Last time we focused on Arita-yaki, but did you know that near Arita-cho there are a number of porcelain production areas with just as much historical value? In this feature we’d like to introduce you to the world of Mikawachi-yaki and Hasami-yaki located near Arita-cho. As we peruse the specialties and backgrounds of each region, the pottery reveals the connections between Kyushu and the rest of the world.
The techniques for porcelain production entered Japan around 400 years ago.
In the 1590s the shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi waged the Bunroku and Keicho invasions of Korea; when troops were withdrawn from Korea each of the daimyos brought back numerous Korean potters with them to Japan. Among these Korean potters was a man named Yi Sam Pyeong; he was responsible for the discovery of minerals suitable for porcelain creation (kaolin) on Mt. Izumiyama in Saga Prefecture’s Arita region. In 1616 he began production of porcelain in Arita’s eastern area of Tengudanigama and not long after that the production of porcelain spread all throughout Japan.
The fine craftsmanship cultivated among the various domain’s patronized kilns
Next to JR Arita Station is JR Mikawachi Station; if you drive about 10 minutes from this station you’ll reach a place that has around 10 different pottery workshops all lined up. The pottery produced here is known as “Mikawachi-yaki.”
During the retreat from the Bunroku/Keicho invasions, the daimyo Matsuura Shigenobu who governed the Hirado Domain (present-day Mikawachi-cho) also brought back a potter known as Koseki. Although the Hirado Domain was already known for its pottery, Koseki’s son Imamura Sannojo became the central focus of the region and he also began production of porcelain.
As for the traditional decorative motifs of Mikawachi-yaki, typically they use a technique called “karako” which focuses on depictions of children dressed in ancient Chinese clothes. However, if you visit one of the modern pottery workshops you will see a wide variety of subjects depicted on their pottery.
The plate below with a whale design is a piece of Mikawachi-yaki created by the pottery workshop “Koun Gama.” This is not a finished piece, rather it is a bisque that is in the process of being decorated. The creator of this piece, Imamura Takamitsu, is nationally recognized as one of Japan’s traditional craftsmen for his high quality craftsmanship and preservation of traditional methods in the pursuit of nationally-designated traditional art forms. Furthermore, in 2013 he was chosen to receive a Gendai no Meikou (Contemporary Master Craftsman Award) and was publically acknowledged for his master craftsmanship.
The pottery workshops are open only on weekdays. Most of these workshops also have shops so you can purchase some of their wares.
The works on sale are so beautiful you’d think they belong in a museum. You might be wondering just how Mikawachi-yaki was able to develop to such a masterful level of artisanship; the reason is the historical background of the Hirado Domain’s patronized kilns, which were carefully maintained as part of the artists’ devotion to the creation of high-quality gifts and fine artwork.
Mikawachi-yaki’s intricate craftsmanship is also well-known overseas; it has historically been used by the British Royal Family, and the British Museum also holds a Mikawachi-yaki coffee cup set.
What about Hasami-yaki, the bestselling pottery beloved by the common people?
Whereas the techniques for Mikawachi-yaki were polished as the Hirado Domain’s patronized kiln, the nearby town of Hasami-cho specialized in mass-production of pottery in a style known as Hasami-yaki. There is no train station in Hasami-cho, but you can reach there in just 15 minutes via taxi from Arita-cho, or you can take a bus from Mikawachi-cho to reach there.
In the Edo Period (1603-1868) the physical distribution of goods was handled via boats on rivers; the channel running between Osaka and Kyoto was very popular among merchants who would ride along the river selling alcohol and food to people passing by the river. The dishes used by these food-sellers were called “Kurawanka-wan”, and they were so cheap and easy to make that people literally threw the dishes into the river after they were done eating—sort of like how paper plates are used today. Following later archeological excavations, it was determined that the “Kurawanka-wan” dishes excavated from all over Japan were almost all Hasami-yaki. From this discovery it became clear that Hasami-yaki was so cheap and easy to produce that it spread all over the country among the common people.
Hasami-yaki was also used for exportation of Japanese soy sauce and sake overseas; known as “conpra bottles”, they have become priceless treasures today.
Hasami-yaki kilns were not known just for mass-production, historically they were known for occasionally exporting high-quality works from Arita. In more recent times, through collaborations with young creators these kilns have had great success in manufacturing tableware intended for young people. It is precisely because of Hasami-yaki’s strong points that it is able to adopt new designs and meet their needs in order to ensure successful production.
“I want some Hasami-yaki! I want to try using it!” Well, now you can!
Within Hasami-cho’s Nishinohara area there are a number of cafes and shops. For people interested in purchasing Hasami-yaki, among these numerous shops we recommend Minamisouko (南創庫). Minamisouko opened in 2011 and deals in the original brand items of Saikai Toki Co.,Ltd. Within the shop you will find a rich variety of different kinds of Hasami-yaki.
Also in Nishinohara is the café “monne legui mooks” which is presently celebrating its 10-year anniversary; at this café you can enjoy food served on Hasami-yaki plates. We recommend their lunch menu, which features fresh vegetables served alongside deliciously moist chicken.
After your meal you can choose from a number of desserts. This time we chose the chocolate cake, which was soft yet rich with chocolate flavor—we recommend it! The owner Okada’s sociable personality and the comfortable atmosphere as we passed our time in the place made the meal even more enjoyable.
“monne legui mooks” uses Hasami-yaki tableware because it pairs easily with a wide variety of different meals. We recommend a trip to this café before you purchase Hasami-yaki tableware so that you can have a look at the real thing and think about what you’d like to get.
Let’s visit Arita-cho, Mikawachi-cho, and Hasami-cho!
The year 2016 marks the 400-year anniversary since Arita-yaki’s creation, and creators are always proceeding with projects to expand Arita-yaki’s development. For example, this year at the Arita Ceramics Fair (from 4/29~5/5) the Gallery Baekpasun was opened to celebrate the works of Baek Pasun, a female Korean potter who has been active in Arita-cho; the works of both Japanese and Korean female potters are displayed and sold. As they are female potters their works have a dainty and sensitive feel to them; they have honed their own technique in order to create a unique world of works that you can enjoy.
While Arita-yaki, Mikawachi-yaki, and Hasami-yaki all share certain common features due to their long history, each type of pottery has its own personality that is utilized to create charming pottery. In April of 2016 an area consisting of 8 cities and towns in Saga and Nagasaki Prefectures was registered as a Japan Heritage site as “Hizen”, which is the old name of the province that encompassed this area, and the birthplace of Japanese porcelain.
During the Golden Week holidays in May of every year, all of the towns host a Ceramics Fair where they set up outlets to sell pottery at reasonable prices, which draws numerous tourists. Arita-cho also holds the “Sue, Arida Porcelain Festival” in the fall, where you can enjoy the fall leaves while strolling through the festival.
How about going on a round-trip through these 3 pottery-themed regions?