What is Arita Ware (Arita Porcelain)?

What is Arita Ware (Arita Porcelain)?

Let’s talk about Japan’s “national treasure” --

Arita-ware 有田焼

Japanese ceramics can be traced back to the Middle Ages, which is nearly 400 years from now. From the early influence of aesthetics and techniques in China and North Korea, to the later development of its own firing method, Japanese porcelain technology can be considered one of the best in the world, and has surpassed its predecessors.

It is worth noting that the raw materials and the usage of Japanese porcelain products are often inextricably related to their geography and social traditional culture. 

While admiring these exquisite porcelain, we can not only appreciate the beauty of traditional Japanese craftsmanship, but also gain an in-depth understanding of Japanese traditional social culture, history and geographical background.

Arita ware is believed to have originated in the Saga area of Arita, a town in Kyushu, and is the earliest method of porcelain making in Japanese history. After the Japanese invasions of Korea (文禄・慶長の役, 1592–1598), the Japanese daimyo (大名), who was a powerful Japanese feudal lord, captured the Korean porcelain craftsman Yi Sam-pyeong (金ヶ江三兵衛). Yi Sam-pyeong later discovered a white porcelain mine in Arita, that is when the development of Japanese porcelain began.

Yi Sam-pyeong

(A porcelain statue of Yi Sam-pyeong)

Arita ware is well known for its firing techniques of the translucent white porcelain and its colorful and delicate painting skills. In the mid-17th century, the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie) began exporting Japanese Arita ware to Europe. The Netherlands, known as the "Dutch Empire", had frequent contacts with Japan at that time. Even during “Sakoku (鎖国)”, the isolationist foreign policy in Japan in the late eighteenth century, the Netherlands was the only country allowed to trade with Japan, and thus was able to introduce a large number of Japanese porcelain, tea and other products into Europe. Since the 17th century, there has been an upsurge in the pursuit of Japanese culture in Europe, thanks to the mature development of the Dutch shipping industry. 

("Oranda Sen zu", a large dutch sail boat in Nagasaki)

Today, many factories in the Saga area of Japan still obey the ancient firing method, and insist that the entire production process should be handled by well-trained kiln craftsmen, who dedicated their whole life to it. From pottery making, glazing, to painting, they insist that it be all handmade. Each product was given its own personality and soul by the meticulous craftsmen.

Production process of an Arita ware dripper:

  1. Forming: porcelain clay molding
  2. Bisque-firing: low temperature firing
  3. Underglaze: adding basic colors
  4. Glazing: coated with white glaze, making the pottery shine
  5. Firing: high temperature firing
  6. Overglaze Decoration: add colorful colors
  7. Glaze firing: low temperature firing
  8. Finishing: cooling, and the dripper is complete

1. Forming- porcelain clay molding
(Forming: porcelain clay molding)

Underglaze- adding basic colors
(Underglaze: adding basic colors)

Glazing: coated with white glaze, making the pottery shine
(Glazing: coated with white glaze, making the pottery shine)

Finishing: cooling, and the dripper is complete
(Glaze firing: low temperature firing)

Watch the following video to know more about the production of Arita-ware: