Hybridized Architecture of Uchiyama 内山のヒブリド建築

Uchiyama Arita 内山有田

Japan has a long history of borrowing influences from beyond its shores then making it part of its own culture. This process of appropriation often results in hybridized forms with striking contrasts. Architecturally, this can be seen in the Uchiyama district of Arita in Saga Prefecture (内山有田佐賀県).

Arita is notable for it’s ceramic products, known to the Japanese as Aritayaki (有田焼) and to Europeans as Imari porcelain. Imari (伊万里) is the name of the nearby port from which Arita porcelain was originally exported. Arita began producing ceramics when kaolin was discovered in the area in 1616 by a Korean potter. The potter subsequently moved his 180 strong extended family to Japan to work on establishing kilns. Other Koreans were also involved in the establishment of Aritayaki. During the Edo period when Japan closed its doors to the outside, exclusive trading rights were given only to the Dutch . At the same time, due to events on the Continent, Chinese porcelain was unavailable during the late 17th Century, resulting in high demand for porcelain from Arita.

Uchiyama Arita 内山有田

Arita porcelain itself provide many interesting examples of hybridization. Compared to ceramics from other parts of Japan, works that Europeans describe as “Imari” look Continental with its vibrant colors and intricate decoration. Besides the aforementioned Korean influence, there was a significant influx of Chinese immigrants (due to the same events on the Continent) to this part of Japan who brought with them coloring techniques that were used in Aritayaki. There are also many works produced for the 18th Century European market that look more European in style. Many works were made exclusively for the Dutch East India Company and are decorated with the VOC logo. Anyone interested in ceramics might consider visiting Arita during its porcelain fair during Golden Week (end of April through first week of May) when Uchiyama is lined with stalls selling Aritayaki at bargain prices as well as kilns opening their doors to the public.

The last picture shows a restaurant near Arita’s central station where various “coffee” cups are on display (the Japanese refer to teacups with handles as coffee cups even though to English speakers these may look more like teacups). Customers can have their tea or coffee served in their cup of choice from the shelves. Arita produces Western and contemporary style ceramics in addition to traditional style porcelain.

Ijinkan 異人館

During Japan’s closed door period, the Dutch traded from the city of Nagasaki, relatively close to Arita. Due to this geographic circumstance, when Japan reopened, Northwestern Kyushu was one of the earliest parts of Japan to see the effects of Westernization.

The Uchiyama district of Arita in particular showcases construction spanning styles from the Edo period to Showa period. A great fire destroyed much of the town in Bunsei/文政11 (1828). Most of the buildings now standing were built after this fire representing late Edo (江戸), Meiji (明治), Taisho (大正) and Showa (昭和) period architecture. Today it is a designated preservation area. The most interesting ones I thought were the ones showing both strong European influence while still being clearly Asian or Japanese.

Uchiyama Arita 内山有田

The first image in this post shows an example that hows distinctly European elements such as a strong pediment, frieze and tripartite window openings. At the same time, the kawara/roof tiles, shop front overhang and the manner in which the ground floor is opened are undoubtedly Japanese.

The building on the right in the second image’s foreground feature quoins, pronounced cornerstones. Quoins did exist in Japanese construction prior to the arrival of Westerners but these were found on castle battlements and were functional rather than primarily decorative. The third image is of the Iijinkan (異人館), literally foreigners’ hall, with clearly Western columns, arch windows and portico. While this building is not opened to the public, there is apparently a spiral staircase within. The fourth image shows examples of Northern European or North American style clapboard cladding. In all of these examples both Western and Eastern elements coexist within the same buildings.

Uchiyama Arita 内山有田

Going slightly off the topic of hybridization, the fifth image shows a group of buildings where the street curves. It is interesting to note how triangular pockets of interstitial space is created by the fact that these buildings do not themselves curve. However, since they are built immediately adjacent to one another, a sawtooth footprint results from having to step back bit by bit as the street sweeps around.

More information on this and other areas of interest in Arita can be found at Arita’s homepage.

various Arita "coffee" cups 色々有田のコーヒーカップ

For anyone in the UK/EU/EEA interested in buying Aritayaki, Hizen-ya, a website somewhat related to where I practiced kendo in London, offers a selection. As of the writing of this post, Aritayaki has only recently returned to stock due to disruption resulting from the Great East Japan Earthquake but has yet to reappear on the website. Check back soon if interested.

NB: Hizen (肥前) is the old han name of what is now Saga Prefecture (佐賀県) and large parts of Nagasaki Prefecture (長崎県). Nagasaki City itself, due to its lucrative as well as potentially politically destabilizing contact with the Dutch, was retained by the Tokugawa bakufu for themselves.

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