The prefecture of Saga is one of the birthplaces of traditional Japanese crafts. Located opposite the Korean peninsula, it was the epicentre of the development of a remarkable art of ceramics and porcelain. As early as the Edo Period (1603-1867), the towns of Arita, Imari and Karatsu contributed to this reputation. Its rich, fertile soil, mild subtropical climate and geographical proximity with the continent to the north-west of the island of Kyushu enabled this small stretch of land, no bigger than the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg, to develop a flourishing economy and to trade with the whole world. First, during the Yayoi Period in 200 BC, rice agriculture in the paddy fields of the plains and mountain terraces developed massively making the region the country's major supplier of glutinous rice. Secondly, the fishing industry, due to numerous ports such as Saga on the Ariake to the south and Karatsu on the Genkai Sea to the north, rapidly made the inhabitants completely autonomous.
Up until 1871, the area made up of the prefectures of Saga and Nagasaki, called the Hizen province, was under the influence of the Nabeshima Samurai warriors, a powerful feudal clan. The latter lived in Saga castle, partially rebuilt today. In the late 16th century during wars in Korea, the clan captured talented potters whom they imprisoned at Ôkawachiyama near Arita to acquire their know-how. Today, countless kilns and workshops combined with galleries continue to operate here still, to the delight of tourists wishing to find out more about their unique pottery skills.
Thanks to the new Shinkansen linking Tokyo, Osaka and Hiroshima to Shin-Tosu and Hakata (Fukuoka prefecture) stations, major heritage sites such as the great Yutoku Inari-jinja Shinto shrine, archaeological site of Yoshinogari and the famous onsen of Takeo are now easily accessible.
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©Yuji Higashida/© Getty ImagesSaga