The Kurita Museum (栗田美術館 Kurita bijutsukan) is located in Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture, and holds one of the most extensive private collections of Imari and Nabeshima porcelain. It was established by Hideo Kurita, who first displayed his vast collection in 1968 in the Kurita Show Room and then in 1972 in the Kurita Museum Hall in Tokyo before opening the Kurita Museum (栗田美術館 Kurita Bijutsukan) in his hometown of Ashikaga in 1975.

The museum grounds, located on top of a picturesque hill, cover almost ten hectares. The museum hall is surrounded by red pine trees and a landscaped garden. The collection houses some 10,000 pieces and is unique insofar as it solely exhibits Japanese pottery (Imari and Nabeshima ware).

Kurita Hideo (1912-1996), the founder and former curator of the museum, hailed from a wealthy Ashikaga family. Rumour has it that he had been involved in racketeering after World War II. He also served as a member of the House of Representatives (the Japanese Lower House) in 1947-49 and again in 1952-55 for the Japan Democratic Party (日本民主党 Nihon Minshutō). He retired from his commercial and political activities in 1958 and dedicated the rest of his life to his collection. It is said that he spent a staggering amount of 50 billion JPY on establishing the Kurita Museum.

Imari porcelain

Imari porcelain (伊万里焼), also known as Arita ware, refers to porcelain made in the Arita region of Saga Prefecture, the former province of Hizen (肥前国 Hizen no kuni) in northern Kyūshū. Imari was the shipping point for the ware. Kakiemon ware, made by successive generations of the Kakiemon family, and Nabeshima ware, made at kilns of the Nabeshima domain, are also classified as Arita ware (有田焼 Arita yaki).

At the beginning of the 17th century, a naturalised Korean, Kanagae Sanbee (金ヶ江三兵衛), discovered clay for ceramics at Izumiyama, Arita, and started the first domestic porcelain production in Japan. Initially an underglaze blue and white porcelain, Arita ware soon changed to a colourfully enamelled overglaze in the 1640s. At first, these ceramics were Korean and Chinese in design, but in the Genroku Era (1688-1704), Japanese elements (textile patterns, etc.) were applied.

Developed under the protection of the Nabeshima domain, Arita was produced in large quantities in the first half of the 17th century. Popular among the nobility, samurai, merchants, and commoners alike, it was exported from the mid-17th century to the mid-18th century to Europe by the Dutch East India Company. Quantity production led to a drop in quality from the latter half of the 18th century, and a further blow was dealt to the industry by a conflagration in 1828. However, factory production started in the Meiji Era, and today, Arita is still one of Japan's largest ceramic production centres.

The museum:

Imari exhibits:

Nabeshima exhibits:


Location: 1542 Komaba-cho, Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, 329-4217; Phone: 0284-91-1026, Fax: 0284-91-2153; 〒329-4217 栃木県足利市駒場町1542
Opening hours and admission: open daily from 09:30 to 17:00, closed on Mondays (or the following day if Monday falls on a national holiday) and between December 28 and January 2; adults 1,550 JPY, students 520 JPY, 20% discount for groups of more than 20 people.
Access: Ashikaga Sta. on Tobu Isesaki Line (from there 15 minutes by taxi) or Tomita Sta. on JR Ryomo Line (10 minutes walk from the station).