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Arita – Birthplace of Japanese Porcelain

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    Arita is the birthplace of Japanese porcelain. See where it all started at Izumiyama Quarry and learn about porcelain history at Kyushu Ceramic Museum. While you are there, browse the ceramic shops, and visit the Zwinger Palace at Arita Porcelain Park.

    porcelain dishes on display at Arita Sera

    Arita ware (有田焼) is well known throughout the pottery world for its refined characteristics and colors. It all started 400 years ago when Yi Sam-Pyeong discovered kaolin at Izumiyama Quarry in Arita. We spent a day discovering various sites around Arita and shopped for ceramic and porcelain to add to our kitchen collection. Ready to join us? Let’s go!

    Where is Arita Japan

    Arita is located in northwest Kyushu (Saga Prefecture) just south of Imari. If you are taking public transportation, you want to go to Arita Station on Sasebo Line. To save time, a taxi ride is the best way to go around the city. Walking is feasible but you won’t be able to fit in as many places to see.

    What to Do in Arita Japan

    We recommend spending an entire day in Arita during your visit. Compared to Okawachiyama Village, there are many more activities to do besides porcelain shopping. We’ll share them going from the east side of the city to the west. With each place below, we’ll share a brief description of our experiences. For detailed information for each location, we’ve tried our best to link them to the official sites.

    Things to do in Arita include:

    1. Izumiyama Quarry
    2. Porcelain shop street, Tozan Shrine, Aritatoji Museum. and Tombai Wall Alleys
    3. The Kyushu Ceramic Museum
    4. Arita Sera shops
    5. Arita Porcelain Park
    6. Nakao Uwa Climbing Kiln

    Izumiyama Quarry

    The rise of Arita ware all began from the high-quality kaolin found by Yi Sam-Pyeong (aka Risanpei) at Izumiyama Quarry. The quarry is now classified as a national historical site that opens for visitors.

    Izumiyama Quarry in Arita

    The quarry is fenced off so no entry allowed into the mines. However, there are several observation decks where you can see remnants of the mine. Looking at the size of the quarry, we can imagine during the heyday the amount of activities and of people that were working here.

    Izumiyama Quarry in Arita
    Izumiyama Quarry

    Arita Uchiyama Porcelain and Ceramic Shops 有田内山地区

    Head west 10 min by foot and you’ll start seeing about 25 porcelain and ceramic shops that dot the streets in Arita Uchiyama. If you are looking for unique porcelain pieces to collect, these shops are a good place to start.

    Arita porcelain shop near Tombai Wall Alleys
    Gallery Tsujishin

    Many of the shops on the street are considered cultural-historic buildings and retained their traditional exterior.

    Arita porcelain shop near Tombai Wall Alleys
    Yamabun ceramic shop

    Tombai Wall Alleys

    Just a block north from the main street is the Tombai Wall Alleys. These walls were made with firebrick from the kilns, broken pottery pieces, and red clay.

    Tombai Wall Alleys Arita
    Tombai Wall Alleys

    Tombai Wall Alleys Arita

    Aritatoji Museum 有田陶磁美術館

    There’s a small Arita porcelain museum called Aritatoji Museum in the area but if you are short on time, you can skip it and plan for Kyushu Ceramic Museum.

    Aritatoji Museum

    Aritatoji Museum has been open since 1954 and there’s a replica Edo period pottery workshop inside. The main features of the museum are the collection of historical ceramics and porcelains on display.

    Tozan Shrine

    Make a quick stop at Tozan Shrine (aka Sueyama Jinja) nearby. It is a Shinto shrine found in 1658 dedicated to the fathers of pottery. Tozan Shrine is quite unique as many of the shrine’s features are made from porcelain. These include the torii gate, lamps, guard dogs, and the water basin.

    Tozan Shrine (Sueyama Shrine) Arita
    Tozan Shrine (Sueyama Shrine)
    Tozan Shrine (Sueyama Shrine) Arita
    Porcelain shrine lamp
    Tozan Shrine (Sueyama Shrine) Arita
    Porcelain torii gate

    You can purchase lucky charms and souvenirs made from Arita porcelain at the shrine. They are typically made from wood.

    Tozan Shrine (Sueyama Shrine) Arita
    Tozan Shrine main hall

    Tozan Shrine is dedicated to Emperor Ojin and Yi Sam-Pyeong, the father of Arita porcelain.

    Tozan Shrine (Sueyama Shrine) Arita

    Kyushu Ceramics Museum 九州陶磁文化館

    Take a taxi and you’ll arrive at the Kyushu Ceramic Museum in less than 10 min (~30 min walking). This is the largest ceramic museum in the area so plan on spending at least 1.5 – 2 hours to walk through.

    The Kyushu Ceramic Museum

    The museum houses an impressive collection of both modern ceramic and masterpieces from the past. Compared to the ceramics you see in the store, the pieces on display tend to be much larger and the decorations more intricate.

    large porcelain clock in The Kyushu Ceramic Museum
    Music clock made of Arita ware

    There are five exhibition rooms in the museum:

