Imari Kiln Village, Kyushu, Japan – Where Imari porcelain came from

This is my Imari series #1.

A quaint small village on the steep slopes of the mountains in southwestern Japan – Imari porcelain (伊万里焼) was produced in this village from the late 17th century to mid-19th century, under the protection of the local lord, Nabeshima, and was exported to Europe.  The name of this kiln village is Okawachi-yama (大川内山).  The Imari was shipped out to Europe from the nearby port named Imari.  Imari was hugely popular among the European aristocrats, and it influenced the European pottery like Meissen.

What struck me most when I arrived there was how steep the slopes are.  This is one of the reasons they chose this place to develop Imari pottery as this steep mountains would make it difficult for other local lords to steal the expertise of making porcelain.

These are two of the Imari vases I purchased from one of the kilns in this village.  Camellia is a motif common in Imari pottery.  Use of the three colors, red, blue, and yellow is a characteristic of Imari pottery – you can see on these vases; red in the flowers, blue in the leaves and branches, and yellow in parts of some of the leaves.

I always liked Imari porcelain.  My mother liked it, too (when she passed away a few years ago, we found a lot of Imari pottery she had collected (none of them were valuable, though – she just collected the ones targeted for middle-class consumers).

The bottom of the vase (left).  The name of the kiln (Nabeshima Seizan) is printed on it.

My father gave this Imari plate (above) to me.  Originally my father’s sister, who was wealthy (according to my father) and a collector of pottery, gave it to my father decades ago. The name of the kiln (Nabeshima Rozan)  is printed on the back of the plate (right).

Ceramic bridge with a pot attached on the railing – it’s totally amazing that they can leave potteries like this in public – apparently there is no vandalism here!

Look at the meticulous painting – beautiful!

Chinese dragons are the motif here.  Beautiful blue and pale white.  Again this bridge was in perfect condition – no vandalism here.  And the mild climate also helps preserve it in good condition, I guess.

It says “Bridge for use by Nabeshima (Domain)

Look at the square ceramic plates on the sides of the bridge!

The official kilns in this village, endorsed and protected by the local lord Nabeshima, produced very high-quality sophisticated Imari pottery, and presented it to Shoguns and Emperors as well as exported it to Europe through the Dutch East India Company.

In Europe in those days, it was popular among the aristocrats to decorate the interior of their mansions with oriental porcelain.  They found Imari porcelain mysteriously oriental and admired them.  Europeans had not figured out yet how to make pale whilte, thin, hard, and smooth hard-paste porcelain like Imari.  So, the upper-class Europeans who could afford it went crazy about imported Asian porcelain (China and then Japan).  The most famously enthuastic European fan was probably the German, Frederick Augustus I (Elector of Saxsony, Augustus II the Strong) who sponsored the development of Meissen porcelain.

The reasons Japan started exporting a lot of Imari to Europe were that the kilns in China like Ching-te-Chen (景徳鎮), which had been the supplier of porcelain to Europe during the Ming dynasty, were damaged in the wars and that the new Qing dynasty stopped trading with Europe in the late 17th century.

Old shrine – in rural Japan, you can see a shrine like this everywhere.

Bamboo woods – a scenery like this makes me nostalgic.  When I was a child ( in 1960s), there were lots of bamboo woods like this.  Now most people live in urban areas where woods like this are long gone.

Distant view of the ceramic bridge – nice!

Another thing that amazed me was that in the coffee shop (the only coffee shop in the village) I had sweets and coffee, they served the sweets on a beautiful Imari plate and cofee in a beautiful Imari coffee cup and saucer.  Everything used here is Imari!  I should have taken photos of the place and the cup.

Another very Asian scene which makes me feel nostalgic.

The steep mountains here resembles mountains in China.  There aren’t many mountains shaped like these in Japan – as far as I know.

There are still about 30 kilns in this village.  They make both traditional and contemporary Imari porcelain.

So, as much as I liked Imari, I had never realized the birthplace of Imari is actually pretty close to my hometown, Fukuoka (Kyushu, Japan).  I reside in the U.S., but I go back to my hometown to visit my father once or twice a year.  In one of the trips back to Japan, I took trains to visit this kiln village. It’s only a few-hours of train ride and about 15 minutes of bus ride. Here is the map borrowed from Google.

