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.
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.
Onta-yaki is a high-fired ceramic ware made in valleys in the Onta region around Hita in Oita Prefecture.
Yanase Miemon, a potter from Chikuzen, was the first craftsman to modify high-fired Koishiwara ware and create Onta ware during the Edo period. To fire Onta ware, Miemon used a 'richokei noborigama' (richo-type multi-chambered climbing kiln) made by Kuroki Jubei from Otsuru.
Over 300 years, Onta ware has come to employ many different decorative techniques, including 'tobikana' (distinct patterns),'hakeme' (slip brushing), 'kushigaki' ('combed' lines), 'uchikake' (waterfall patterns), and 'nagashi'. These designs are made using a variety of colors, such as celadon green, black, amber and yellow.
A well-known story goes that, in 1954 and 1964, Bernard Howell Leach, the prominent British studio potter, visited Hita in Oita and made some Onta ware himself.
Today, the process of preparing the clay continues as it always has with, for example, the 'karausu' (a crusher that uses rivers and rapids for molding clay), which slowly and surely kneads the clay for the different potteries. Preparations such as this help to protect the long history and tradition of Onta ware. In 1995, Onta ware was designated as an important cultural heritage of Japan.
The craft of clay doll-making (tsuchi ningyo) in Toyama is a traditional handicraft from the Edo period. The round shape and lovable, naïve expressions on the doll faces are simply adorable.
The history of the Toyama clay dolls dates back some 150 years to the period 1848-54. It is believed that the clay dolls originated when Maeda Toshiyasu, the 10th Han (feudal lord) of Toyama invited Hirose Hidenobu, a potter from Nagoya prefecture, to work for him. Using a kiln he had made for the Chitose Palace, Hidenobu created a kind of pottery--the forerunner of Chitose-yaki (Chitose ware), and the Tenhin Gagyuu as presents for the Maeda clan.
By the end of the Edo Period, the style and shape of the dolls had developed and became more elaborate. This form later became a lucky charm and a children's toy that would be cherished by the public.
At that time, there were many stores at the foot of the castle that were making clay dolls. Only one of them is still in business today: Nobuhide San of the house of Watanabe, who inherited the techniques of clay doll-making from the house of Hirose.
In order to keep the doll-making tradition alive and vibrant, Toyama city itself is making efforts to train people to learn the craft at special associations.