Last Saturday, I had a chance to go on a wonderful tour for free! The tour was to a small town in Tochigi called Mashiko. Mashiko is known for its beautiful pottery, called Mashiko-yaki (益子焼). Although pottery has apparently been made in Mashiko for thousands of years, Mashiko has only been a ceramics hub for a little over two hundred years. It really took off in 1953, when master potter Shoji Hamada settled in Mashiko to create his beautiful works. Shoji Hamada was designated a "living national treasure" in Japan, to recognise his influence in the folk-art movement, and the beauty of the products he created. The idea behind his works was "beauty and practicality". Although his works were stunning art, they could also be used in everyday life. Isn't that wonderful? It instantly reminded me of this quote, which I've been seeing a lot lately.
|Maybe it's a sign...I do need to clean my house!|
Today, Mashiko is a very quaint wee town. The main street (a twenty minute walk from the nearest train station), is lined on either side with shops and cafes packed full of examples of the lovely Mashiko pottery. One of the best things about Mashiko is that there is a great range of products and prices. Some shops are very minimalist, and display the works in a way which really highlights their artistic qualities. Others have a more homey feel, and arrange works by practical use. You can find pieces ranging from ¥300 to over ¥15,000, all on the same street.
Other highlights in Mashiko include a pottery studio, where you can try your hand (get it?) at a pottery wheel! Me and my friends on the tour got to try this for an hour. I made this bowl! It was my first time using a pottery wheel, but I was quite pleased. Now, the professionals at the studio will even out the base, fire it, and glaze it with a dark blue glaze that I chose. Then, it will be shipped to my house. The whole process will take about 1.5 months. I'm very excited to see it again!
|What do you think - could I be the next Shoji Hamada?|
Finally, if you're visiting Mashiko, I would suggest a walk to the Mashiko Sankoken Museum. Part of this museum was actually once the legendary Shoji Hamada's residence. Inside, you can see interesting displays about his life, works, and his own collection of pottery from around the world. You can also see wonderful old style kilns and pottery wheels. While we were at the museum, there happened to be some university students performing sado (Japanese tea ceremony). For a small fee, we were able to join in. Although I've taken part in sado before, this experience was really special!
I made this short video of my tour to Mashiko. You can see clips from the things I've described above, here! By the way, the upside-down bowl which you can see towards the end of the video is a bowl made by Shoji Hamada himself. We got to hold it and examine it close up.
The tour we took was hosted by TOTAK, the Tochigi tour guide association. It was actually a training exercise for some new tour guides who wanted to practice giving tours in English. The tour guides really knew a lot about Mashiko, and were able to explain so much to us - most of the information I shared in this post came straight from them! I would like to express my thanks to the TOTAK guides for all their hard work. どうもありがとうございました！If you're interested in taking a tour anywhere in Tochigi, you can find their contact details at their website, here.
Do you think you would like to visit Mashiko? Are there any hidden secrets, like this wee town, near you? Leave a comment and let me know!