Exploring Arita and Imari

Going gaga over amazing ceramics and eating local delicacies (6 -7 Sep 2016)
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In my September visit to lovely Onyado Chikurintei for a nice well deserved rest and relax in their ryokan and onsen, we gals also had the chance to explore for a short day the nearby areas around Takeo. We made full use of the only day we had to explore the spots important to us. I had read up a lot about Arita, which was extremely well known for pottery other than Imari in Western Saga. Interestingly, they were also the first place in Japan where porcelain was produced about 400 years ago after kaolin – the mineral essential to making porcelain – had been found at a local mountain. Subsequently, skilled craftsmen from Korea were brought into the country to develop this industry. My guide below here will hopefully help you shortlist some shops to visit if you are a pottery and food fan like me with extremely limited time 🙂

Arita Ceramics Plaza

ARITA

We decided to focus our energies on spending the morning shopping in the Arita Ceramics Plaza (〒844-0024
2351-170 Akasaka-Hei, Arita-cho, Nishimatsuura-gun, Saga, TEL: 0955-43-2288, Open daily 9:00 – 17:00. See information here).

An amazing sprawling complex with 25 stores offering different styles of pottery and ceramics with free parking, we were so spoiled for choice! Some of the shops worth visiting are:

  1. Kihara: offering contemporary style Japanese design ware. I also discovered our own homegrown local brand – Supermama collaborated on some plates with them as well, no wonder I found some of them fairly familiar. I couldn’t help but purchase some really cute hand towels with the most adorable prints, and some dessert spoons shaped in.
  2. Marubun: Y spent the most in this shop, purchasing beautiful large ramen bowls, that have matching spoons that rest on the bowls – such a smart design. They also have the most adorable zodiac bowls that is definitely not just for kids, and Y couldn’t resist purchasing one each for herself and R. They made even the scariest snake look so adorable and cute in the drawings that had beautiful shades of water color pastels. If you are tempted, you can purchase them on the e-store.
  3. Momota Toen: Another ceramics store which offers both contemporary and classic Japanese ceramics.

There’s still tons more which offers more traditional style, so depending on what you are looking for, you can rest assured you be able to find something here to your liking!

Beautiful zodiac bowls at Marubun

Smart bowls with resting spoons at Marubun

More beautiful ceramics at Momota Toen

Classic Japanese design

Another interesting and cool place for ceramics is Fuchigami, part of of Cafe Ilha and Hostel Ilha. They have both traditional and contemporary artists ceramics displayed here, and Y was lucky to snap up the last 2 coffee cups and saucers of a design she really liked, the only tragedy is one got broken by accident at home in our kitchen, sob sob. Yubinbango 844-0018, Saga Nishimatsuura Arita Hon 1092, Tel: 0955-42-257

Fuchigami Ceramics shop

Typical scenery in Arita

Interestingly, the area we stayed at in Takeo is also well known for pottery but we only realised that when we stayed in the ryokan, and didn’t have the chance to explore the Takeo Pottery Town map we were given. I guess we have to save that for another time.

For lunch in Arita, we headed to this quaint little restaurant nearby – Yaowa 八百和 (3211-8 Tosyaku Otsu, Aritacho, Nishimatsuura-gun, Tel: 0955-42-2292). It earned a 1 Michelin star in the 2014 Fukuoka Saga Michelin Guide. The restaurant serves up Kyoto style cuisine given the owner chef had worked in Kyoto for a good 25 years before returning to Arita. Some of the suggestions from the ryokan for lunch was really not terribly exciting, like going to an Italian restaurant or some cafe for salad and toast, so I am glad we got them to book this restaurant for us for lunch. Generally, it was a pleasant lunch with fresh produce. I feel guilty for saying this, but I really enjoyed the turtle soup, I usually don’t really eat turtles at all but it was rude to say no to this dish when it was already served. And the service by the owner chef’s wife was top notch, she managed to converse with us in her limited English, and even recommended us a good sake shop to visit after we tried the local sake which we very much enjoyed.

I think I need a booster seat to reach the table.

Azumai ichi sake from saga – a Junmai sho

Can’t wait to dig in!

Saying goodbye, such gracious Japanese hospitality.

There’s many sake breweries in this area but we didn’t have time to visit them, instead we relied on the lady boss of Yaowa’s recommendation to visit a good sake supplier shop, to get our sake fix and cart some home. Hei-1860-6 Hokaoyama, Arita, Nishimatsuura District, Saga Prefecture 844-0025, Japan, Tel : 0955-43-3738 

Where the handwritten note brought us to! 

Selecting the best to bring back to Singapore!

IMARI

From Arita, we move on to Imari, which we had the pleasure of driving through from Takeo on route to Karatsu. It’s a pity we didn’t manage to have time to visit the kilns and ceramic shops in Imari, but I figured at this stage, maybe Y needed to rest her wallet from all the ceramic shopping in Arita. LY had been bugging me to get her to a specialty steak house even though we had been eating beef for the last 2 days in the ryokan, it wasn’t enough for her. She needed a real steak house. The concierge at Onyado Chikurintei recommended us Restaurant Show (part of Imari Gyu group) known as the best steak restaurant and are known for serving fantastic melt-in-your-mouth local Imari beef, cooked Teppanyaki style.

Salivating at the beef fridge

Teppanyaki chef preparing our steak

From raw to finish, just perfect!

Can’t wait to try the steak!

We didn’t waste time when we sat down, and ordered a Premium Sirloin steak and Tenderloin steak set to share. It was fragrant, with perfect marbling, cooked swiftly by the chef in front of us. Even the bean sprouts was sautéed with oodles and doodles of beef lard which made this humble vegetable so tasty. It was truly a satisfying lunch, and definitely worth stopping by for some beefy indulgence.

Steak Restaurant Show Saga Prefecture Imari Nirimachi Osatokabuto 1780, Tel: 0955-22-6661

After feeling all the beef oil in our tummy, we felt like a much needed tea stop, and ventured to famous Chakouan, a tea shop with more than 40 years of history, now run by a Ms Sachiyo Nakashima and her daughter Miyuki. This is a fabulous place to buy good teas, and also teas free of additives. They were so friendly and hospitable and served us different types of green teas to sample, which actually gave us a good ‘caffeine’ boost, much needed after that beefy meal, coupled with some tea snacks. Miyuki could speak very fluent English and was explaining to us their selection of teas, and she and her mum was recommending what was good and introducing the award winning teas to us. They carry this special locally produced Imari Green Tea series – all produced in the north west of Saga Prefecture. The packaging bears original designs from famous porcelain creators and studios, and can be even purchased with matching porcelain cups as a set, quite a lovely idea. One of the teas won the Gold Price at the World Green Tea Contest 2015 – the Sachi no Kiwami Imari Green Tea, so of course we had to buy some to try, along with the detoxification teas. This place is definitely a place worth stopping by for any tea lover!

Chakouan 45 Hasuikechō, Imari-shi, Saga-ken 848-0042, Japan, Tel: 0955 23 2817

Perfect tea hospitality

The lady boss and her teas 

This is apparently best for detoxing

Green tea and snacks served

One of the top award winning teas – Sachi no Kiwami Green Tea

Our time in Imari was barely an afternoon, and I wish I had time to visit the beautiful pottery village of Okawachiyama which Imari is famous for, I probably need to save it for the next time. Look out for my next post as I talk about all the eats and favourite shop in Karatsu.

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