Japanese Imari / Arita

View our selection of Imari Ware in our Oriental Antiques collection

Japanese porcelain production started in Arita at the turn of the 17th century by Korean potters brought to Japan in the 1590s. These potters would eventually become the first producers of porcelain in Japan, but they started out by reviving the production of a type of stoneware called Karatsu ware.

This type of ceramic is usually simple, inexpensive, and made rapidly but skillfully on the potter’s wheel. The potters also introduced a new type of kiln to Japan, the noborigama, or climbing kiln, which allows for greater precision during firing.

Therefore, when in the early seventeenth century the Korean potters living in the Arita district of Hizen found suitable clay for the manufacture of porcelain, the infrastructure for its production was already in place. The Hizen region thus became the major center of porcelain production in Japan.

Early ceramics regions of Japan

Example of Karatsu ware, Hizen, 1590-1610s

Examples of typical exported Imari ware of the Meiji period

Examples of exported Imari ware typical of the Meiji period.

During the 17th and early 18th century Japanese porcelain became increasingly popular in Europe and significant amounts of Japanese porcelain was exported to Western countries, mostly by the Dutch East India Company. Japan opened trading to Europe and America at the start of the Meiji period (1868-1913). During this period the Japanese porcelain industry centered around the city of Arita. The largest nearby port was called Imari, through which porcelain wares were exported. Wares are therefore known as Imari or Arita. 

Imari ware can be difficult to date. Earlier Japanese ceramics for export were often unmarked, although pieces from the more established kilns may be signed by the artist and/or their patron's name. After 1868 and during the expansion of porcelain production for export, it is therefore very common to find unmarked pieces. From 1891 exports to America required that items were marked with the country of origin. However this did not apply to other countries - so whilst wares were increasingly marked, unmarked pieces were still common. ​

We have only given a brief overview of the history of Imari (Arita) porcelain here. Recommended sources for further information are Gotheborg.com-Japanese Porcelain Marks and METmuseum-Edo Period Japanese Porcelain.

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