The Complete Guide of Arita Ware and 13 Popular Kilns & Artists
Arita ware is a traditional ware with over 400 years of history. It is highly appreciated not only in Japan but also outside of Japan. After a long history, there are both traditional and modern designs now.
If you pick up an Arita ware after learning about it, you will love it even more. In this article, I will introduce the charms and characteristics of Arita ware, and 13 popular kilns, brands, and artists.
What is Arita Ware?
Arita ware (有田焼) refers to ceramics produced in Arita Town in Saga Prefecture. It was the first ceramic produced in Japan in the 17th century.
It is highly prized in Japan that it has been designated as a gift to the Imperial Household. Prices range from the expensive to those that are easy to incorporate into daily life.
Characteristics of Arita Ware
Arita ware is produced in a wide variety of products, from fine art to daily necessities.
It is made by forming clay from pottery stone, glazing it, and firing it at a high temperature of 1,300 degrees Celsius for more than 17 hours. It is light, hard, and durable.
It has such a beautiful white color that it was once praised as “white gold” by European aristocrats. The smooth surface is suitable for applying designs, so indigo-dyed or brightly colored paintings are often seen, giving it a prestigious and elegant appearance.
Difference Between Imari Ware and Arita Ware
Arita ware was called Imari ware (伊万里焼) during the Edo period (1603 – 1868) because the port of Imari was used as a shipping port.
Today, the ceramics produced in Imari City are broadly classified as Imariyaki, and that produced in Arita Town as Arita ware, but the porcelain produced in this adjacent area is sometimes referred to collectively as Imari Arita ware.
In order to distinguish between the Imariyaki of those days and those produced today, the former is called “Ko-Imari (古伊万里)”.
3 Styles of Arita Ware
Arita-yaki can be roughly divided into three types, “Ko-Imari style (古伊万里様式)“, “Kakiemon (柿右衛門)“, and “Nabeshima (鍋島)“.
One of them is called “Ko-Imari style (古伊万里様式)” and was made in the Edo period. The Ko-Imari style is a gorgeous style, in which the ceramic is decorated with a gorgeous red and gold coloring technique called Kinrande (金襴手) on top of the underglaze blue. It also had a great influence on Meissen, the representative porcelain of Europe.
The second is the “Kakiemon style(柿右衛門)“, the pictorial painting on the milky-white surface. It was invented by Kakiemon Sakaida, who was active in the Arita area. The use of mainly red, yellow, green, and blue colors and delicate lines often produce asymmetrical representations of flowers, birds, and other scenes. Kakiemon-style pottery with a Japanese flavor was also made for export to aristocrats overseas.
The third is the “Nabeshima style(鍋島)”. These wares were made under the strict control of the Nabeshima clan’s official kilns and presented to the feudal lords. Many Nabeshima-style ceramics, which were made without regard to profitability and with an emphasis on elegance, can now be considered works of art.
The History of Arita Ware
Ceramics were first created in Arita town around 1616. Until then, it was thought to be impossible to produce ceramics in Japan. However, during Hideyoshi Toyotomi’s invasion of Korea, Korean potters brought to Arita discovered a high-quality raw material for ceramics called ryumongiwa in Mt. Ceramic was created in the kilns around Arita, and the production became active and began to be distributed in the domestic market.
The popular ceramics of this period is the “Jingdezhen porcelain” of China. Its superior quality was recognized worldwide, and Japan imported them too. However, from around 1644, exports plummeted due to the civil war that followed the change of Chinese dynasties. Demand for ceramic was concentrated in Arita. In response, production in Arita increased, and within the 1640s it came to dominate the domestic ceramic market.
The sharp decline in Chinese ceramic exports affected not only Japan but also countries around the world. In 1647, Chinese ships began exporting Arita ware to Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and other Southeast Asian countries, according to Dutch records.
