Imari is one of the most versatile and popular ceramic styles for Japanese cuisine. Whether it's multi-colored export ware, blue-and-white Arita or elegant Nabeshima, Imari ware is used daily in the Japanese kitchen. Named after the port that shipped this popular porcelain pottery to Europe, Imari is the common generic name used for both export and domestic Japanese porcelein.
Most Imari ware was made in nearby Arita, in Kyushu. It is said that Risampei, one of the Korean potters brought to Kyushu by the Takeo clan, discovered porcelain clay in 1616 and started making blue- and-white ware in the style of Korean pottery (which in turn was influenced by Chinese Ming Dynasty pottery). Early Imari featured painted landscape scenes and Chinese motifs such as dragons and peonies in bright cobalt blue overglaze on white, which came to be known as sometsuke (meaning “applied dye”). Later, the designs and painting styles trended toward abstract and stylized motifs that were uniquely Japanese. In the early days, Imari was extremely expensive and was only used by nobility; later, improved production methods allowed prices to drop to a level where the middle class could also afford them.
Luckily, old Imari ware is still readily available throughout Japan and abundant in Japan’s many antique shops and markets. The prices vary widely, from ¥2,000 for a printed (not hand-painted) kozara (small plate) to ¥200,000 for hand-painted and rare Edo-era pieces. We like to shop for antique Imari in Kyoto because of the wide selection and availability of sets. The two shops below are regular stops on our buying trips.