Fukuoka (Hakata), Japan
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Approximately 7½ Hours
Escape from the bustle of the city on a two-hour drive to the mountain village of Arita, where you will learn about one of Japan's most treasured art forms that dates back almost 12,000 years. Earthenware, pottery and stoneware were initially created rather crudely for everyday practical use but, in the late 16th century, skilled potters settled in the little village of Arita and changed everything. They had learned from the Chinese how to produce fine ceramics and, with the discovery of kaolin nearby -- the rock required for making porcelain -- Arita became Japan's major porcelain production center. At the beginning of the 17th century, Arita porcelain was made with deep-blue patterns on a white background, and later with bright colors and bold patterns. These two innovative styles caught the attention of the Dutch East India Company, which exported the porcelain to Europe. Soon, royal palaces all over Europe were lavishly decorated with vases, tea sets, dinnerware and figurines from Arita. Today, many Arita ceramics are mass-produced in factories, but your experience on this shore excursion includes a visit to an authentic artisan kiln, where you can watch skilled craftsmen create beautiful pieces in accordance with traditional, time-honored techniques.
An enjoyable Japanese lunch is followed by some free time to shop. Keep an eye out for the tall brick chimneys -- remnants of the 150 kilns that once populated the area. The streets of Arita are lined with houses dating back to the 1930s. Take a peek in the back yards and you'll find them lovingly decorated with fences made out of used bricks and pottery.
Re-boarding the coach, you'll visit a small gallery for an opportunity to browse and purchase beautiful ceramic pieces if you wish. Head back to the ship through the hilly, volcanic landscape of Kyushu. Considered the birthplace of Japanese civilization, Kyushu was once the gateway to Asia and the rest of the world.
Please note: Wear comfortable walking shoes. Travel time to Arita is two hours each way.