The Saga Prefectural Government teamed up with Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya for a special weeklong celebration, Arita Meets New York, to commemorate 400 years of Arita porcelain-ware, or Aritayaki. The exhibition, which began on February 3 and ends on Friday, February 10, showcases plates, bowls, cups, and other porcelain tableware, all made in Arita, a town renowned for its porcelain craftsmanship. Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya is serving their customers using pieces exclusively selected for this collaboration, and the products are available for sale to the public.
Bowie Fu, a Managing Partner at Bromberg Brothers Blue Ribbon Restaurants, announced at a meet-and-greet ceremony with Arita-based ceramists on February 6 that Blue Ribbon is in negotiations to use “these amazing artists’ incredible products at our new location at Rockefeller Center,” which is slated to open this year.
“This collaboration is important because the Japanese market is getting smaller and smaller due to the population decrease,” says Hirotoshi Kubozono, an official with the Saga Prefectural Government. “Aritayaki is one of the most appreciated techniques in Japan, and New Yorkers are keen to high quality products, so it made sense to come to New York.”
On display and for sale are beautifully handcrafted pieces that range from sake cups to dishes, with traditional and modern designs. Visitors to Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya will see the blue-and-white porcelain that is commonly found in Asia, but they will also be delighted by the bold colors and giraffe and alligator patterns.
“The people of Arita are aware of the 400 years of history, but they also understand that styles have to change,” says Kubozono. “The artists continue changing to fit the modern style.”
That history has somewhat controversial beginnings, rooted in the historic tensions between Japan and Korea. Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s men kidnapped master potter Yi Sam-pyeong during the Japanese invasions of the Korean Peninsula in the late 1500s. Settled in Saga Prefecture, Yi Sam-pyeong discovered kaolin white clay, producing the first porcelain in Japan in 1616 and giving birth to Aritayaki. After establishing Japan’s first white porcelain kiln, Yi produced works that were a hit throughout the country as well as Europe.
Kubozono hopes that the porcelain will also spread to the U.S., beginning in New York. “Maybe Americans think of tableware as just for ordinary daily use, without thinking of seasonality or its connection to the food that’s being served,” says Kubozono. “I hope Aritayaki will make people appreciate tableware as something special.”
Head to Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya to see for yourself how special porcelain from Arita is.
Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya is located at 187 Orchard Street (between Stanton and E. Houston Streets) and is open from 7:00 a.m. until midnight Monday through Friday.