Located in the laid-back prefecture of Saga is Arita, a town that, while small in terms of population, has a very long history. This town is the home of Arita Ware, one of Japan’s most influential ceramic and craft movements. It’s a wonderful place to explore with beautiful natural scenery, plenty to do, and a relaxing regional ambience.
Take no Tanada Terraced Rice Paddies
Start your journey through Arita with a visit to the town’s iconic Take no Tanada Terraced Rice Paddies. These artfully staggered rice fields were initially built for practical reasons, but nowadays they`re seen not only as a form of agriculture but also as a work of art. The terraced style of rice paddies allows the farmers to take advantage of otherwise quite uninhabitable lands. It’s also said that this style makes for more high-quality rice as the larger temperature fluctuations between day and night allow the crops to ripen slowly.
Don’t just take our word for it in terms of their beauty. These Terraced Rice Paddies are so beautiful that they were designated as one of the “100 Best Rice Terraces in Japan”.
To get a more comprehensive understanding of just how much ceramics has shaped the history and culture of Arita, consider a little stop off at Izumiyama Quarry. Today it’s a relic of what was once a bustling economic hub, one of the nation’s key centres for ceramic production. It is said that in the 17th century, Korean potter Ri Sanpei stumbled upon a rich source of porcelain stone here in the depths of Arita’s landscape.
Due to the fact that the porcelain stone found at Izumiyama was of high quality and in addition to that also available in high quantity, the first large scale porcelain production in Japan started here. With this material, local potters were able to create an intricate and delicate form of porcelain (sometimes known as ‘China)’. The quarry was mined for this porcelain stone over a long period of time, making the rugged, unique views you see today. The site is open to the public for viewing year-round, but in November, it’s at its best as it’s also host to the Arita Autumn Ceramic Festival.
The Big Ginkgo Tree (Kuchiya Guardhouse remains)
Located just a five-minute stroll east of Izumiyama Quarry is where you’ll find the Big Ginkgo Tree (Kuchiya Guardhouse remains). It’s a site much loved by the locals and with a little context, something you’ll be sure to appreciate as well. This tree stands at an impressive 30 meters tall, and according to the history books, it is about 1,000 years old, making it by far one of the town’s most senior residents.
In 1926 the tree was appointed to the natural monument of the country. If you’re in town in autumn, it’s well worth a visit as seeing the ginkgo in all its golden glory is a sight to behold.
The Tonbaibei Walls in the backstreet of the townscape of Uchiyama district
If you’ve got a day or two to spend in Arita, we’d suggest trying to keep it quite open, allowing yourself plenty of time to soak up the historical ambience of this gorgeous little town. One of the best ways to do so is by taking a walk through the backstreets of the Uchiyama district.
The area’s well-maintained legacy has garnered it the title of an Important Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings of the country. In the backstreet, leaving a scenery truly reminiscent of a ceramic producing area, many of the walls you’ll find here are rocky, reddish-brown structures known as ‘tonbaibei walls.’ ‘Tonbaibei’ is built using the waste material of fire-proof bricks that were originally used when building climbing kilns.
An understated gem of a destination, Tōzan Shrine is no regular shrine; it’s home to potentially one of the country’s most impressive torii gates, a gate made from porcelain. The shrine was built overlooking the town of Arita, in 1658 (the first year of the Manji Period). Near the top of the mountain a stone monument worshipping the godfather of Arita Porcelain was erected.
The shrine has received lavish ceramic gifts throughout its lifetime, many of which you can see on display today, like statues of guardian lions, balustrades, lanterns, and gate posts, all showcasing the evolving ceramic style of the town from the Edo-period up to today.
There’s no more iconic place to stop off for coffee or lunch than Gallery Arita, an elegant cafe restaurant decorated with a 2,000+ large collection of ceramic cups. The restaurant, gallery, shop is an ode to the ceramic legacy of the town, with countless products on display across all the floors and even a ceramic-car parked out front.
If you order lunch, you’ll even be served from a ceramic bento-box. The lunch menu is an excellent tasting platter of the town’s culinary delights, one highlight being godōfu, a special type of tofu made from soymilk, kudzu and starch. Godōfu is made via a process of slow kneading and cooking, giving it a thicker, chewier texture that’s as unique as it is delicious. Also, do spend some time inspecting the ceramic cup collection because visitors who order hot drinks are welcome to select their favourite cup from the shelves.
The Kyushu Ceramic Museum
Another centrepiece of the town is The Kyushu Ceramic Museum; this expansive museum features five exhibition rooms, as well as a courtyard, all populated by the finest ceramics you’ll find in Japan.
The museum features pieces collected from across Kyushu and a selection of exported Arita ware from Europe, showcasing the influence of ceramics styles hailing from here in Saga. The museum was founded in 1980, as a way to honour this influential form and educate those new to the style. One highlight is the collection of 25 large ceramic bells given to the museum by Arita’s sister city Meissen in Germany, hang around long enough, and you can hear them ring out on the hour. Please note that it’s scheduled to be closed from January 31 to the beginning of April, 2022 due to renovation.
While a key pottery destination, Arita has many other attractions too, and sake brewery Munemasa Brewery is a great example. This brewery, located right on the grounds of Arita Porcelain Park, is a modern-ish brewery that also produces shōchū, and craft beer, offering visitors a broader view of the nation’s alcohol scene. To get a taste of what’s on offer, head to the gift shop inside the park (about a three-minute walk from the brewery facility) to sample some of their best products, including beer, sake, shōchū, and umeshu.
