Saturday, June 21, 2014

Bizen Pottery

Recently we took a short visit to Kurashiki and Okayama city from Kyoto. From Okayama city we rode the very short yellow train below to the sleepy ceramic making town of Imbe to check out the pottery village. About half an hour's journey. 

 The pottery particular to this area is known as Bizen ware, so-called due to the town's original name of Bizen province.  The ceramics are usually identified by their unglazed reddish brown clay appearance. 
 Although at times a natural glaze does occur -  for example when  pine tree ash is drawn through the kiln, sticking and melting onto the surface it results in a sesame coloured or greenish glaze known as Goma (sesame), and when charcoal is stoked (it can cause a colourful effect in shades of black, grey etc known as Sangiri),  and in some cases rice straw is wrapped around the pottery to protect it from direct flame - this gives the wares an almost sunburnt effect - paler in parts where the straw is wrapped. They call this effect Hidasuki. 

 It's not really my cuppa tea to be honest and seeing it on mass like we did in the kiln shops around the town just did my head in. A single piece of it in the right place is stunning, I'll admit, but rows and rows of the stuff make it harder to see the beauty.  
You can't miss the shopping area - as soon as you hop off the train this giant pot sign (L) is straight ahead. 
Walk beyond the sign and you reach this first street. At the end of the street you'll come to a T-intersection  - the shops and galleries continue on both sides.
We visited on a week day when a few places were shut and I think we were the only people in the street apart from the occasional person watering their plants. I'd say the weekends are when it is a little more lively. It was pretty much a ghost town for our visit - but it did make it easier to cruise around and take some snaps.  I just love the old buildings.  Sadly this cute little store below was shut. 
I do love the variety of man-hole patterns in Japan - local areas have their own designs. 
It really was a stunning April day.  Perfect light for wandering and snapping. 
The small kiln and gallery shop area was surrounded by charming residences. 
Everyone loves Jizo. Protector of children  - particularly the ill or deceased (but these days he's popular for looking out for just about anyone who is ill or on a journey, in either this world or between worlds, or who is in need of  some luck!). He's a popular little Bodhisattva whether you are Buddhist of not. 
The koi kites (Koinobori) are hung for what was traditionally called Boy's day but is now named Childrens' Day (Kodomo no hi) which falls on the 5th of May. Traditionally the 3 kites represented Father, Mother and son. Parents hope that their children grow up to be strong and determined like the Koi/carp which swim upstream and can even jump over small waterfalls. 
A few choice pieces...

I REALLY wanted to buy a small piece as a souvenir of our journey but found nothing that floated my boat - instead I ended up with some Citrus flavoured Kitkats, local miso and peach flavoured candies from this dusty little shop at the station. Okayama prefecture is famous for peaches and citrus.  
There was an dark and uninviting diner directly opposite this shop, it looked like it had been frozen in time since the 60's - I think they sold curry and coffee. Note that we didn't find anywhere else to eat on this day so I'd recommend lunching back in Okayama. Although you just never know, the curry might have been great. Probably out of a packet but you know... Japanese curry from a packet is OK! Bizarre but true. 

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