Japan has a historically rich and vibrant ceramics scene, but much of it is local and barely known beyond its shores. Stepping foot into this other world requires going to the pottery towns and other out-of-the-way places deep in Japan’s interior, which is what we at Studio Kotokoto find especially intriguing and rewarding.
This past spring, I visited the annual ceramics festival in Tajimi in Gifu Prefecture. It was my first visit to a ceramics festival being held in the hometown of Mino pottery, which is renowned for the green copper glazed Oribe and soft white glazed Shino style wares.
Mino pottery dates back to the 7th and 8th centuries with the production of Sue ware (or Sueki). The remains of ancient kilns that produced these ceramics can still be found in the neighboring town of Kakamigahara. This region became well known in the 16th century for its Oribe ware, named after tea master and warrior Furuta Oribe who was a Mino native.
Capitalizing on its fame as a center of aesthetic pottery, Tajimi and the surrounding area of Touno have risen to become the largest ceramics-producing region in the country. Around half of Japan’s ceramics and tiles currently come from this area.
As Tajimi is only a short 30-minute ride by fast train to the north of Nagoya, the largest city in Chubu region, it has also become a sprawling commuter town. Overseas, Tajimi is perhaps best known for its International Ceramics Festival, which is a triennial event that features a world-class ceramics competition funded by numerous local government organizations and ceramics associations.
The show that I went to see, though, was a local event that Tajimi hosts annually. When I got off the train at JR Tajimi station on a bright spring morning, there were people handing out detailed maps and information about the ceramics festival and local attractions. The atmosphere was festive with all sorts of events taking place. There were wheel-throwing pottery demonstrations, performances by local school orchestras, and plenty of entertainment for families with small children.
My main purpose for visiting Tajimi was to see the Tajimi Creator’s Market, a small arcade of stalls organized by graduates of two local pottery schools in Tajimi called Ishoken and Tajimi Technical High School. This market was started 5 years ago as a venue to connect fledging potters working in the Touno area with end users.
I arrived in the early morning hoping to beat the crowd in order to see the best selection of work on offer and to meet many of the talented young potters on display. There were around 50 potters showing their work in the Tajimi Creator’s Market, but even though I got there early, the arcade was already quickly filling up with people. According to one potter, the number of visitors that their event attracts has been growing every year. Nonetheless, I had a very rewarding time in finding an exciting young potter that we look forward to introducing on Studio Kotokoto in the near future.
After visiting the Creator’s Market, I made my way to Oribe Street, which is the main artery for the ceramics festival. The most significant difference between the Tajimi ceramics festival and the various craft fairs that I have visited elsewhere in Japan is that this festival hosts stalls operated by local stores selling Minoyaki at discounted prices. So if you know what you are looking for, this is a great opportunity to acquire beautiful Mino pottery at affordable prices.
On my way back to the train station, I came across a pottery stall run by several current students of Tajimi Technical High School who were helping to raise funds for their school. The pieces were so well made and beautiful that I picked up a piece of Oribe ware to take home.
As I continued my walk back to the station, I thought about how difficult it must be for the budding potters that I came across at the beginning of their careers to be able to make a living in our fast-paced world. But these young artists residing in and around Tajimi have an important advantage. The Tajimi show was put together by the local community –from the local government to schools and businesses- to promote and support the local craft industry. There are few other places that I know of that goes to such great lengths to aid its ceramic artists.
After 13 centuries, the old pottery town of Tajimi continues to be a nurturing and inspirational starting place for future aspiring potters.