When Naoshige Nabeshima, who later founded the Saga Clan, returned to Japan following the invasion of Korea in the late 16th century, he brought with him a group of Korean potters. One of them was Ri Sampei (Korean name Lee Cham-Pyung), who discovered kaolin and succeeded in making porcelain for the first time in Japan in 1616. This first porcelain was later developed into the three types of porcelain ware: Ko-Imari, Kakiemon and Nabeshima, which came to establish Arita as the birthplace of Japanese porcelain.
Ri Sampei is enshrined at Toyama-jinja Shrine in Odaru, Arita-cho. Behind the main shrine and situated at the top of Mt Renge-Ishiyama, stands a monument to Ri Sampei. This is also a good spot to get a panoramic view of the town of Arita.
The monument to Ri Sampei was erected in 1916 (Taisho 5) on the 300th anniversary of Arita ware. Since then, the Toso matsuri festival, celebrating the founding of porcelain, has been held each year on May 4th.
Hakuji is porcelain created by applying transparent glaze to white paste, then firing it at high temperature. Hakuseiji, on the other hand, is created by glaze containing small amount of iron.
Hakuji originated at the end of the 6th century in China during the Northern Qi Dynasty. Later, in the Tang period, its popularity took off and demand surpassed that of Seiji. By the 10th century, its use became widespread among the populace as it was being improved with a more sophisticated style while maintaining a down-to-earth feel.
Japanese Hakuji evolved under the international influence of China and Korea. In Edo period, Imari-yaki, the first Hakuji in Japan, was introduced. However, Hakuji was mainly used as a white canvas to paint vivid colored motifs. It was not until after Maiji period that Hakuji as self-colored became more popular when Japanese ceramic artists who studied and loved Hakuji from Song period in China and Joseon Dynasty era in Korea further evolved the Hakuji technique.
It is extremely difficult to burn pottery to pure white because iron powder easily comes out even when using the best quality clay. This is why, even for Kakiemon pottery which is famous for its vivid vermilion color motif, Hakuji with no trace of iron powder is more rare and expensive than pieces with painting.
Imari Tontenton is a festival that takes place at Imari-jinja Shrine in Imari, Saga Prefecture, every year from October 22nd through 24th.
It is a Shinkousai festival with a procession of portable shrines, also known as Imari Kunchi. The festival is one of the Three Great Battle-style Festivals in Japan.
During the festival, several locations in the city are turned into battle grounds, thus turning the whole city of Imari into the festival venue, and the sounds of drums beating can be heard throughout the city.
After the solemn processions of a white and a red portable shrine there follows Aramikoshi portable shrine and Danjiri portable shrine both of which are carried by young local men wearing uniformed happi, or festival coat, and headband. Upon the signal of a drum beat sounding “ton ten ton”, the two portable shrines crash into each other. This battle festival is so fierce and such bravery is exhibited by the participants that it is unique in the nation.
The climax of the event comes when the two shrines continue their battle as they tumble into the nearby river, the victor later merging from the river after more battle
Iimari Tontenton Festival is a valiant and spectacular traditional festival.
Himetani Ware is one of the three earliest Iroe (decorated with colorful underglaze painting) porcelains in Japan. Others are Imari and Kutani wares. This porcelain was made by a small number of potters including Ichiemon for only a short period of time in the late 17th century.
It is characterized by the colorful patterns painted on the surface of thin white porcelains, leaving enough margins. The motifs include red maple leaves, a peony flower on a branch or Sansui landscape painting with a flying goose. The paintings look all the more beautiful for the simple composition and plain brushwork.
This Wabi and Sabi aesthetics is favored by the art collectors today. Its excellence was acknowledged and designated as a Hiroshima Important Cultural Property in 1971.
Seiroku Nakamura is a craftsman in Imari-Arita ware, a traditional handicraft in Saga Pref. He was born in Hasami-cho, Nagasaki Pref. in 1916. He was designated as a Traditional Craftsman in 1979 and an Important Intangible Cultural Property by Saga Pref. in 1990.
The origin of Imari-Arita ware dates back to the end of the Warring States period (the beginning of the 17th C), when a Korean potter, Li Sanpei discovered fine porcelain stone in Arita. It is characterized by the gorgeous blue patterns drawn on the pure white surface. The porcelain used to be called differently as Imari ware and Arita ware, but being made in the same processes, they are commonly called Imari-Arita ware today.
Mr. Nakamura turns a large wheel with excellent skills and creates his own delustered porcelain. The beautifully curving lines and clam white color give the impression of delicate warmth. He always looks forward and munificently hands down his creative mind, which he himself learned from his teacher, to the younger generation. His graceful attitude is fully reflected in his works.
Toyama Shrine located in a pottery town of Arita, Saga Pref. is worshipped as the guardian god of Arita porcelain. According to the shrine record, it was built under the order of the magistrate of Saga Clan in charge of pottery management in the early Edo period (1658). The main deity that had originally resided at the superior shrine of Imari, the pottery center of the time, was moved to this place. The new shrine was named “Arita Sarayama Sobyo Hachimangu,” which means the shrine in which all the deities residing in the area that the pottery management magistrate controls assemble. Since then the shrine has been worshipped by the local potters and porcelain merchants. The large torii gate, komainu (Chinese dogs), balustrades, and basin were all dedicated by the local potters, which are all porcelain. The must-see is the large torii gate, which was dedicated in 1888. The light blue arabesque design hand-painted in sometsuke technique on the white base is really beautiful. Emas and lucky charms sold at the shrine office are porcelain, too. You can also get a unique charm with your name on it, which the great priest of the shrine makes by hand.
The techniques of the making of paper by hand have been passed on from generation to generation for over 300 years in Saga Pref. The representative one is Jubashi Paper made at Jubashi in Minami Hata-cho, Imari City. The origin of the technique is dated back to the Azuchi Momoyama period (the late 16th century to the early 17th century), when Takahiro Terasawa, the founder of Karatsu Clan, encouraged paper making as a sideline to farming. Since then paper has been made, piece by piece in a careful manner, up to the present time. Jubashi Paper is strong and excellent in moisture absorption, feels soft and warm, and has a distinctive gross. Its elegant texture is highly evaluated as the material of hanakami (for making paper flowers) and wrapping paper on particular occasions. The technique was designated as Important Intangible Cultural Property by Imari City in 1974.
Iroha Island is a general term for the island chain consists of 48 large and small islands located in Imari Bay, a part of Genkai Quasi National Park in Saga Pref. It is said that the Buddhist great priest, Kukai (Kobo-Daishi) named them after 48 letters in the ancient Japanese alphabet. The green islands including Bentenjima or Hotatejima in the blue ocean are so beautiful that even Kukai, who was a master of calligraphy, is said to have stopped writing for a moment. The landscape of Iroha Island changes according to the ebb and flood. When the tide ebbs, mud flat appears and the islands are connected together to create scenic beauty, which reminds you of a stone garden in Kyoto. The ocean is not only beautiful but also bounteous. This calm bay is known for cultivation of quality pearls. Oysters in this bay are also famous. In winter you can taste really fresh natural oysters.