Until the early seventeenth century China was the sole world producer and exporter of porcelain. However, in 1616, a Korean immigrant, Ri Sampei, discovered porcelain clay in Kyūshū, the western island of Japan, and the Korean nobori gama (climbing kiln) was also introduced. A flourishing Japanese porcelain industry was soon established in the Arita area, which exported to Europe through the Dutch East India Company.
Early Japanese porcelains imitated Korean porcelain and the Chinese blue-and-white wares of Jingdezhen. The early designs were painted with cobalt and a transparent overglaze was applied. These early Japanese blue-and-white porcelains were named Ko Imari after the port of Imari through which they were exported.
From the mid-1600s, Sakaida Kakiemon (1596-1666) in Arita, began to use overglaze enamel over an opaque white glaze (nigoshide), a technique learnt from Chinese immigrants in Nagasaki. The present Kakiemon XIV (born 1934) still uses a unique orange-red enamel the colour of kaki (persimmons) developed by Sakaida. From 1628 potters working for the nearby Nabeshima clan produced exceptionally fine overglaze enamel wares mainly for use within the clan.
From the late 1650s a number of other centres developed further east on the island of Honshū. The porcelain industry flourished in Kyoto in the Edo period (1600-1868) producing delicate Japanese designs in bright colours. Many porcelain producers continued to work well into the Meiji era. (1868-1912). Their wares were much in demand for export so they often set up their workshops near ports.