This is our second visit to the pottery village of Mashiko in the Tochigi prefecture. We have such fond memories of our first visit several years ago that we wanted to come back again. And we are not disappointed. The fact that the gyoza town Utsunomiya is on the way is just another (tasty) reason to head towards Mashiko.
Today we visited more than 10 pottery shops the whole day and Yasuko shows an unusual, I’m almost tempted to say “never seen”, endurance for shopping. But it‘s much more than just shopping, of course. It is an inspiring show of Japanese craftsmanship and beauty.
We also visited three pottery exhibitions. Each potter had fantastic and original works and kindly explained about their works. One said to us that he visualized two worlds of shadow and light through his works, one younger potter described his path from a novice to an expert. It is amazing to learn what is behind a piece of pottery, the mounting, the burning and the glazing. Not long ago, I may have looked at a masterpiece and thought that the piece is somehow broken.
We bought an unusual array of pieces today. Donburi bowls, small plates (good for gyozas), a fantastic unusual sake cup I fell in love with and an expertly crafted wooden sake cup from the Toko Pottery Shop.
The Toko Pottery Shop is probably the classiest pottery shop we‘ve ever visited. Carefully selected natural local stones and woods are illuminated and staged in style to showcase beautiful handicraft pieces. The shop itself is worth a visit.
We also had an impromptu encounter with a ceramic artist. On the day of our departure, a Japanese man starts to talk to me in very fluent English in our B&B breakfast room. It soon turns out that he is a master potter with his pieces in the most recognized museums of the world and that his tea bowls are also used by the imperial family – which in the eyes of many Japanese, might be the highest recognition an artist can receive. He tells us that he is going to Switzerland in the coming week to promote Japanese ceramics. Yasuko will try to help him with contacts in Zurich and we offered to help him there. It would be great to meet up in Zurich again and help him out somehow.
Funny again, about 10 minutes before boarding the bus back to Utsunomiya for yet another gyoza session, we stroll over to a pottery shop we haven’t seen yet. The shop is closed but the owner opens the door when he sees us and pulls us right into his production area where a huge kiln has finished firing. He shows us how the recent earthquake affected the kiln and what material was used to rebuild and to make it stronger.
Our visit to Mashiko was very rich and full of encounters with ceramic artists and many magnificent pieces. We are happy to bring some pieces home as a wonderful memory and look forward to using these wonderful cups and plates back home in Switzerland.