Japan had been in a period of national seclusion since 1640. Only China and the Netherlands were allowed to trade by the Shogunate. In addition to China, Dutch ships began carrying Arita ware to Tonkin, Vietnam in 1650. It is assumed that the Dutch had a stockpile of Chinese porcelain before exports stopped, and did not immediately begin handling Arita ware because of their emphasis on product quality. As demand increased, from 1644 to the early 1650s, Arita introduced Chinese technology and achieved dramatic technical innovation.
After witnessing the improvement in technology, the Dutch decided to export Arita porcelain to Europe in 1659. Thereafter, the Dutch East India Company began to receive large orders every year. Arita’s techniques were further refined in response to these requests. Various items ranging from European tableware and household goods to furniture and furnishings were made and gained popularity. Arita porcelain is still found in many palaces and residences, indicating that it was highly prized.
The export of Arita ware to Europe, which began in 1659, continued for about 100 years until 1757. When China resumed exports in 1684, Arita began to place importance on products for the domestic market. While making use of the techniques and designs developed through exports, the shift in shapes and patterns to Japanese tastes had begun. By 1757, the food service industry was gradually becoming more affluent. Yatai (food stalls) and teahouses flourished in Edo (now Tokyo). Thus, Arita ware penetrated into the daily lives of the general public and became an indispensable part of Edo’s culinary culture.
After the Meiji Restoration(1868 – 1889), the production and sale of Arita ware were liberalized. In preparation for the resumption of exports, production of large vases and Western tableware began. Western techniques were actively adopted, and a new Arita ware was produced.
In 1897, a railroad line was opened to Arita. As direct shipping became possible, the name “Arita ware” became commonplace.
Arita Ware Today
Arita ware celebrated its 400th anniversary in 2016, and a project was launched to look back on the history and traditions and consider Arita for the next generation. This project includes restoring vessels from the Edo period, designing new Arita-yaki porcelain in collaboration with domestic and international creators, and developing the world’s strongest porcelain material.
Arita Ceramics Fair
The Arita Ceramics Fair is held in Arita Town in spring and fall, attracting 1.2 million people each year. Even if you are unable to visit the event, you can purchase pieces from the kilns, trading companies, and artists’ websites.
For more information, visit the official website.
Popular Kilns, Brands, and Artists
Kakiemon Kiln 柿右衛門窯
The Kakiemon Kiln is a kiln that cannot be missed when discussing Arita ware. It has a history of approximately 370 years. Outside of Japan, they are popular as a decorative element on the tables of royalty and aristocrats.
6-19-44 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Business hours: Monday-Friday: 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Saturday: 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Closed: Sundays and national holidays
1-8-6 Shinmachi, Nishi-ku, Osaka City
Hours Monday-Friday: 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Closed: Saturdays, Sundays, and national holidays
Imaemon Kiln 今右衛門窯
The Imaemon family continued to support the Nabeshima style by passing it down from one generation to the next. Known as the best red painter, Imaemon is now the fourteenth generation of the family.
2-1-15, Akaemachi, Arita-cho, Nishimatsuura-gun, Saga
Hours 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
Closed on the first Sunday
2-6-5 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Hours: Monday-Friday 9:00 am – 6:00 pm/Sat. 9:00 am – 4:00 pm
Closed on Sundays and national holidays
Genemon Kiln 源右衛門窯
Together with the Kakiemon and Imaemon kilns mentioned above, it is known as one of the “top 3 右衛門 (Emon) kilns” of Arita. While there are many traditional designs, the company also produces a large number of modern designs. Their beautifully bright colors and delicate coloring attract many people.
2726, Maruo Hei, Arita-cho, Nishimatsuura-gun, Saga
Business hours weekdays: 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Koransha is famous for its technical prowess, such as being the first to create porcelain insulated glass using Arita ware techniques. The company makes pottery in a wide range of styles, including Ko-Imari style, Kakiemon style, Nabeshima style, and of course, Kinrande style. It is one of the most traditional and historic kilns in Arita.
