Considering the future of the ceramics industry. The world's first international ceramics symposium held in Arita, the birthplace of Japanese porcelain
On November 16 and 17, 2016, the Arita Ceramics Symposium was held at the Saga Ceramics Research Laboratory and four other venues in Arita Town. This first large-scale two-day symposium was jointly sponsored by the Saga Prefecture Arita Porcelain 400th Anniversary Project Executive Committee and the European Ceramic Work Centre (EKWC), a Dutch institution supporting the development of ceramics, as part of the platform formation project (2016/ project) in collaboration with the Netherlands.
The keywords are "cool" and "local": The importance of continuous production as a local industry
On a Wednesday and Thursday in November, a wide variety of specialists from the worldwide ceramics industry, including manufacturers, distributors, staff in cultural facilities and local government, designers, and artists, gathered in Arita, the birthplace of Japanese porcelain to attend the Arita Ceramics Symposium, which was held to explore solutions to problems, such as slow worldwide ceramic sales and to discuss the future development of the industry.
This first symposium was a co-sponsorship event of the Saga Ceramics Research Laboratory and the European Ceramic Work Centre (EKWC), a Dutch institute supporting ceramics development by promoting personnel and technological exchanges. The symposium was also a part of the platform formation project (2016/ project) conducted in collaboration with the Netherlands - one of the Arita Porcelain 400th Anniversary Projects - originating from the November 2013 Cooperation Agreement about Interchange of Creative Industry made between Saga Prefecture and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
On the first day, in the Saga Ceramics Research Laboratory Hall, keynote lectures were given by Kevin Oakes, Chairman of the British Pottery Manufacturers Federation (Trustee) Ltd., and Chairman of Royal Crown Derby; Yukio Suzuta, Director of the Kyushu Ceramic Museum; and Prof. Dr. Carl Rohde, the founder of Science of the Time, the world's first trend research institute, and a leading global-trend researcher.
Kevin Oakes, as the first speaker, talked about his track record and experiences as the former CEO of Steelite International, the foremost manufacturer of tableware for the catering trade. He explained how his reconstruction of Royal Crown Derby, renowned as an icon of British ceramics, led to its success as a company and a brand; he took decisive actions for restructuring, introducing companywide cost reductions, and reviewing the management, along with implementing an upgrading strategy with a simple message: it is better to use British-made ceramic ware, rather than low-priced imports. All these measures were carried out against a background of many rival companies shifting production to China, but he considered that continuing production within Britain would add value, and advocated the importance of an investment and reform strategy to offer value to customers by investing into areas quite different from those focused on by other companies.
Yukio Suzuta, following Mr. Oakes agreed with his strategy of focusing on British-made products, and then presented his view about the future of Arita: "The key points are how can the Arita region at every level of the industry capitalize on the continuance of local production, and for the region to develop an unbreakable faith in continuous local production through which the future of Arita would be assured." He also related that the study of the history of Arita porcelain reveals there were times when stimulation from the outside world had contributed to both technological and artistic development, and he now saw the Arita Porcelain 400th Anniversary Project as a continuation of this historical phenomenon.
Prof. Dr. Carl Rohde, the final speaker, spoke from the perspective of trends and what qualities are required to win victory in the fiercely competitive flat world. With the keyword "cool" he suggested the importance of innovation-based creativity. He also presented a comprehensive roundup of issues to be tackled, such as how the Arita region (local place) and experience with ceramic ware could be packaged as an unforgettable story, and how it should be communicated to the world and rolled out as a business.
No story no glory: Aiming at global niche markets
In the morning of the second day, the symposium was divided into four areas, Marketing, Technology, Art & Design, and Tourism & Leisure, and closed-door sessions were held with invited participants. In the afternoon, at the Saga Ceramics Research Laboratory Hall, a summary of the four sessions and the panel discussion were opened to all participants.
In the summary of the four sessions, led by a moderator Bas Valckx, Press & Cultural Officer for the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Tokyo, the four groups' conclusions were reported by each chairperson: Yoichi Yamada, Chairman of Japan Association for the Promotion of Pottery Industry, and Advisor of Noritake Co., Limited.; Prof. Dr. Takanori Watari, Professor of Graduate School of Science and Engineering, Saga University; Kris Callens, Director of the National Ceramics Museum of the Netherlands; and Christine Germain-Donnat, Director of the Sevres Museum.
Kevin Oakes, yesterday's keynote speaker, participated in the Marketing session, and had pointed out a problem area for Arita porcelain: "The exhibitions and products themselves were wonderful, but even though we searched on their Website, we were unable to find who is the representative, where to make contact, or where we can buy the products?" Panelists shared a passionate discussion covering a wide range of topics: concentrating on the overseas market is essential in the midst of a ceramics industry downturn; establishing Arita porcelain as a luxury brand; promoting high quality that is not influenced by price competition and attractive stories; becoming a highly-desirable brand that customers really want to purchase; and so on. In addition, many invaluable key phrases peppered the conversation, and the panel certainly broadened the audience awareness of many facets of the modern ceramics industry as they discussed "elements in tourism," "practical use of the web," "communication in global language," "brand visualization," and "the unique Japanese culture of being face to face with an object in the course of manufacture" to name but a few.
In the middle of the symposium, Floris Wubben, a designer currently staying in Arita as a creator in residence and a part of the platform formation project, gave a report of his impressions; he mentioned the profound effect of witnessing firsthand Arita's monozukuri (art of manufacturing) where handwork still remains paramount, and of how he gained much inspiration for producing his new works. He said: "I could feel Arita's enthusiasm in the artisan skills and affection for each task making us feel the warmth of their handwork. Such apparent inefficiency is not a weakness, rather it is the strength of Arita. I want them to maintain such dedication as part of the charm of Arita."
Timo Hammaren, Head of the Trade and Economic Section of the European Union to Japan, joined this symposium as a special guest and suggested: "To be successful in the export industry it is necessary to find a niche that will not be overly competitive. Through the keynote lectures on the first day, and sessions and general assembly on the second day, the importance of global niche markets was again underlined.
As a global trend, the keyword "cool" was mentioned, giving rise to two questions: "What is cool ceramic ware?" and "What are niche products in ceramic ware?" Every single person in the Arita production center must consider and focus on their own issues, and then keep finding better and better answers. The symposium was the source of many new inspirations, and a wonderful venue to meet many people from a wide variety of fields and exchange new and exciting ideas.
The world's first international assembly, the Arita Ceramics Symposium, was held to host constructive discussions and explore solutions to the problems facing the slow ceramics industry and to look into its future; finally, a joint statement of the symposium participants was announced, and it was decided to hold an international ceramics symposium biennially to stimulate the ceramics industry by building up partnerships and to further promote exchanges of opinions among representatives of industry, government and academia. The second symposium in 2018 will be held in Leeuwarden in the Netherlands, a host city of the European Capital of Culture.