Day three of our grand adventure started chilly and rainy. After another hearty breakfast, we said goodbye to our lovely nakai san, the person who looked after us during our stay, and boarded the train for Arita. I had a vague idea from the guidebook that Arita would be nothing like Imari geographically and I was right. It is very spread out and you really need a car to get around. The nice thing about travelling with elderly parents is that they no longer feel the need to do things the hard way. We got into the first taxi outside the train station just as the rain started for real. There is a kanko taxi (sightseeing taxi) tradition in many parts of Japan where a taxi can either take you somewhere on the meter or just charge you by the hour and take you around town. Our driver was really nice and so we opted to have this man show us around until it was time to board our train back to Hakata.
First, he took us to the site where they first found the rock that became porcelain. It was truly impressive and very atmospheric since by then it was pouring. He said most of the material now comes from another area in Kyushu but there is still one pottery that makes some of their porcelain with rock from this quarry.
Then we went on to Tozan jinja, a shrine with a gate and many objects made out of Arita pottery. The colours had faded so it wasn’t as impressive as the photos in the guide book but it was still great to see. I pulled a fortune, my second in two days, as I also got one at Imari jinja the day before. Not only were they both Dai kichi, the best you could get, but they were identical. An astounding coincidence, I am planning to heed the fortune very carefully.
The weather was clearing and the driver then took us around to a couple of different potters. It was a very different experience from the day before. This was like going to a museum, the pieces were exquisite and very expensive. So it was much more a look and appreciate rather than think about owning. This is the house of one of the famous potters. You are looking at his teahouse and to the right, the house he grew up in. The family have built a more modern house directly behind the one on the right and they live there now. The workshops are on the property as well as the showroom. The tree in front is a persimmon. They say he observed the fruit to come up with the brilliant vermilion color he used in his work. Only the heir is allowed to use the color, they are currently on the 14th generation.
It turns out there were outlets and more places where things were actually affordable but we ran out of time and really I think it was a good thing since anything I buy I have to bring home and I did just ship 3 boxes of my mom’s old china back home. It turns out one set is from a famous maker in Arita so I already had my piece of Arita.
We bought eki ben (bento meant to be eaten on the train) and boarded our train back to Hakata and then back to the airport. We got home safely and we were all pretty beat, especially my parents who are not used to schlepping non stop.
I love visiting different parts of Japan every year when I come to see my parents, I hope one day I can make the same trip with my family. There is so much to Japan outside of Tokyo and these trips really make me appreciate the history and the traditions that have shaped Japan. It is so much easier to wax lyrical about your own country when you don’t live there and don’t have to put up with the everyday annoyances. Maybe that’s the best thing about being an expatriate.
My time here is almost done and reality waits at home. It’s been a great couple of weeks with all it’s ups and downs.
Sorry about this link, I can’t get rid of it.
Just got back from a jam packed 3 days with my parents touring the pottery towns of Imari and Arita in Saga, Kyushu. It was my first trip to this southern island of Japan and I hope it won’t be the last. Everyone was so friendly. They were incredibly kind and helpful and the taxi drivers are a hoot. More than once, someone said hello as I passed them, just unbelievable for a big city girl like me but so nice.
Anyway, but I digress. We flew to Fukuoka, domestic flying in Japan is a throwback to what flying used to be. Relatively carefree and you get to leave your shoes on in security. I even got to bring my tea through security, although they do scan it, for what I don’t know but they gave me back my half drunk bottle afterwards. Once we landed, 2 or 3 stops on the subway which is in the airport to Hakata, then a train to Takeo onsen, a sleepy hot spring town which was to be our base for the next two days. Well, the flight was a little late, the train was a little late (gasp!) so we were a little late arriving at the inn. It was a gorgeous ryokan, over 100 years old and their chef had trained in one of the top restaurants in Japan and had also appeared on the Iron Chef. We all soaked in the hot spring, recovered from our journey and sat down to a feast. It was gorgeous, and very filling (2 nights in a row) but the great thing is, you don’t need to go anywhere afterwards to lie down. Here is a little sample of what it looked like
The following morning, round two. Well the portions were less than half the night before, but still a hefty amount to put away at 8:30 in the morning, then to our destination, Imari. The weather really was with us and the day was bright and clear. I really had no idea what to expect, I just knew it was a name that everyone knew associated with pottery and although I was a little fuzzy on the details, I knew the pottery was very beautiful. The passing scenery from the train was so tranquil, it was as if the area was caught in a time warp. There were gorgeous old houses with serious roof tiles, fields and soon to be rice paddies. Here is our train which is only one car and runs on a single track. The trains can only pass each other when one is stopped at a station, not sure a feat that the London underground can pull off. Most of the stations are unmanned and you take a ticket when you get on the train and pay the conductor when you get off. Each stop is numbered so the conductor/driver(same person) knows how much to charge. Life moves a bit more slowly here.
We got to Ookawachi yama where 20 potteries are clustered, we passed many more on the ride up but really you need a car to hit them all so we consoled ourselves with the 20 that were accessible.
It turns out we did this a little backwards. The whole pottery business started in Arita around 400 years ago but geographically it was not good for keeping crafts men sequestered. It was a highly coveted and highly guarded skill these potters possessed and to prevent the artisans from running away and spreading their skills elsewhere, they moved the lot of them to this mountain. There, they were essentially kept prisoner by a mountain behind them and a toll booth in the front. So probably it made more sense to go to Arita first, but what can you do. I believe we hit every pottery on that little mountain and it was very interesting to see individual styles as well as a lot of similarities. We did a little shopping but mostly we did a lot of looking. There weren’t many tourists about so in most shops, we were the only ones there. It was a lovely time, quiet, peaceful, surrounded by beautiful objects and nature.
On the way back, we stopped at Imari Jinja(shrine) and paid our respects.
Then back to the inn for another feast.
The next day was off to Arita but I’ll tell you about that another day.