The rekindled fire of Arita porcelain

It may be uncommon to check the bottom of a porcelain cup after you drink from it, but not for the Japanese. Porcelain is so close to their heart that they’d look at the underside of cups and bowls to see which porcelain house made them, as an assessment of quality.

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A portable shrine, “Chawan Mikoshi”, made of 679 cups designed by 62 potteries in Arita. 

We traveled deeper to the town of Arita in Kyushu, Japan, to find out more.

Storied origins

It’s said that a Korean potter, Yi Sam-pyeong, discovered a superior clay on Mount Izumi, Arita. The clay gave a stark white appearance after he fired it up. Just like that, the first Arita ware was made in 1616 and become one of Japan’s early exports that caught the world’s attention.

Soon, works from Arita and around, became known as Arita ware, (also Arita-yaki or Imari-yaki, named after the Imari Port). Shoguns and feudal lords in the Edo period received them as gifts; the Dutch East India Company shipped millions of pieces to Europe.

Every one wanted a piece of Arita.

Mark of quality

Characterized by a pristine white base with deep blue ink – the fabrication of Arita ware uses traditional techniques unique to the town.  The resulting finish is:

  • powdery smooth even at the base
  • light and airy but sturdy at the same time
  • flawless even when unglazed.

Different kilns have since developed their own styles, such as the Kakiemon kiln for enamel decoration on porcelain (‘akae’), and Nabeshima for its underglaze or overglaze enamels.

Firing up a 400-year-old tradition

Today, traditional techniques have been refreshed with new designs and interpretations that remain relevant to everyday living. We tried our hand at making our own Arita ware, marveling at how they’ve stood the test of time and coped with changing tastes – and the unwavering passion of its people to keep their heritage alive.

Teams of prominent international designers came together to create the new Arita400 project label when Arita ware turned 400 years old in 2016. Some ventured out to global fairs such as Maison & Objet Paris.

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Singapore heritage icons on Kihara ceramics

International collaborations sparked off, like the one between the Singapore lifestyle store, Supermama, with Kihara ceramics (of 400 year-old heritage), shown above. The collaboration captured icons of Singapore such as HDB flats and the construction cranes that once dotted our skyline, in heritage ware, serving as a quiet reminder that we should take good care of our heritage, as you would a piece of porcelain.

There’s a lot more to be discovered about porcelain in the region. Stay tuned as we bring you similar experiences soon. Till next time!


StraitsJourneys is a place for travelers to find and book deep travel experiences tailored to specific interests. The experiences are presented by carefully selected local experts. We expect to launch in early 2018. In the meantime, register your interest in StraitsJourneys and be the first to receive our stories, updates and offers.

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