If you are a traveler interested in Japanese crafts and like to visit places that are not major tourist destinations, we suggest that you travel to Okayama prefecture in Western Japan. In May, Studio KotoKoto visited Okayama, home to the famous Bizen pottery and also known for glass, Japanese paper, and other local crafts.
You can get to Bizen from Okayama station by taking the Japan Rail (JR) Ako line and getting off at the sleepy station of Imbe, about 40 minutes east of Okayama. We were excited to visit this famous pottery town with more than 1000 years of history because we have great respect for what Bizen stands for: crafts that are close to the earth. We also love the natural and modest beauty of these unglazed and unadorned pots.
The starting point for any visit is the Bizen Pottery Art Museum where many Bizen masterpieces and works of art from Japanese artists deemed to be living national treasures are on display. After feasting your soul on this splendid artistry, walk around the streets to see how pottery is at the core of this town’s life and identity.
We strolled along the main street and noticed that many pottery shops are right in front of the kilns that produce their wares. While visiting one of the most established kilns in Bizen called Kimura Ichiyo-gama, we had the fortune to meet its owner, Mrs. Kimura, who gave us a thorough tour of her studio and noborigama kiln (“climbing” kiln.)
Kurashiki is another delightful town in Okayama that we were able to spend time to uncover its charms. The town is dominated by stunning old wooden storehouses (or Kura) built in the 17th century with white plastered walls and black tiles. The storehouses are built along a beautiful canal where you can watch colorful Koi fish swimming gracefully.
Some of these storehouses have been converted into museums. The most famous is the Ohara Museum of Art, the first-ever Western art museum in Japan. But our favorite was the Japan Folk Toy Museum where hundreds of handmade and antique toys from different parts of Japan are displayed in a converted rice storehouse. The museum’s owner Ohga Hiroyuki is listed in the 1983 Guinness Book of World Records for spinning a large handmade top for an hour and 8 minutes!
Photos: Ohga Hiroyuki spinning a top; A top on a tightrope, Folk Toy Museum, Kurashiki, Okayama
We enjoyed wandering around the back alleys of Kurashiki, especially in the Honmachi and Higashimachi districts that are full of old houses, cute shops, and wonderful sake shops.
If you are going to Kurashiki, we highly recommend going in May when the town hosts one of Japan’s best annual craft shows called “the Field of Craft Kurashiki”. This high-quality show is hosted by the town and features more than 70 artists. This year’s event took place on 12-13 May and we had a fascinating time enjoying and being impressed by the rich offerings on display!
- Day 1 Tokyo-(3hrs 30mins)-Okayama-(40 mins)-Imbe-(1 hr)-Kurashiki
- Day 2 Kurashiki craft show
- Day 3 Kurashiki museums and sights-(20 mins)-Okayama-(3hrs 30mins)-Tokyo
Hi Studio Kotokoto – can you recommend anywhere to stay when visiting Bizen / Imbe / Kurashiki ? Thanks Moraig
Bizen Imbe and Kurashiki are both very close to Okayama, which is a bullet train stop. I recommend finding something Okayama. Kurashiki has really nice places to stay but are quite expensive.
I am thinking of traveling to this area, I am limited to travel time of mid September, would this be suitable?
It is suitable to visit Kurashiki and Bizen anytime during the year, although September tend to be still very warm. I also want to point out that Bizen usually hosts a ceramics festival in mid-October. I hope that you’ll have a great time in Japan.