KARATSU, Saga Pref. -- Best known for its deceptively simple pottery, Karatsu is a peaceful coastal town on a western tip of Kyushu. It's quiet year round except for summer, when holidaymakers crowd the long sandy beaches nearby, and November, when several hundred thousand visitors flock to see giant, fish-shaped floats at the Karatsu Kunchi festival.

The town's name translates as "port to China," a reference to the days ships sailed to Karatsu bringing ceramic wares from China. More significantly, Karatsu is where the talented Korean potters Toyotomi Hideyoshi forcibly brought back from his Korean raids between 1592 and 1598 (often dubbed the "pottery wars") were first put to work before relocating to nearby Arita.

Some historians argue that pottery was fired in Karatsu even before this time, pointing to such evidence as the remains of a kiln at Mount Kishidake outside Karatsu, believed to date to 1550. Nevertheless, works by these Korean potters have defined the Karatsu-yaki (Karatsu wares) of today.