Mashiko, a pottery town


Are you into pottery? Can you appreciate beautiful stonewares? Well, I have never been so much into any kind of arts in my life as I am now in Japan. If the stereotype picture of Japan in your head is high-tech country with swift-paced, cold-face people in suits, you really have to come to Mashiko. Mashiko is a town that stands out among others in Tochigi Prefecture because it’s a place where about 500 (yes, five hundreds!) pottery artists live and work. This number is said to be the biggest in Japan and in the world. The history goes back to the late Edo period. To keep the memory living, the town built Museum of Ceramic Art, displaying early stonewares made from Mashiko clay up to modern ceramics. Yesterday I had a chance to visit this museum and theme of the display was tea ceremony (ocha no yu). In anticipation for I what I will see, I asked myself before entering the museum, what will I learn today?

My Japanese friends (a literary artist and a local pottery artist, owning Fuwari Pottery workshop) explained to me that tea ceremony is a moment where the host and all the guests attain equal position, despite their social rank in daily life. Tea ceremony is also a moment of  creativity and imagination, where the host is expected to create an interesting story about the pottery used to serve the tea. We did not go deeper in this topic as we were getting more occupied by the objects on display. For tea ceremony, the host usually will prepare a set of wares consist of tea caddy, tea bowl, water container, and a small hearth. To my layman eyes, these tea ceremony set were made deliberately imperfectly, well, most of them. There were bowls with cracks, with pin pricks everywhere, uneven glazing, you name it. However, I could not escape the thought that they were beautiful and functional. Some pottery techniques seemed to avoid symmetry, balance, and expectation. That’s were the beauty lies, that’s the art in it.

Pottery makes you hungry. Really. After circling the museum about an hour or so I bet you’ll need refreshment. There is a cafe attached to the museum with small pottery shop, but of course we have other choice. My friend took me to a highly recommended restaurant in the area, Mori no Resutoran, simply means restaurant in the forest, a few minutes driving from the museum. Living up to it’s name, the restaurant located in a shady small forest. I like the wooden interior and how the waitress put a handkerchief in their head. The atmosphere was homy, it was like coming to your grandmother’s house. Next to the restaurant you can find a small bakery. When I said small, what I meant is if there were four customers, one had to wait outside until a customer leaves and make a space for you. But I can recommend their sugar and raisin bread 🙂

Back to pottery, I really thanked both of my friends for making it possible for me to get a glimpse of a local pottery workshop, Fuwari Pottery. This modest workshop is quite special among others because the artist (Tomoko-san) speaks good English and experienced in teaching foreign apprentice. As a souvenir, I bought a black stone pitcher from Fuwari workshop. I think I’ll come back to Mashiko one day with my husband, for I’m sure he’ll enjoy the pottery and the foods 🙂

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