Where is Arita ?
Famous for Arita porcelain (Arita yaki), the town of Arita also has some less known places worth visiting if you want to experience nature, do some sightseeing, and experience a few cultural activities. Some of these are not so well known even within Saga prefecture.
Arita is a quiet countryside town in the western side of Saga Prefecture, bordering Nagasaki. Like many areas of Saga, it is surrounded by nature and a tour there gives you a chance to see the traditional side of Japan. Arita is easily accessible by train from Saga station, as well as from Fukuoka and Nagasaki. Every year from the end of April, the ceramics festival is held, but ideal times to visit Arita are in early spring or autumn.
1 Arita Kan, Exchange Plaza of Traditional Culture
Arita Kan features the world’s only mechanical ceramic doll play. This one of a kind show is unfortunately not so well known among visitors to Arita. The dolls are designed like Japanese kabuki play characters and tell a local folk story called “The Defeat of the Giant Serpent from Mt. Kurokami”. These beautifully designed dolls move using mechanics, combining traditional style with modern technology. Entry to the show is only 200 yen for adults and 150 yen for children. Visit Arita Kan to see this performance, unique not only in Japan but the world. Arita Kan also sells various kind of ceramics and features seasonal displays, like the Girls Festival (Hinamatsuri) doll display in March.
2 Touzan Shrine, Torii Gate made from Arita Porcelain
One of Arita’s best spots to visit is Touzan Shrine. This shrine is particularly known among ceramists in Arita, though not so well known by people from other parts of Saga and Kyushu. While shrine gates, known as “torii” are usually made of stone, the gate to Touzan Shrine is decorated with ceramics. Within the shrine there are various ceramic statues of animals and dragons. If you visit in autumn you can see the red leaves mixed with paper fortunes (omikuji) tied to the tree branches. Touzan Shrine is a seven minute walk from Arita station. It is located on a hill, with stairs leading to the main area. At the main entrance, a train line runs right past the gate, another unusual sight for a shrine. Visit Sueyama Shrine for a unique experience of a traditional shrine, and some beautiful views over the town of Arita from the top.
3 Shingama Kiln
For an insight into how ceramics are made traditionally, visit Shingama Kiln. By making a reservation in advance, you can also try making your own ceramics here. You can also visit just to have a look at their climbing kilns. One of these was built in 1830 and is no longer in use, while a smaller one is still being used today. The kiln is a bit further out from the town center as it is located in the mountains. Walking takes around 30 minutes or you can take a taxi there in about five minutes.
Known in Saga but not so much among tourists is the Arita Porcelain Park Zwinger Palace Art Gallery. The design for this gallery was based on the Zwinger Palace in Dresden, Germany. Located outside Arita Town, this distinctly European building looks stunning surrounded by the nature of Saga. You can walk around the grounds enjoying some amazing views and the unusual sight of an old fashioned western building in the Japanese countryside. Inside the gallery, there are a variety of porcelain items including a 1.82m high flower vase. It takes around eight minutes by taxi to reach, and entry to the gallery itself is 500 yen.
4 Big Gingko Tree
Finally, for something closer to the town centre, visit Japan’s largest maidenhair tree, or gingko tree. Around 1000 years old, this 40 metre high tree is located in the grounds of the Izumiyama Benzaiten Shrine. The best time to view this is mid-November, when the leaves have turned yellow and cover the ground like a blanket. It is a beautiful tree that towers above the town.
Arita as well as Saga Prefecture, is unfortunately not such a popular tour destination, which is a shame given all it has to offer. There is plenty to see and learn about the area’s rich history of porcelain making and at the same time take in some stunning sights of what nature has to offer.
Name: Arita Kan
Category: Exhibition Hall
Address: 1 Chome-1-1 Kobira, Arita, Nishimatsuura District, Saga Prefecture 844-0005
Access: 20 minutes walk from Kami Arita Station
Opening hours: 09:30 to 17:00, mechanical doll performances 09:30 to 16:30
Entry: Free entry, tickets for performances: adults 200 yen, children 150 yen
Name: Touzan Shrine
Address: 2 Chome-5-1 Odaru, Arita, Nishimatsuura District, Saga Prefecture 844-0004
Access: 20 minutes walk from Kami Arita Station
Opening hours: Always open
Name: Shingama Kiln
Category: Local industry
Address: 2788 Kuromuta-hei, Arita-cho, Nishimatsuura District, Saga Prefecture 844-0022
Opening hours: Weekdays 08:10 to 16:50. Weekends and holidays 10:00 to 17:00
Access: 30 minutes walk from Arita Station, 5 minutes by taxi
Entry: Free, workshops at a price
Name: Big Gingko Tree
Category: Natural Site
Address: 1-13 Izumiyama, Arita-cho, Nishimatsuura District, Saga Prefecture 844-0001