4 Reasons to visit the Town of Mashiko
Mashiko is a town known for ceramics and if you follow my Instagram from the very beginning, you might know that I am an amateur potter. My love for ceramics meant I had to visit this town while in Japan.
Pottery in Mashiko dates back to 12,000BC, but it only gained popularity in 1930 when a potter, Shoji Hamada, set up a kiln in the town. Hamada was influential in 20th century ceramics and good friends with Bernard Leach, another influential potter from England. Those names may not ring a bell, but in the ceramics community, they carry quite a bit of weight. In fact, Hamada was so important to the art that Japan declared him a Living National Treasure in 1955. Can you imagine that?
But the history of town aside, here are 4 reasons you should visit the town of Mashiko.
1. Buy pottery, of course
With a rich history of pottery making, Mashiko is sure to meet all your pottery buying needs from production pieces to one-of a kind, but don’t expect to pay the prices you would at a department store. Even mass-produced pieces here are made by hand and as such will cost more than machine produced pottery. Some intricate pieces are certainly worth the price tag as it takes many years of training and skill to create it. Even if you are not in the market for these pieces, they are still beautiful works of art and provide plenty of inspiration.
2. Take a ceramics class
There are a couple studios that offer classes in Mashiko. Although reservations are encouraged, walk-ins are also accepted if you arrive early. There are two types of classes: pottery making and decoration. After the class the pieces are finished and sent to you wherever you live for an extra charge. The Japanese postal services are economical and reliable. Having a piece that you handmade in Japan is a great memento that will last for many years to come.
3. Get off the beaten path
Most travelers that visit Japan stay in the major metropolitan cities, and by doing so, find themselves in overpopulated areas with very little space. In Tokyo, for example, you may go an entire trip without exchanging pleasantries with locals.
During my trip, I wanted to see if Japan still had off-the-beaten-path locations that provided a different perspective of life and culture. My trip to Mashiko was by far the most remote of all the locations I traveled to in the two weeks I spent in the country.
Even though Mashiko was only a couple of hours from Tokyo, I found a place where signs were not translated in English and people gave me the curious look that said “What in the world are you doing here?”
Everyone was extremely friendly and I was even able to find the only English-speaking person in the town- an instructor in the Pottery Studio. She had studied in the US and besides helping me find the bathroom and a pottery supply store, she actually served as my translator at a nearby store when I needed to buy band-aids and could not communicate with the clerk via Google. Apparently she was the on-call English translator for all the stores in town.
The whole experience made me feel like a was in a small town, where everyone knows each other and lends a helping hand. And I was certainly off the beaten path.
4. Take a trip back in time
If you are interested in history, ceramics or Japanese architecture, you can visit Hamada’s old house and studio to see how the potter lived and worked. There are also museums of pottery created in Mashiko.
I stumbled upon a family run operation of Shibori and Indigo Fabric Dyeing that also took me back in time.
Shibori is the art process of creating patterns by folding, twisting or tying fabrics while dyeing them. Think of it as a pre-meditated and more intricate tie-dye process. These patterns create beautiful fabrics that are often used to create yukatas/kimonos and other apparel. Indigo is one of the oldest dyeing techniques that can be made of entirely naturally found ingredients.
Walking into the store is like witnessing our ancestors discovering dye for the first time. Workers were literally blending plant leaves into a pulp that was then sieved to create a dark dye. Rows of fabric hung from clothes lines with beautiful patterns printed on them. In the main room, vats of indigo dye sat, waiting to make fabrics beautifully blue.
There is also a store, of course, where the handmade items can be purchased.
If you are a ceramics or handmade crafts aficionado, Mashiko is certainly worth a visit, if not for learning, then for shopping for sure!