This year I don’t seem content to sit still on weekends, so even when I don’t have an event or concert to go to, I’ve been keeping busy. Two weekends ago, this saw me heading down into Saga prefecture (south and west of here, on the way to Nagasaki) to visit the annual Arita Ceramic Fair.
I’d wanted to go this for the last couple of years, after hearing about it from a coworker. It always coincides with Golden Week (a stretch of several national holidays) in May. And this year marked 400 years of Arita ceramics, so I felt I should check it out. Arita’s a sleepy, picturesque town that’s easy to get to on an express train out of Hakata, about 90 minutes away.
I didn’t realize how tiny Arita was until I stepped off the train — it’s only about 20,000 people, although they apparently get around 1,000,000 (no, I didn’t sneak any extra zeroes in there) visitors for the annual festival. The recent quakes may have kept some folks away, because it didn’t seem at all crowded to me. It was; however, ridiculously warm and cloudless for May, and I melted.
But I also had a really good time. Essentially you hop off the train, walk a couple of blocks to the main drag in town, turn left and just walk. And as you walk, there’s store after stall after store of nothing but pottery and porcelain. It’s a bit overwhelming at first, but once I decided what I wanted — a large serving platter — I could focus a bit better. There was a decent variety of styles and colors (and price ranges — I apparently have expensive taste in ceramics. Who knew?), but I settled on looking for muted colors (browns, greys and blacks) and a matte finish. That helped narrow the search a lot.
I also took a little time to wander up to a local shrine, where I surprised the heck out of an old caretaker, who wasn’t expecting to find anyone, let alone a foreigner, sitting on some steps near the shrine. There’s a lovely little river running through town, and I snapped photos of the houses overhanging the banks. The street runs perhaps 4 kilometers, and I think I made it perhaps 2.5 or 3 before a large, leaf-shaped platter caught my eye, marked down to 1500 yen. The elderly shopkeeper wrapped it newspaper for me, I happily handed over my money and I promptly turned back for the station.
My one regret for the day is one of the first stores I saw had a brown tea pot with a bronzish fall leaf pattern on it that I was eyeing, but was gone when I returned to the beginning. I hadn’t wanted to carry it around, but should’ve guessed something so lovely would be gone quickly.
My second, and last, purchase, was the local souvenir, which turns out to be freshly made beef and cheese curry in a blue and white Arita ceramic bowl. The curry was so-so, but the bowl is quite lovely, with a blossom and temari ball pattern.
I won’t have to wait for next year to go back to Arita: the current plan is to head back in June, to visit a factory that allows you to pay 5000 or 10,000 yen to spend 90 minutes running around their immense storehouse with a flashlight, gloves and a shopping basket. Anything you can fit in your basket is yours. Spelunking for ceramics sounds like too much fun for me, so I’m looking forward to it.