If you have a thing for pottery, Japan has so much for you to explore. From the northern part of Honshu to Okinawa, each region has pottery of different characteristics.
There are shops in Tokyo that has some good choice of pottery from all parts of Japan but if you want to know more about them, consider visiting one of the pottery towns to see the kilns and even to experience making a pottery. The closest pottery town you can visit from Tokyo would be Mashiko and Kasama area in Tochigi prefecture. You can do a day trip from Tokyo.
Mashiko pottery is known for functional designs that are useful in everyday life. In this post, I will share some travel/shopping information about the town from the last time I visited. Since it was my first visit, I only know just a little part of the whole Mashiko town but I would recommend a trip to this town for anyone interested in pottery, antiques, and furniture(!!) and those wanting to travel places where you won’t be meeting many foreign tourists.
The best time to visit Mashiko might be when they hold Mashiko Pottery Fair, which is in May during Japan’s Golden week (first week of May) and in November every year. It will be crowded but more lively for sure.
How to get there from Tokyo using a bus
There’s a bus named “Kanto Yakimono Liner” that connects Kasama and Mashiko and Akihabara station in Tokyo. The bus stops at major tourist places in Kasama (another pottery town) and Mashiko, and reaches Mashiko train station in about 2 hours plus from Akihabara.
The ticket comes in a pair, and the price is 3500 yen to Mashiko, and 2600 yen to Kasama. Yes, it is so economical! You can get the ticket at the Seven-Eleven convenience store near the bus station or pay on the bus when you get off. Going to Mashiko from Tokyo by train would be very complicated and it will take time. Taking the bus is efficient.
Be aware that the seats on this bus are first come, first serve; you can’t make a reservation. You would probably have a seat if you get in the line at the bus stop 20 min before the departure time but I recommend you go early enough. Japanese people are early. The bus is quite big, clean, and comfortable.
There’s a bike rental shop near Mashiko station. I think it would be better to leave any unnecessary bags (if you have) in the lockers at the station and rent a bicycle to go around the town.
The Key Persons in the History of Mashiko Pottery
There are 3 important figures who shaped the characteristics of Mashiko pottery, which are functional that can be used in daily life. (Reference: “Fudandukaino utsuwa wo sagashite,Yakimono no sato meguri” by Mika Nagamine)
- The history of Mashiko pottery begins in the late Edo period (around 1850s) when a potter Keizaburo Otsuka from a nearby pottery town Kasama created his kiln in Mashiko. He received many orders for daily kitchen items from the feudal clan and soon his works were distributed in the Kanto area.
- A potter Shoji Hamanda who later became the first Living National Treasure, moved to Mashiko in the early Taisho period (1924). As the major figure of the mingei folk-art movement, he created works that were beautiful and functional that can be used in daily life. He made Mashiko ceramic famous throughout Japan.
- A potter Shoji Kamoda moved to Mashiko and gave mashiko ceramics more originality when they were dominated by folk-art taste.
The Places I Visited and Liked
Shoji Hamada Memorial Mashiko Sankokan Museum (濱田庄司記念益子参考館)
“Sankokan” means a house of reference (sanko is reference). Hamada opened this museum to share with the public the art pieces and items that impressed and inspired him. The collection includes ceramics, furniture, textiles and many more items from both Japan and overseas. The fun part of this place is that these collection are exhibited in a traditional-style old houses, where he actually lived in. You can also see the studio and chambered climbing kiln.
I very much recommend you take a rest at the café, which is part of his old house. The coffee cup (original, you can get it in their shop), the old wooden furniture (worth checking), beautiful view…the whole atmosphere is great!
Antiques Doguya (Anteiques 道具屋)
Such a fun antique shop! I was fascinated by their collection of sliding doors from old Japanese houses. I really wished I can take one to my tiny apartment and prop it against the wall. My dream to one day live in a Japanese style house grew bigger in this shop.
The kind of shop people who prefer organic food and simple living would love. They have a nice selection of ceramics made in Mashiko as well as clothes and fashion items, organic vegetables, cookies, and etc. I didn’t try but their cafe looked nice, too.
Nihei Furukagu (仁平古家具店)
Nihei Furukagu shop has become my favorite furniture shop!! They sell old furnitures and antique items for very reasonable prices. There were so many things I liked but we ended up buying a small high table/shelf and a small chabudai, a short-legged table.
Also run by Mr. Nihei of Nihei Furukagu shop, Pejete sells higher quality antique furniture than Nihei Furukagu as well as selected clothes and pottery that are not mass-produced. The building is made with Oyaishi stone (well-known stone from Tochigi prefecture) and it used to be a rice granary. It’s a very beautiful shop.
Its’s hard to miss this large shop on the main street. There’s chambered climbing kiln (the photo on the top of this post) in the backside of the shop.
A gallery/shop of mashiko artists. We got soba cups made by the same artist as our favorite salad bowl in this shop!
I haven’t been able to find any vegan or vegetarian only restaurant but there are some very nice cafes that serve meals with organic local vegetables. You can ask and I am sure they can prepare meatless menu. Alternative choices could be soba restaurants and bakeries.