On November 17 and 18, 2023, the event “Go Forward 2023” was organized by “NEXTRAD,” a team of 13 kiln owners from Imari and Arita in Saga Prefecture working to ensure a sustainable future for the Arita ware industry. The event aimed to raise awareness about the craftsmanship of Arita ware and the current situation and challenges faced by the industry. It featured exhibitions showcasing the manufacturing processes and initiatives of various kilns, open studio tours allowing visitors to observe the production sites, and workshops providing hands-on experiences in the creation of Arita ware.
The event, held annually since 2021 and now in its third edition, marked a significant occasion as it was the first time it took place since the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions on public events. A portion of the event was organized and co-hosted with the “Monosugo TOUR” planned and managed by Saga Prefecture. Monosugo TOUR is a tour designed to convey the charm and enjoyment of craftsmanship to a wide range of age groups by arranging visits to manufacturing companies and workshops in Saga Prefecture. The “Imari and Arita ware Craftsman Experience Tour,” a part of “Go Forward 2023,” had nearly 500 applications for its 60 available slots, attracting many families and contributing to improvements in audience engagement, which had been a challenge during the pandemic.
For the first time, a full-fledged hands-on workshop was offered. While last year only simple kintsugi (a traditional Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with metal-joining) was available, this year’s workshop allowed participants to experience three production techniques: kata-oshi (mold casting), itchin (a drawing method using slip), and tensha (decal transfer, but literally, “transcription” or “transfer printing”). “Kata-oshi” involves pressing clay into a plaster mold to shape the material. In this workshop, Tomoyuki Kitagawa of Kitagawabisen Kiln taught participants to craft charming chopstick rests in the shape of T-shirts. Although it might seem easy at first glance, it is surprisingly challenging because participants need to estimate the right amount of clay. Kitagawabisen Kiln has specialized in shaped ceramics for generations, and in recent years, chopstick rests with various motifs made with this kata-oshi mold casting method have become popular.
Itchin is a technique where lines are drawn by squeezing out slip (liquid clay) from a syringe. The squeezed out part rises up and becomes a pattern. This is the most difficult of the three techniques that visitors could experience at the event. Depending on the pressure applied while squeezing the syringe and the speed at which one draws, it is difficult to control the amount of slip – too much might come out or it might get clogged. Drawing with slip is not as straightforward as using a brush or a pencil. Nevertheless, the participants seriously engaged in the challenge with the help of Yoshiyasu Harada of Kichiemon Porcelain, who showed them how to do it. When they succeeded in creating a good drawing, the sense of accomplishment was truly remarkable.
Tensha is a technique of transferring a design onto a vessel by using transfer decals with the design printed on it with paint for painting. The tensha technique allows for efficient production of detailed painted patterns that would otherwise require meticulous painting and high technical skill, immense effort, and a great deal of time if painted by hand. The process of applying water-soaked decals to the surface of the vessel and removing the water to fix the design in place seemed interesting to the children, who enjoyed the process under the guidance of Hiroyuki Tokunaga of Tokko Kiln, a specialist in the tensha technique. One participant who lives in Imari said, “We moved to Saga one year ago. I knew that Imari is famous for its ceramics, but I didn’t know much about it, so I thought it would be a good opportunity for us to participate.” She added with a smile, “My daughter seems to be having fun too.” The hands-on experience of making the dishes will have given parents and children a chance to think about the high level of craftsmanship that goes into the making of the vessels they use every day.
At the open studio event, seven kilns opened their manufacturing sites to the public. It was a rare opportunity to get a close look at manufacturing processes that are not usually open to the public. Here, we would like to introduce the scenes from the open studio event at three of these kilns.
Tamori Toen, located in Imari, is a kiln that engages in the production of porcelain as well as ceramic and semi-porcelain, showcasing a wide range of craftsmanship. During the open studio event, they offered activities such as observing painting and glazing as well as hands-on experiences like slip casting and unloading kilns. The kiln unloading experience was especially exciting, as several children worked together to pull out the kiln carts and were surprised at how hot the temperature around the newly unloaded products was. The children were full of curiosity, asking questions like “Which process is the most challenging?” and “How much time does it take to load the kiln?” After the tour, Katsuyuki Tanaka of Tamori Toen expressed his delight, saying, “I’m happy that everyone was so actively asking questions. I hope that this experience helped the visitors better understand that everyday tableware is made one by one with a lot of time and effort.”
Kichiemon Porcelain is a kiln that produces ceramics that are highly popular, even internationally. When the representative, Yoshiyasu Harada, introduced the development process of the unique glaze “awa-gesho,” literally “foam makeup” to the participants, there were expressions of admiration. The foam glaze is created by recycling normally discarded bisque fragments. It is also an application of the itchin technique, which Kichiemon Porcelain has excelled in for generations. The participants showed great interest in these kiln-specific technologies and initiatives for sustainable craftsmanship. Both children and adults listened attentively to the presentation.
Located next to Kichiemon Porcelain is Yagenji-gama, a kiln known for its expertise in various design embellishments. The guide, Shinpei Momota, who joined NEXTRAD last year, is a new member but very active, providing detailed explanations for each step. The colorful products captured the participants’ interest, prompting questions about itchin and tensha like “Is this mark a decal?” or “How do you create the raised parts?”, connecting them effectively to the hands-on workshops held after the tour.
The main venue featured not only the usual exhibition of the manufacturing process but also a panel exhibition and presentation by students studying regional development at Nagasaki International University on the theme of “Charm and Challenges of Arita as Seen from a Student’s Perspective.” This event seemed to be meaningful and fruitful for both participants and kilns. The craftsmanship in Imari and Arita faces numerous challenges, and some issues cannot be solved solely within the production area. By involving various people and addressing challenges earnestly alongside creators, it is likely to contribute to a future that extends beyond the immediate region. The ongoing evolution of NEXTRAD’s activities is something to watch in the coming years.
Written by Kyoko Tsutsumi