Arita Main Store
1-3-8, Kohira, Arita-cho, Nishimatsuura-gun, Saga
Hours: 8:00 a.m. to 5:25 p.m. weekdays
Weekends and holidays: 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (October through March)
9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (April to September)
Closed: Open every day of the year
Ginza Koransha Building, 6-14-20 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Hours: Weekdays and Saturdays, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Closed: Sundays, National holidays, Year-end and New Year holidays
Fukagawa Seiji 深川製磁
Founded in 1894, Fukagawa Seiji was awarded the highest gold medal at the 1900 World Exposition in Paris. Highly acclaimed in Europe, it is a purveyor of the Imperial Household Agency of Japan.
They create pottery that transcends time and national borders to enrich hearts.
Available shop list
Tasei Kiln 田清窯
Their philosophy is “creating beautiful and heartwarming ceramics that can be used for various things and add color to the table”. They use the lead-free paints originally developed by Arita. The “Knot” series, which was created for good luck and health, is perfect for celebratory occasions.
2981, Kuwakoba Otsu, Arita-cho, Nishimatsuura-gun, Saga
Open: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
Closed: Sundays, National Holidays, 2nd and 4th Saturdays
Shobido Honten 賞美堂本店
The attraction of Arita ware, which has been handed down from generation to generation, is its white porcelain and vividly colored paintings. They are striving to preserve the tradition of Arita ware, which has been nurtured over a long history, and to pass it on in the modern age.
Nakanohara Main Office
1-1-13, Nakanohara, Arita-cho, Nishimatsuura-gun, Saga
Business hours: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Closed on New Year’s Day and Wednesday
2351-169, Akasaka Hei, Arita-cho, Nishimatsuura-gun, Saga
Business hours: 8:30 am – 5:30 pm (weekdays)
10:00 am – 5:00 pm (Saturdays, Sundays and holidays)
Open all year round (closed on New Year’s Day)
Keizan Kiln 渓山窯
Established in 1957 in the rich nature of Sarukawa Valley in Arita Town. They have been working hard to produce Arita ware, focusing on handmade and hand-painted products. Their ceramics have a nostalgic yet contemporary style of dyeing.
1-1-3, Kouhira, Arita-cho, Nishimatsuura-gun, Saga
Business hours: 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Closed: Tuesdays, Year-end and New Year holidays
1616 / Arita Japan
1616 / Arita Japan is a brand started in 2012 by Momota Toen, which has been working since the Edo period. It is a popular brand that has expanded to 18 countries, mainly in Europe.
The photo shows the Palace Plate, a plate created for the Palace Hotel Tokyo. It is very popular among ceramic lovers.
Available shop list
2016/ is a brand created to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Arita ware. It was developed by 16 groups of designers from Japan and abroad.
There are two series, one of which is “Standard”. Aiming to promote Arita ware widely, this series offers a sense of the quality of Arita-yaki while keeping prices low. The other series is called “Edition” and uses the techniques that Arita-yaki has cultivated.
Available shop list
Arita Porcelain Lab
Arita Porcelain Lab is a long-established Arita porcelain kiln with a history dating back to 1804. It has been producing products that preserve tradition and meet modern lifestyles in order to bring “Nippon” Modern Luxury to the world. It also features collaborations with brands and artists from around the world.
Available shop list
So Terui 照井壮
So Terui is an artist who was born and works in Arita Town. The raw materials used are the same as those used in traditional Arita ware.
Takeryo Kawaguchi 川口武亮
He is an artist who was born and works in Arita Town. He produces white slipware, ash-glazed ware, and Mishima potteries. (Mishima is a type of pottery that came to Japan from the Korean Peninsula during the Yi Dynasty.) All of his ceramics are simple but heartwarming.
2153 Kuwakoba Arita Nishimatsuura Saga
By appointment only *Please contact them in advance.
Arita Ware Shipping Overseas
Amazon.co.jp offers a lot of Arita ware. They also ship outside of Japan, and you can shop in English.