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In search of yakimono 焼き物を探します

October 28, 2013

I made two other day-trips that I thought deserved their own post.

I’m a fan of Japanese pottery and I visited two very important pottery towns in Western Japan: Karatsu and Hagi.  How important?  Well, there’s an adage in describing the preference of tea masters for teabowls:  “Raku first, Hagi second, Karatsu third”  I haven’t any of Kyoto’s Raku-ware yet, though it’s only a matter of time (and money).   My foray into Japanese pottery started by collecting Bizen-yaki from Okayama prefecture, but  I’ve been branching out a bit more over the last few years.  In addition to tea-ware, many artists also make fantastic sake-ware and on this trip I was determined to add to my collection both chawan (tea bowl) and guinomi (sake cup).


An interesting note about these styles of pottery is how much they were originally influenced by Korean potters.  It was during the end of the 1500’s (late Muromachi and Azuchi Momoyama periods) into the early 1600’s (early Edo period) that the “pottery wars” saw Korean potters go to Japan to fire up kilns.  Some went willingly, some not so much.

Karatsu is fairly well known and quite close to Fukuoka.   Sadly, as a town, there really isn’t much there worth seeing unless you’re visiting for the purposes of finding pottery.  The most famous kiln in Karatsu is the Nakazato kiln.  This family has been producing Karatsu-yaki since the late 1500’s.  The current head of the pottery dynasty is Nakazato Taroemon XIV – an unbroken lineage of 14 generations.


Hagi-yaki is said to have begun around 1604 when two brothers from Korea, Ri Shakko and Ri Kei, were employed  to produce personal tea utensils for Lord Mori Terumoto of Hagi.  Without your own vehicle, getting to Hagi is quite a journey, and unless you’re really into Japanese tea ware, the town itself is a bit of a mystery, even to the Japanese.  In fact, when I told a few of my Japanese friends that I had gone to Hagi, their responses were, “Where’s Hagi?”  It’s in Yamaguchi prefecture, just so you know.  Yes, the journey was long, involving several hours and no less than three transfers, but well worth it.  Via a two-car local train, I went through some fantastic countryside.  Half the route into Hagi is so rural that the stations don’t even have station masters; you pay the conductor on the train.   You also don’t want to miss a train as the next one might not trundle by for an hour or two.  The route also went along the Sea of Japan coast where the waters are crystal-clear and the tip of South Korea is only about 200 km away.   Hagi is also very important from a historical perspective as many of its citizens were critical in bringing about the return of Imperial rule during the Meiji Restoration of the 19th century.  If you have the chance, even if pottery isn’t your thing, I recommend going to Hagi.  While heading there by car would certainly be the most convenient way to go, there’s something to be said for sitting back and enjoying the ride in an old-style local train.

萩焼きの開始はおぼしき江戸2年でした。韓国人兄弟リ シャッコとリ ケイは萩に行きました。森てるもと領主のために茶道具を作り出した。萩市の所をしていますか。山口県にいます。福岡市から遠いです。片道のは4時間ごろかかりました。でも旅路は楽しかったです。2号車の普通列車できれいないなかを旅しました。日本海も見ました。とてもきれいだった。見たときに「ダイビングはどうですか」と思いました。(笑)その所から南韓国は近いですね。200キロぐらいだけです。萩市はいい都市と思います。雰囲気がいいし会った住民が優しいでした。行ければ車で一番便利ですが普通列車でとても面白いと思います。おすすめです。

You’ll no doubt notice that I’ve included images of the pieces I bought during the trip.  There’s something extremely satisfying about drinking tea and sake from finely made pottery.  I’m sure it’s all mental, but the taste is just seems better.

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