Starting from the end of the 6th century, the capital of Japan was located in Nara for almost 200 years. The Heijyo-kyo Capital and what has come to be called the Nara -era (710-794) is especially noteworthy in Japanese history. It was a period of intense cultural development resulting in some magnificent artistic and architectural achievements. Heijo-kyo was the first capital of Japan with a unified legal system. During this period, Japan was established as a state with a universal code of laws and a strong cultural foundation. Through exchange with the countries of greater East Asia and beyond, many foreign cultures and civilizations were introduced to Japan. Japan was the eastern end of the Silk Road and Nara was its capital where all these cultural influences from around the world arrived. Indeed, in those days Nara was quite a large scale “international” capital with over 1 million people (today Nara City has about 370,000 people). The year 2010 marks the 1,300th anniversary of the founding of Nara’s Heijo-kyo Capital. Naturally, throughout its history, a variety of industries and business have prospered in Nara. Skilled craftsmen competed with each other to get the royalty or trust of nobles or the imperial family. Shoso-in, the main storehouse of Todaiji Temple, hosts countless of valuable ancient properties brought over from the Eurasian continent via China. This is evidence that proves how sophisticated and prominent the skills of craftsmen in those days were.
Akahada is the name of the area in Nara where pottery kilns have been located for hundreds of years, serving temples, shrines and the imperial court. The origin of Akahada-yaki ceramics is not clearly known but it is said to have been recognized as an important kiln in the Momoyama-era (1568-1600), when a local samurai general, Toyotomi Hidenaga (1540-1591) invited a skilful potter to the Akahada area to produce Hidenaga’s tea ceremony bowls and tools. In the early Edo-era (1603-1868), one of the masters of the Japanese tea ceremony school, Kobori Enshu (1579-1647), was a great fan of Akahada-yaki and gave it his official patronage. Typical Akahada-yaki ceramics have a thick round shape with a faintly reddish and white color produced by the unique chemicals used for the glaze. It has a silky touch and many Akahada-yaki ceramics are embossed with a rustic scene of people or deer. These are called Nara-e (pictures of Nara).