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The streets of Arita’s Uchiyama porcelain district are mostly deserted this overcast Sunday, a boon for me as I am looking anywhere but at the sidewalk in front of me. My eyes are drawn instead to the parade of restored buildings that front the street, a veritable “name that era” of architectural styles. The edifices here might date anywhere from the Edo Period (1603-1868) to the Taisho Era (1912-1926), but the porcelain vessels contained within have a heritage that stretches back centuries.

Four centuries, to be exact — a fact that Arita, a small town in western Saga Prefecture, casually reminds you of as you pull into the area. Next calendar year will herald the 400th anniversary of porcelain production in town, marking the year that the master craftsmen and celebrated potter Ri Sanpei found a cache of good kaolin clay in the nearby mountains and fired the first porcelain in the archipelago.

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