Around the world, many people have stylish Japanese ceramic (pottery) or lacquerware in their kitchen cabinets. The beautiful materials and designs are popular and timeless. They make for an amazing souvenir for tourists who come to Japan. What is the history of these crafts? And which towns should those who are interested in Japanese crafts visit?
Around 1300 years ago the Chinese technique of glazing and firing was introduced to Japanese pottery crafts. At that time, only earthenware goods for daily use were made. From the 14th century, the tea ceremony became popular. This is when the production of high-grade Japanese ceramic rich with regional variation started.
The use of overglaze enamels began in the 17th century, and they became standard for ceramics of the period. The Arita and Kutani porcelains that were being produced at the time are good examples. The Dutch East India Company was the main exporter of Japanese ware at that time. They got many orders for Arita ware, and thus Arita ware is what has influenced ceramic artists around the world ever since.
If you are interested in Japanese pottery, you should visit Saga prefecture in Kyushu. Imari is a small town in Kyushu that consists of several pottery workshops, and you can also visit a ceramic factory. As it is not such a big town, it is easy to discover the town on foot or by bicycle. There are also many pottery schools that offer pottery-making experiences, prices range from around 3000 yen to 4000 yen per person.
Ceramics are known as ‘China’ abroad, but ‘Japan’ is the term signifying Japanese lacquerware. In Japan, lacquered combs and trays were found among unearthed goods from the early Jomon period. According to the oldest written documents in Japan, there were already artisans specializing in lacquerware at the end of the 6th century.
The lacquer used for lacquerware differs around the world according to the quality of the tree sap that was used. The quality of the sap used is one of the reasons that Japanese lacquer is considered to be of the highest quality.
One of the towns along the Nakasendo post route, Kiso-Hirasawa in the Kiso valley, is the place to go for lacquerware. Around 700 craftsmen are active artisans making lacquerware in this town. Therefore, you can find shops that sell all kinds of local lacquerware. If you are looking for a uniquely Japanese souvenir, Kis0-Hirasawa is a great place to find it.
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