Pottery making experience at Arita Porcelain Park
Of course, you can look at it and read about it all day, but to get a real insight into Arita porcelain, you have to roll up your sleeves, prepare to get your hands dirty, and actually make it. Arita Porcelain Park offers regular on-site classes (in Japanese) for those ready to take the plunge.
When you’re there, the first thing you’ll probably notice is the German Baroque architecture of the park’s most imposing building, Zwinger Palace. This unique building is a replica of Zwinger Palace in Dresden, Germany. The building is a drawcard for many domestic tourists as it’s also been the backdrop for multiple Japanese films and TV programs, but it’s behind this building where you’ll find the more humble workshop. Classes are brief and concise, with a ‘freer’ approach taken by the teachers, allowing guests not to feel too restricted by form but rather allowing your creativity to run free.
Farm stay experience at Iyashi no Yado Fukuan
A true highlight of travelling the more regional areas of Japan is seeing how local people live and connecting with the authentic characters that make a place shine. One of the best ways to do that is by booking a farm stay or homestay style accommodation. You can do just that at Iyashi no Yado Fukuan Inn in Arita. This charming guesthouse is located just 15 minutes drive from Arita Station. A stay here offers the ultimate in authentic countryside relaxation, complete with a private four-bedroom house, BBQ deck, and BBQ dinner if you’d like.
Pick up from the station is available on request, and given that the hosts are farmers and potters, additional farming and pottery experiences are available too.
*The areas and facilities featured in this article have been following measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This was also carried by taking extra precautionary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
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Words: Lucy Dayman
Arita Town has a quiet feel to it, with a population of less than 20,000 and is well known as the birthplace of 400-year-old Japanese Porcelain (Arita-Yaki), and represents one of the world-famous Japanese crafts. It is no surprise that the town’s attractions are centred around Arita-Yaki, including themed parks, kilns, museums, local shrines, and archaeological sites with numerous workshops and studios offering Arita’s renowned pottery making techniques. The farm stay is an excellent way to experience the most charming authentic Japanese lifestyle for those seeking a more peaceful rural retreat. Soak up the beautiful atmosphere of this unique and picturesque countryside town.
Located on a steep slope between 100m and 400m above sea level, you can witness a spectacular view in a tranquil environment. It also becomes a romantic and scenic viewpoint at sunset.Phone: 81-955-46-5616
Address: Take, Arita Town, Nishimatsuura District, Saga Prefecture 849-4146
A former quarry where the pottery stone was extracted to make Arita porcelain. The mountain's surface had been gouged out for over 400 years of mining, giving a breathtaking view.Phone: 81-955-43-2121
Address: 1-33, Izumiyama, Arita Town, Nishimatsuura District, Saga Prefecture 844-0001
Designated as a national natural monument, this 1,000-year-old ginkgo tree is the largest in Japan. In November, it gives you a fantastic view of the autumn foliage that is stunning.Phone: 81-955-43-2678
Address: 1-14 Izumiyama, Arita Town, Nishimatsuura District, Saga Prefecture 844-0001
Unique walls were built from the discarded fire bricks (called 'tombai' in Japanese), which were used to construct the Arita porcelain kilns and tools used in the porcelain-making process.Phone: 81-955-43-2121
Address: Kamikohira, Arita Town, Nishimatsuura District, Saga Prefecture 844-0003
Located within walking distance from Arita station, this shrine is dedicated to the God of creating ceramics. Structures in the surrounding areas are made out of Arita porcelain, including the torii gate.Phone: 81-955-42-3310
Address: 2-5-1 Odaru Arita Town, Nishimatsuura District, Saga Prefecture 844-0004
This lovely cafe has thousands of Arita porcelain cups and saucers on display. It also adds a unique feeling by serving the beverages with the cup you've selected from their extensive collection.Phone: 81-955-42-2952
Address: 3057 Otsu, Honmachi, Arita Town, Nishimatsuura District, Saga Prefecture 844-0018
An expansive exhibition showing the history of porcelain in Japan. Please note that it's scheduled to be closed from January 31 to the end of April, 2022.Phone: 81-955-43-3681
Address: 3100-1 Toshaku Otsu, Arita Town, Nishimatsuura District, Saga Prefecture 844-8585
Located next to the Arita Porcelain Park, you can see shochu and sake's production and bottling process. There is also a free tasting corner in the onsite Souvenir Shop "Kura".Phone: 81-955-41-0020
Address: 340-28 Toya Otsu, Arita Town, Nishimatsuura District, Saga Prefecture 844-0014
A small theme park offers various attractions, including the porcelain exhibition, Arita-yaki workshop, sake brewery and a European garden. The replica of Zwinger Palace in Germany is the symbol of this site.Phone: 81-955-41-0030
Address: 340-28 Toya Otsu, Arita Town, Nishimatsuura District, Saga Prefecture 844-0014
A lovely guesthouse to immerse yourself in the more regional areas of Japan by experiencing the Japanese rural lifestyle and engage with the local people. It also offers a pottery workshop.Phone: 81-90-8767-4798
Address: 1568 Hei Kitanokawachi, Arita Town, Nishimatsuura District, Saga Prefecture 849-4166