Okawachiyama Village 大川内山
The secret village of Japan's elite pottery kilns
Okawachiyama is a secluded pottery village just outside Imari . Often referred to as the Village of Secret Kilns, it was once an exclusive pottery hub producing porcelain ware for Japan's elite and for export.
Many of the original potters in the village were from Korea, brought over after a disastrous military campaign known as the Imjin War in the late 16th century. Their techniques are still reflected in the wares on offer.
- The secluded charms of the once-secret village
- The unique graves dedicated to the potters
- Nabeshima Hanyo Park, located just above the village
How to Get There
Okawachiyama Village is in the mountains, and the best ways to get there are by bus or taxi from nearby Imari Station.
There is a bus that goes directly to the village from Imari Station every two hours and takes around 15 minutes. If you go by taxi or car, the ride takes about 10 minutes.
The ruling Nabeshima clan intentionally isolated Okawachiyama Village
The pottery made here was initially intended for Japan's elite
This style of pottery became known as Nabeshima-yaki
Keeping the wares under tight control
Since the Nabeshima clan ruled over Saga between the 17th and 19th centuries, this particular style of pottery was referred to as Nabeshima-yaki.
Potters from Korea were the main experts making porcelain here, so Nabeshima ware differed somewhat from the pottery crafted in the nearby areas of Arita, Imari and Karatsu . Given the local and export value of the product, this site was intentionally isolated with strict regulations on production, quality control and access.
Samurai level potters
The village was not open to the public, and the potters employed there retained a status equal to that of samurai, which was extremely rare. There's a pyramid-shaped assemblage of graves here dedicated to the potters, often with ceramic cups being left behind as a means to honor their lives and the techniques they passed down.
Decorative pieces all over the village
Now that the embargo has long been lifted, you have the privilege of seeing both the process and results of Nabeshima-yaki. The porcelain is exquisite and exhibits the features that would influence European styles later on.
Enjoy this rustic little village with its shops, kilns, narrow streets, flowing river and mountainous backdrop with the sound of ceramic wind-chimes ringing softly in the breeze. One thing that stands out is the abundance of porcelain pieces embedded in places throughout the village, from streets to walls, to bridges and signs.
For both collectors and the curious
There are kilns still active, and a wide array of items for sale. The shops are often small and densely packed with stunning wares. It's fairly typical for shopkeepers to offer some tea as you view some of this legendary artistry.
You may find pieces marked down significantly because they have flaws that are often not noticeable to anyone but those who crafted them.
Exploring further afield
The village makes an excellent day trip, but if you want to look a little beyond Okawachiyama's environs be sure to visit the forest-covered slopes of Nabeshima Hanyo Park just above the village. Home to kiln ruins from the Edo period (1603-1867), it's a fascinating pocket of Japan where nature and craft merge.