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.
Kakiemon is a preeminent Japanese porcelain brand and is well-known worldwide. The most remarkable feature of Kakiemon is called “nigoshide”.
Nigoshide is the fine milky white base color developed to emphasize the beauty of paintings by Kakiemon. “Nigoshi” is a dialect of Saga, where Kakiemon wares are produced, and means “water after washing rice”, which is not pure white but a warm milky white color. It is this background color that enables the viewer to realize the beauty around the drawings that Kakiemon style is famous for. This technique was established at the beginning of Edo period by the fifth generation of Kakiemon when many wares were produced. However, mainly due to the high shipping costs, the production was discontinued temporarily. Later when there was an overwhelming demand by the Agency for Cultural Affairs and enthusiasts in general, production was revived around 1952 by Kakiemon XII and Kakiemon XIII.
In 1971, Nigoshide technique was designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Asset. Kakiemon X IV, a Living National Treasure, continues making new products blending traditional techniques passed on through generations with new modern techniques.
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.
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.
Izushi ware is transparently white porcelain handed down in Izushi-cho, Hyogo Pref. Making of this porcelain ware dates back to 1784, when the first pottery was fired in this area. Later in the same period, with the discovery of large quantities of kaolin in the area, the feudal lord at the time gave support to this craft and invited skilled potters from Arita to help the local workmen, which marked the beginning of porcelain making in the castle town of Izushi. Its pure white porcelain that cannot be produced in any other area together with its high-standard techniques of sculpting exquisite patterns enhances the beauty of this craft work. During the Meiji period it was exhibited at World Expos held at Paris and Tokyo and it gained fame at a burst. After the World War II, the work of an artist potter of Izushi won the first prize at Nitten (the Japanese Fine Arts Exhibition), which encouraged artistic production as well. In 1980, Izushi ware was designated as a National Traditional Craft Product. This silky pure white porcelain can be referred to as the best “porcelain art” created by honed skills of the potters.
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.
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.
Imari-Arita ware is pottery ware produced in the area around Arita-machi, Saga Pref. It is characterized by the thin and light body and elegant patterns. The origin of Imari-Arita ware dates back to 1604 (the early Edo period), when a Korean potter, Li Sanpei discovered fine porcelain stone at Mt. Izumi in Arita. Since then Imari-Arita ware had blossomed and many skills had been developed under the patronage of Nabeshima Clan during the Edo period. A lot of potters came to study the techniques, which made the name of this ware known nationwide. To produce its characteristic blue pattern, the elaborately crafted work is required in each of the processes including underglaze drawing, underglaze painting, glazing, firing, and overglaze painting. At any moment of the process gleams out the aesthetic sense of a master craftsman who carries on the 400 years of tradition.