18 March 2024

Visiting Arita City: The Past and Present of Kaiseki Tableware

Kaiseki tableware refers to the general term for dishes served in ryokans "inns" and traditional Japanese restaurants. These include sashimi plates, chawanmushi cups, small and medium bowls, soup bowls, etc., with designs that change with the seasons, making them slightly more extravagant than those used at home. For foreigners visiting Japan, it might be impressive to see more than 10 pieces of such luxurious and variously shaped tableware per person, creating a memorable image of their trip to Japan.

On the other hand, for Japanese people, the modern increase in hotels within Japan means that the opportunities to dine at ryokans for dinner and breakfast or for celebrations with relatives are not as common as before, leading to a decreased demand for kaiseki tableware. Moreover, since these are treated as products for professional use in Japan, it is rare for ordinary people to come across them naturally when shopping.

Thus, I hadn't known that one of the major production areas for this kaiseki tableware was Arita ware. It turned out that Tasei Kiln and Kaizan Kiln, which are both suppliers of our products at MUSUBI KILN, were both old-established kilns specializing in kaiseki tableware as well.


  • The Craft of Chawanmushi Cups
  • Kaizan Kiln's Modern Table Settings
  • The Continuing Legacy of Arita Ware Kilns

The Craft of Chawanmushi Cups

Tasei Kiln crafts the lustrous Sakura Pink Series and the auspicious Musubi Series. Discovering a variety of chawanmushi cups in the gallery, our founder Fusada, got excited about expanding our lineup. Moreover, when the owner revealed, "In fact, our kiln used to specialize in making chawanmushi cups," we gasped in astonishment. 

About 30 years ago was the heyday of Arita ware, a time when there was a significant demand for these items from ryokans and other professional settings. Chawanmushi has the challenge of fitting the lid and base together tightly to prevent steam from escaping, and few kilns took on this challenge. That is when the predecessor of Tasei Kiln started specializing in chawanmushi cups. Guided by the owner, we went upstairs to find shelves filled with chawanmushi cups. These were selected products, stored as samples.

By making them thicker than those used at home, they increased the durability, and the lids were designed to fit securely, even if they moved slightly while carrying them. The thickness enhances heat retention, making them less likely to cool down even if set on the table in advance in banquet halls of ryokans. The chawanmushi cups, thoughtfully made, gained support from many ryokans and chefs. And they all preferred to supply their tableware with items from Tasei Kiln, despite the higher price.

The predecessor proposed many new designs every month, with themes like cherry blossoms, flowing streams, and autumn leaves according to the seasons. "The ones shown here are only the finalized designs, but there are many more designs that we haven't made yet." 

Through the solid foundation of craftsmanship developed with chawanmushi cups, they have created items suited to each time, leading to the present.

View Tasei Kiln Collection

Kaizan Kiln's Modern Table Settings

Next, we visited Kaizan Kiln, a kiln that produces modern table settings with its hori "carved" series. They also make kaiseki tableware, and the carved plates we handle were adjusted in size for home use. These carvings, including plates with an ajiro pattern resembling bamboo baskets, require a beautifully crafted "prototype." The prototype is the model for the final plate, made by manually carving plaster. Beautiful sculptures created by skilled artisans are used as the basis for making multiple plaster molds for replication.

Creating a prototype takes about 2-3 days, drawing the design. For ajiro patterns, the challenge is to create lines that are orderly and uniform. "The beauty of symmetry," said the executive director of Kaizan Kiln. While a real bamboo basket might be more rustic, when it becomes a dish, it shows a different expression with its sleek curves and added shine.

Carving is a technique that beautifully showcases the shades of glaze and overglaze painting. Deep carvings accumulate the glaze liquid, enhancing its depth and creating ink-painting-like images. For this beauty, precise technique is essential. Tools are even customized for ease of use and versatility. "Rather than buying them, we have to make our own tools as well." he said.

Thus created, these dishes not only shine on the dining tables of restaurants but also bring a sparkle to the relaxed dining tables at home, creating an extraordinary atmosphere.

View Kaizan Kiln Collection

The Continuing Legacy of Arita Ware Kilns

This concludes my visit to the Arita ware kilns. At first glance, they might seem focused on crafting modern Japanese tableware. However, upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that their roots lie in the art of making kaiseki tableware. They enhance the seasonal changes of Japanese cuisine while meeting the expectations of chefs in terms of ease of handling and durability. The kaiseki tableware I saw at the ryokans, now a fond memory, continues its legacy in modern tableware with skill and dedication. It was a truly inspiring experience for me.

By Shirata Ai