It’s too bad maps of Japan are available only in Japanese even in Google.  The red spot is where this kiln village is located.  You can see my hometown, Fukuoka (福岡) in tiny font right below the red spot.  You can see how close the birthplace of Imari is to Korea and China – it is far closer than to Tokyo!   I mean the whole Kyushu (where both my hometown and Imari birthplace are) is very close to Korea and China.  This explains why Imari pottery was born there – and actually was developed by the Korean potters!

The graves you see above the ceramic bridge are the Korean potters’.  I hear when Japan invaded Korea in the late 16th century, they abducted many Korean potters and brought them to this region.  There probably were other Koreans who immigrated to Japan on their own will.  Some of these graves may be for the abducted, some may be for the voluntary immigrants.  Anyhow, those who had no choice but to settle here must have been pretty homesick…(I would have).  It has been known that Koreans potters lived here and made Imari pottery here.

Recently a Korean TV team visited the village and reported this Korean graveyard.

Imari porcelain was born in this region because one of the Koreans who settled in this region discovered the raw material suited for making porcelain here in the early 17th century.  Then they started making Imari, imitating the Korean-style (and Chinese-style) techniques.  No wonder I always felt Imari looks Korean.

The entrance of downtown of Imari-city.  There is a city named Imari, which is about 15 minutes drive from the kiln village.  I stayed in a hotel in this city.  These Imari statues greet you when you step into downtown.

This kind of face was considered to be the most beautiful in the late 17th century.

Explanation of the statues:  In summary it says – Female figures in standing position like this were typical of the portraits of beautiful women depicted in the late 17th century, and one of the popular motifs of the Imari porcelain exported to Europe.

When you exit downtown, you come to this bridge with an Imari ceramic figurine (European-style) attached on the bridge.  Very cute.

Imari coffee mugs I own – contemporary styles.   If I don’t feel great one morning, I may want to drink coffee in one of these mugs.  It will make me feel a little better.  It’s the same coffee, but.. it’s the style…it’s the art…that makes difference to people’s life.

This is a very interesting and creative Imari product.   It’s a microwaveable rice bowl.  You dump 1 cup of uncooked rice in the bowl, pour water int the bowl to the line marked inside, place the inner lid, place the outer lid, then microwave it for minutes.  Then voila, very fluffy, steaming rice is made.  It’s patented.  It will make a good gift for a college student or a single person who is too busy (or too lazy) to cook rice in a rice cooker.

Lastly, here is the website of the kiln village.  It’s all in Japanese – sorry!  But you can enjoy the photos of beautiful Imari pottery in there.

Recently they added ceramic bulletin boards in the village.  Again they can do this because there is absolutely no vandalism there!!  People there behave incredibly well.  Check this out…

About tukusigal

もう長いことミシガンに住んでいる日本人オバさんの、自分なり、それなりのミシガン湖地方見聞記でーす。I am a long-time resident of Michigan. I am here forever. A middle-age Japanese woman. I love Imari porcelain, so my profile photo is an Imari vase which I bought in Imari, Saga, Kyushu, Japan. When I retire (when...?), I reveal my photo - but by then I may be too wrinkled (lo).
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7 Responses to Imari Kiln Village, Kyushu, Japan – Where Imari porcelain came from

  1. Great photos! I visited Okawachiyama and saw many of the same places. It’s a very impressive area with lots of history and culture.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kocchi no shasshin wo mitekara natsukashikunatta kara arigatou. 桂林 mitai no yama wa nihon ni doko ni miemasu ka?


    • tukusigal says:

      Hi, buildingmybento (I like your name!), thank you for your comment. Are you from Guilin (桂林), China? My Chinese friend recently visited the place. Really beautiful place. The mountains in the photos are in Okawachiyama in Saga-ken (prefecture), Kyushu. It’s about 10-15 minutes bus ride from Imari city. I always thought the mountains look Chinese – unusual for Japan. How to get there – I don’t write about it. If you want to know, one of my blogger friends wrote in details:


  3. tukusigal says:

    Dear buildingmybento, looks like you are an American – sorry! And looks like you are a big traveller. I want to go to southern China, sometime, too!


  4. Pingback: European Aristcrats’ Craze for Imari Porcelain @Huis Ten Bosch, Nagasaki | See More Japan (My Home Island, Kyushu)  私のふるさと九州

  5. Jean says:

    How beautiful.Thank you for sharing.


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