and pick up some information in English. On the 2nd floor there is a charming café and a curious puppet show that tells the story of a local legend through robotic porcelain dolls.

Puppets

Afterwards we went to the The Kyushu Ceramic Museum. This vast museum houses several collections charting the development of porcelain around Arita, from the very early experiments to modern examples by contemporary masters of the craft. There are leaflets in a variety of languages and there is plenty of information in English throughout the museum.

What’s more, the museum is free! I would say this place is a ‘must’ for anyone visiting Arita, as it provides a great overview of the history of Arita porcelain and it clearly illustrates the various stages of porcelain production. This was particularly useful for someone like me, who is relatively new to ceramics.

What I found interesting was seeing the distinct differences in style between Arita ware made for the domestic market and for the European export market. Did you know that Arita porcelain is sometimes referred to as Imari porcelain because all porcelain made for the export market would leave Japan from the port of Imari?

What is great about Arita is that, although the quarry is no longer running, there is still an active porcelain industry here. There are renowned families of porcelain makers who for generations have been producing fine porcelain in Arita.

The Kyushu Ceramic Museum
The Kyushu Ceramic Museum
The Kyushu Ceramic Museum
The Kyushu Ceramic Museum

Genemon Kiln is one such active studio where you can go and see the traditional production process for yourself. The shop there is a great place to buy a gift or a special set of ceramics for your own home, but be warned that the asking price for some of the larger vases will make you gulp. I saw one vase for 5.4m yen, which is over $50,000! For those like me who are on a slightly smaller budget, there are plenty of porcelain shops on the main street that are much more affordable.

Arita makes a great day trip for both people with little knowledge of ceramics and experts alike, who want to learn a little about a craft and industry that is unique to this area of Japan.

Genemon Kiln

Genemon Kiln

Genemon Kiln

Information

Arita Tourism Association

2-8-1, Iwatanigawachi, Arita-cho,
Nishimatsuura-gun, Saga
Tel: 0955-43-2121
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Access to Arita and around the town
http://www.arita.jp.e.ew.hp.transer.com/access/

The Kyushu Ceramic Museum

3100-1, Otsu, Tosyaku, Arita-cho,
Nishimatsuura-gun, Saga
Tel: 0955-43-3681
Opening hours: 9:00 to 17:00
Closed: Mondays
Entry fee: free

Izumiyama Quarry

1-5, Izumiyama, Arita-cho,
Nishimatsuura-gun, Saga

15 minutes walk from JR Kami-Arita Station  
Eight minutes by car from JR Arita Station
Ten minutes by car from Hasami Arita IC

Genemon Kiln

2726, Hei, Maruo, Arita-cho,
Nishimatuura-gun, Saga
Tel: 0955-42-4164
Opening hours:
weekdays from 8:00 to 17:30
Holidays: Observation available only on weekdays
http://www.gen-emon.co.jp/


Guide to Arita


Kyushu Guide

Tours in Kyushu