Japanese Ceramic and Lacquerware
Around 1300 years ago the Chinese technique of glazing and firing was introduced to Japan, but only earthenware goods for daily use were made during this period. From the 14th century, the popularity of the tea ceremony gave rise to the production of high-grade ceramic rich with regional variation. The use of overglaze enamels began in the 17th century, and they became standard for ceramics of the period, as with the Arita and Kutani porcelains that were being produced at the time. The Dutch East India Company, who was the main exporter of Japanese ware in that time, 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 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, and Japanese lacquer is considered to be of the highest in 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, and 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.