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.
Obori-soma ware is the local pottery of Obori, Namie Town, Fukushima Prefecture. In 1690, Sama, a servant of Hangai Kyukan, an Aima domain samurai, established this pottery.
The Soma domain encouraged pottery-making, so, by the end of the Edo period, there were about 100 kilns for the area.
Since the Meiji period, however, the number of kilns has decreased and now only 24 kilns are making pottery that follows this 300-year tradition. Obori-soma ware is pottery that has been loved by commoners since the end of the Edo period.
The ware mainly produced is 'blue crack', which features a cracked celadon-blue glaze. The vessels are double-layered to keep tea inside hot; the running-horse motif is painted by hand.
In 1978, Obori-soma ware was designated as a National Traditional Handicraft.
Jun Isezaki was born on 20 February, 1936. In 2004, he was designated as a Living National Treasure for his work as a Bizen ware craftsman.
Jun Isezaki was the second son of Yo Isezaki, who was a fine and detailed potter himself. Jun Isezaki studied pottery from a young age and in 1960, together with his brother Mitsuru, he set about the restoration of a medieval basement kiln that was part of an old kiln on Mt Koya: this was the first Bizen basement kiln.
True to his words 'I want to find my own way, not imitate others', he has continually presented many unique works using his creativity to rework traditional styles. His various ceramic ware ranges from flower vases, dishes and teapots to artistic objets. He believes that 'making new works leads to a tradition'. He is a leading Bizen ware craftsman with an exceptionally creative and wide output.
Jusetsu Miwa was born in Hagi in Yamaguchi Prefecture, in the 43rd year of the Meiji period (1910). In Showa 58 (1983), he was designated as a Living National Treasure because of his expertise as a craftsman of Hagi ware.
After graduating from junior high school, he studied under his older brother, the 10th Kyusetsu, at the Miwa kiln, one of the best kilns for Hagi ware. After he was designated a Living National Treasure (following his older brother), he renamed himself Jusetsu. He is now 96 years old, but still an active potter.
Jusetsu Miwa took over 'kyusetsu white', a glaze made from straw ash, which had been acquired by his brother. With this glaze, he introduced something new to Hagi ware and established his own quite different style. It is true that he inherited the 400-year-old tradition of Hagi ware, but his works are far from just imitations. Indeed, they are so original as to attract worldwide admiration.
Manji Inoue was born in Arita in Saga Prefecture in 1929. In 1995, he was designated as a Living National Treasure because of his work with white porcelain ceramics.
In 1945, he studied the technique of white porcelain ceramics under Kakiemon Sakaida and Chuzaemon Okugawa. In 1958, he worked for the Prefectural Arita Kiln Institute and researched ceramics and glazes.
White porcelain requires that the vessels and objets produced have perfect shapes. White porcelain ware itself does not depend on decoration, while the shape itself must express neatness, warmth and dignity. Superficial techniques or camouflage will be scoffed at in white porcelains.
Mr Inoue says that 'a figure itself is a pattern'. He has pursued the craft of genuine porcelain through his expertise on the potter's wheel. 'Excellent works do not involve any idle thoughts: only technique and feeling'. He is still now sitting in front of his wheel and will not compromise over a single distortion.
Iga ware is a traditional porcelain craft from Marubashira, Iga, Mie Prefecture.
Iga developed as the production area of porcelain from the late Heian period. Iga ware became notable for the unique vessels created for the tea ceremony, which gained popularity from the late Muromachi period till the Momoyama period. Two governors of Iga, Teiji Tsutsumi and Takatora Fujido, were also masters of the tea ceremony, which explains why Iga ware reflects the tastes and thinking of the tea ceremonies of this area.
The noteworthy characteristics of Iga ware are its use of local clay. Because the Iga area once lay at the bottom of Lake Biwa, high-quality clay can now be extracted from the earth.
By working with the well-ordered forms of Iga ware, created from earth and fire, an unregulated style of beauty is born. Iga ware in its purity symbolizes the beauty of ceramics made and appreciated by the Japanese people.
Yokkaichi Banko Ware is a traditional handicraft made in the city of Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture.
The name 'Banko Ware' derives from the mid-Edo period when the great merchant Nunami Rouzan placed his seal on the pottery with the words 'Bankofueki'. Because he was interested in the tea ceremony and in ceramics, the seal expressed his wish that his works would last forever.
The production of Banko Ware was suspended for a while after Rouzan's death, but started up once again in the late-Edo period. Today's Banko Ware in Yokkaichi is modeled on the early Meiji type of this ware and is produced following the techniques of that time.
The Yokkaichi Banko Ware kilns continue to produce distinctive ceramics that correspond to current trends. Some 70% of the earthen pots made in Japan are produced here at Yokkaichi. The place is also famous for producing teapots.
Yokkaichi Banko Ware is the representative local industry of Yokkaichi, and the craft has strong connections with the lives of the people. In 1979, Yokkaichi Banko Ware was designated as a traditional craftwork.