Hi, I’m Elise and I now live in Amsterdam. When I was in my twenties I lived in Japan for seven years. I wasn’t a geisha or anything like that. I led a rock and roll life as a music journalist and impresario. When all the glitter fell off my face and I decided to come down to Earth, I discovered that collecting Japanese treasures such as Arita pottery was more satisfying than, well, interviewing David Bowie.
Arita porcelain is an elaborate form of Japanese pottery dating back to the 1600s. I have four pieces in my collection, but this is one of my favorite pieces. No, it’s not four hundred years old. This one is an authorized reproduction from the Sixties.
It is shaped like a vase, but it is nearly as large as a flower pot. It has the crane as a good luck symbol and gold flourishes in squiggly lines on top. Gorgeous cobalt blue accents fill the bodies of the elegant birds. I came to this piece through the parents of a very dear boyfriend of long ago. Yujiro’s parents are pottery collectors who had shelves of Arita. The sentimental value of this piece brings tears to my eyes.
Arita porcelain is named after a town on the Japanese island of Kyushu. It is also known as Imari ware because that’s the nearby port from where it was shipped to Europe. The Japanese porcelain industry started there after Japan invaded Korea and brought back Korean artisans. One of the artisans, Yi Sam-p’young, discovered a source of special white kaolin clay near Arita in 1616. Today he is enshrined in Japan as the “father” of Arita pottery.
Arita ware contains blue and white glazes similar to Chinese Ming Dynasty porcelain. Arita designs flourish with cranes and other migratory birds and carp (the lucky fish), plus many scenes of daily life. Classic blue-and-white Arita ware was discovered by agents for the Dutch East India Company. Other styles soon emerged with elaborate and densely pattered designs, brilliant colors and gold trim. These were reserved for the Samurai class and export to Europe.
The popularity of imported Arita ware inspired artisans in Holland to expand their own industry, including the famous Delft blue-and-white pottery that often imitated of Chinese and Japanese designs.
I also collect Bizen (yaki) pottery, but I consider Arita ware to be very special because of my personal connection to a Japanese family that taught me about it. What’s ironic is that I now live in the land of Delft blue. When I visit museums I can see first-hand how the Dutch were influenced by the Japanese and compare these two artistic styles through the ages. If you’re thinking that pottery brought me to Europe, it’s not that simple. Yet life is funny in the way you come full