The Future of Japanese Pottery: Arita Porcelain Lab
by Anna Jamieson | CRAFT
Infusing heritage with exceptional craftsmanship and a sense of modernity is Arita Porcelain Lab, the contemporary name of the Yazaemon Kiln, which was founded way back in 1804. Arita Porcelain Lab is now Japan’s leading producer of the acclaimed Imari porcelain, or Aritayaki as it is known in Japan. The Lab’s exquisite handmade designs effortlessly bridge the gap between art and functionality, tradition and innovation.
Read on to discover this fascinating craft laboratory— and don’t forget to let us know your thoughts in the comments below! If you find these ceramics as irresistible as we do, you can also purchase them online at Alexcious.
What is Imari Porcelain?
The first Japanese porcelain, Aritayaki, originated in the town of Arita, on the southern island of Kyushu in the 16th century. Even though the country’s links with the outside world were severely limited, these particular ceramics were in great demand internationally. They were exported world-wide by the Dutch West India Company from the port of Imari - hence they became known outside Japan as Imari porcelain.
Arita Porcelain Lab
The founder of Arita Porcelain Lab, Satoru Matsumoto, was the seventh generation head of the Yazaemon Kiln. When he took over the company, he found that the storied kiln was struggling to connect with modern users. His solution was to envisage a way traditional Japanese pottery could be blended with a contemporary lifestyle. We spoke to Matsumoto to understand how to achieve this delicate balance.
‘I believe that tradition comes from an accumulation of innovations,’ explained Matsumoto. ‘The translucent whites and vivid colors of traditional Arita porcelain are very beautiful under candlelight, which made them the most suitable design at one time. However, these days the living environment has changed significantly, and we needed to develop colors that are more appropriate for the modern home. So we have evolved by adapting the colors that we use, while retaining the characteristic patterns of Aritaware.’
The drive to modernize has not extended to automation however. Whether recreating a heritage piece, or a completely new design, each item is still crafted, fired, and painted by hand, according to techniques that have been passed down through generations of skilled ceramicists.
The Japan Series
The contemporary colors and patterns can be seen in vessels such as these palm-sized plates, part of the Japan Snow Collection. Here, futuristic matte platinum is elegantly blended with iconic Japanese motifs. The striking paintings are chosen for their positive meanings in Japanese material culture: Kara-kusa (foliage scrolls representing new life), ocean waves (eternal beauty), young bamboo (flexibility), and a fishing net (eternity). These palm-sized plates are ideal dipping bowls for sauces or tapas-style starters. You can get your hands on this classic Japanese porcelain now at Alexcious.
This set is part of the Japan Series, which was directly inspired by Japan’s four seasons. Matsumoto explains ‘Japan Snow expresses the powdered snow of winter. Japan Cherry reflects the elegant pink of the cherry blossom, Japan’s national flower. Japan Blue represents the purity of water, the source of Japan’s beauty; and the gold and burgundy of Japan Autumn represent Japan’s beautiful fall foliage. The rich green of Japan Tea comes from the tea which is at the heart of the Japanese people.’
Tradition meets Innovation
The strong emphasis on centuries-old craftsmanship with Japanese heritage is seen in this plate, which features a foliage and flower illustration that date back to the Edo Period. Again, we see old and new mingle here, reflecting both the contemporary need for functionality, and the Japanese tradition of beautiful, ornate objects. To buy this Japanese ceramic plate online, check out Alexcious.
If you're interested in the works of some other contemporary Japanese ceramic artists check out these 6 Innovators to Watch!
It’s important to Matsumoto that these designs are used daily, and become part of one’s lifestyle and home environment. ‘I want to present Japanese-style luxury not just in tableware, but also interiors and other aspects of a whole lifestyle,’ says Matsumoto.
Preserving Japanese Heritage
In this video you can get a glimpse of the process of transforming classic design into modern luxury
‘The most important thing,’ says Matsumoto, ‘is to be able to pass on craft skills to the next generation.’ The design house relies on its talented craftspeople to not only maintain the historic skills that built that Japanese porcelain industry, but to continually develop new ideas and ways to add a little heritage into the modern home.
‘We have about 40 skilled craftsmen here,’ he explains, ‘so we are able to innovate and create things using their particular skills and techniques that others are not able to do.’
The result? Beautiful, contemporary Japanese pottery that adds a little heritage into the home whilst being functional and durable too.
We can’t wait to see what’s in store for Arita Porcelain Lab next!
JO SELECTS offers helpful suggestions, and genuine recommendations for high-quality, authentic Japanese art & design. We know how difficult it is to search for Japanese artists, artisans and designers on the vast internet, so we came up with this lifestyle guide to highlight the most inspiring Japanese artworks and designs for your everyday needs.
This article was written in cooperation with Alexcious. All product suggestions are independently selected.