The craft of making beautiful porcelain dishes in Japan began in 1610, in Saga Prefecture, mainly in a town called Arita, from which the name comes from. Arita (有田) is still a very famous place for the fine porcelain. Another name meaning essentially the same is Imari (伊万里), which was the name of the port town shipping the Japanese ceramic around the world.
The craftsmanship originally came from China. Prior to having these techniques, the Japanese were primarily using wooden tableware and dishes. The tradition and the quality of the Arita porcelain became so outstanding that it became a huge export towards Europe. The Europeans were so impressed by the artistic value of the Japanese porcelain that they develop their own kind of Imari, known as European Imari.
Simple dishes such as this appetizer of bamboo shoots and wakame look so much more compelling when they are paired with a nice Arita ware plate. If you go to a high-end Japanese restaurant serving a kind of cuisine called kaiseki ryori (懐石料理), it's quite possible that some of the items will be placed in traditional Arita porcelain.
This is an example of a kaiseki ryori using Arita ware. Every serving is quite small and often quite simple. But the beautiful plates and seasonal references really enhance the whole visual aspect of the feast. If you want to experience a true kaiseki experience than the Kansai region where it originates is the place to go.
Shopping For Traditional Dishes In Japan
In Japan, there are countless independent shops and chain stores that sell beautiful Japanese ceramics. Arita ware is not necessarily very expensive. For ¥500, for instance, you can get a nice porcelain teacup. If you are looking for them in Tokyo, the best places are the "shita matchi" old neighborhoods around Asakusa and Ueno. You should find some all over the city.
Of course, some very fine pieces of hand-painted Arita ware can be worth ¥200,000 and more. Those expensive pieces are used as decorations usually.
Imari is not limited to dishes and tableware, there are some delicate bells that chime a clear sound when the wind blows. For the Japanese this sound that indicates the wind is blowing somehow makes them feel as if it is cooler during the hot summer months.
Online, in Japan, you can try rakuten.co.jp, which is the biggest virtual market in the country. It is similar to Amazon, is made up of only independent online stores. Buying them online from outside of Japan can be quite expensive.
Going To Saga Prefecture - The Birthplace Of The Porcelain
Saga Prefecture is a beautiful rural region in Kyushu, the southern main island of Japan. It is the birthplace of the Arita ware and it is still recognized as having the best Imari in the nation. If you go there, you might want to check out the link below for a list of great restaurants to go to!