    1. General exhibition room – closed during our visit
    2. Contemporary Ceramics of Art of Kyushu – showcase elaborate pieces by celebrated ceramic artists
    3. Old Ceramics of Kyushu – ancient ceramics produced throughout Kyushu including examples of different styles
    4. History of Kyushu Ceramics – learn about the history of Kyushu ceramics and how it’s changed through time
    5. Shibata Collection – private collection donated to the museum from Shibata family
    porcelain vases in The Kyushu Ceramic Museum
    Contemporary Ceramics
    ceramic and porcelain works of art in The Kyushu Ceramic Museum
    Contemporary ceramics on display
    Nabeshima ware at The Kyushu Ceramic Museum
    Dish with eggplant design from the 1660s (Nabeshima ware)
    Arita ware at The Kyushu Ceramic Museum
    Bowl with pine, bamboo, plum, crane, and tortoise from the 1720s (Arita ware)
    evolution of porcelain technology at The Kyushu Ceramic Museum
    Evolution of technology for making porcelain from Meiji period to now
    large vase on display at The Kyushu Ceramic Museum
    Large porcelain vases
    collection of porcelain works on display at The Kyushu Ceramic Museum
    Kanbara Collection in Kyushu Ceramic Museum (pieces were exported to Europe and acquired by Mr. Kanbara to bring back to Japan)
    Imari ware trade with Holland
    Trade route of Dutch India Company with Arita ware (since the export port was in Imari and the porcelains were also called Imari ware)
    model of a kiln at The Kyushu Ceramic Museum
    Model of a climbing kiln
    model of a kiln at The Kyushu Ceramic Museum
    Model of ceramic and porcelain in a climbing kiln
    display of porcelain making process at The Kyushu Ceramic Museum
    The production processes for various porcelain and pottery

    Kyushu Ceramic Museum is top-notch and you’d want to have it at the top of your list when visiting Arita.

    Arita Sera アリタセラ

    After learning all about porcelain, it’s time to buy some of your own to take home. When we were walking around the ceramic shops near Tombai Wall Alleys, not all the shops were open. We were confused as to why the city where Japanese porcelain was born had so few porcelain shops until we arrived at Arita Sera.

    shops at Arita Sera

    dinnerware on display inside porcelain shops at Arita Sera

    Arita Sera is a shopping complex not far from the Kyushu Ceramic Museum and it has 22 ceramic stores specializing in Arita ware. The stores there gear toward tourists and the staff are friendly.

    The products in these stores are mostly mass-produced and at lower prices compared to the boutique shops at Okawachiyama Village.

    porcelain shops at Arita Sera

    There are traditional-style Arita ware as well as modern tableware offerings such as beer glass or chawanmushi bowls.

    beer glass on display inside porcelain shops at Arita Sera
    Beer glasses!
    chawanmushi cups on display at Arita Sera
    Chawanmushi bowls

    The pieces on display here are similar to the Arita ware you can find in Japanese department stores. We ended up not buying too many tableware here for props. However, we did go treasure hunting at one of the stores.

    dinnerware on display inside porcelain shops at Arita Sera
    Small dishes and sake glasses

    What’s treasure hunting? For 10,000 yen, the staff takes you upstairs to a warehouse area that is rather dusty (no photos). You have 30 min to fill a basket with as much ceramic as you can. You’ll also have to wrap the ceramic yourself.

    Was it worth it? It was fun but we wouldn’t recommend it. The pieces available in the treasure hunt were disorganized and not as appealing. If you are interested in treasure hunting porcelain, consider Kouraku Kiln Tokunaga Ceramics which offers a similar experience and it received good reviews.

    dinnerware on display inside porcelain shops at Arita Sera

    Chawan Mikoshi made of 679 cups and weighing 500 kg
    Chawan Mikoshi

    Arita Porcelain Park 有田ポーセリンパーク

    If you have more time in Arita, make a stop at Arita Porcelain Park. It’s a porcelain theme park and free to enter. The signature building at the park is the replica Zwinger Palace (the original one is in Dresden Germany).

    Zwinger Palace at Arita Porcelain Park

    The theme park covers a large area and besides the Zwinger Palace, the attractions include:

    1. Arita ware shops
    2. Porcelain workshop (90 min)
    3. History museum
    4. Climbing kiln
    5. Baroque garden

    There’s a sake brewery on site but it’s not related to ceramics or porcelain.

    gift shop at Arita Porcelain Park
    Ceramic shop

    ceramics on display inside shop at Arita Porcelain Park

    large porcelain chess pieces at Arita Porcelain Park
    Porcelain chess artwork
    porcelain workshop at Arita Porcelain Park
    Porcelain workshop

    inside porcelain workshop at Arita Porcelain Park

    Zwinger Palace at Arita Porcelain Park
    Zwinger Palace and garden in Arita

    Zwinger Palace garden at Arita Porcelain Park

    Would we recommend Arita Porcelain Park to visitors? The Zwinger Palace is really cool with a porcelain museum inside for visitors, but the theme park feels artificial and is mostly a tourist trap. You won’t be missing much if you can’t make it there.

    Nakao Uwa Climbing Kiln 中尾上登窯跡

    Our last stop is Nakao Uwa Climbing Kiln and it’s a bit out of the way. However, we had our own car so it was easier to get around. We wanted to stop by because Nakao Uwa climbing kiln was one of the world’s largest kilns (first built in 1600). The length of the kiln is over 160 meters long.

    Nakao Uwa Climbing Kiln

    Nakao Uwa Climbing Kiln

    The kiln is located on top of a hill and overlooks the town of Hasami. Hasami has been producing porcelain for 400 years (Hasami ware) but is not as well known as Arita or Imari.

    view of Hasami from Nakao Uwa Climbing Kiln

    Our family enjoyed our visit to Arita and learning about the birthplace and history of porcelain in Japan. We also came here with the goal of finding unique tableware for our photoshoot and the mission was accomplished.

    As I mentioned in Okawachiyama Village post, if you are looking for Japanese porcelain in Tokyo, stop by Tokyo’s Kappabashi Kitchenware Town. It’s the street dedicated to everything you’ll need for the kitchen!

    Up next, we’ll share where we stayed and what other interesting places to visit in the area. See our other Kyushu guides here.

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