Author: Ai Kanazawa

Visiting the Old Pottery Town of Bizen and Kurashiki Craft Show in Okayama

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.

Bizen vases filled with water to test for leakage
Ichiyo Gama Bizen

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.)

Woodstack for firing the noborigama
Bizen greenware
Noborigama at Kimura Ichiyo gama
Matcha tea served in a Bizen tea bowl

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.

Kurashiki Bikan Chiku and canal by night
Kurashiki Bikan chiku and canal by day

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!

Japan Folk Toy Museum
Kurashiki, Okayama


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.

Back alley
Kurashiki, Okayama
A sake shop
Honmachi Kurashiki, Okayama

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!

Our Itinerary

  • 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
A Potter’s stall at the Field of Craft Kurashiki

The Inseparability of Food and Craft: Hand-Woven Bamboo Tray by Takami Yasuhiro & Shrimp and Avocado Canapé

Do you think food only looks good and tasty in plain-colored, uniformly mass-manufactured vessels? At Studio KotoKoto, we believe that appreciating and enjoying the vessels that contain the food should also be an important and fun part of the dining experience. We want people to ask not only what is on the plate but also who made the plate.

In this food blog, we want to inspire the notion that food and craft are inseparable by offering ideas and thoughts about this relationship. To do this, we will feature a handmade piece by an artist and suggest a dish to go with it.

Today we are using a double-layered mesh (ajiro) woven bamboo tray by Takami Yasuhiro of Chikuseikan*.

Double-Layered Mesh Ajiro Hand-Woven Bamboo Tray by Takami Yasuhiro
14″W × 2.5″H

The refreshing summer look of this vessel is perfectly suited for plating delicious, bright appetizers, and so we decided to serve shrimp and avocado canapés. A simple chip and dip recipe with a fine dining twist by Ai makes them really attractive!

Shrimp and Avocado Canapé           Makes about 16 canapés

Shrimp and Avocado Canapé on Takami Yasuhiro’s Bamboo Tray


  • Round Corn Chips                             16


  • Avocado                                              2 each
  • Lime Juice                                          1 tbsp
  • Garlic, chopped fine                          2 cloves
  • Cilantro, chopped fine                      1 tbsp
  • Salt and Pepper                                 TT
  1. Put the avocado in the blender and add lime juice.
  2. Take the avocado paste out of the blender and mix in garlic and cilantro. Salt and pepper to taste.


  • Small-Medium sized Shrimp           16
  • Red Onion, brunoise (see photo)   2 tbsp
  • Lime Juice                                          1 tsp
  • Cilantro, chopped fine                      1 tsp
  • Cilantro leaves                                   16 each
  • Olive Oil                                              TT
  • Salt and Pepper                                  TT
Red Onion Brunoise
    1. Boil shrimp and put in ice water to cool. Pat them dry. Add lime juice, cilantro and coat with olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste.
    2. Brunoise red onion. This will be the “wow” factor of this dish to show your knife skills so spend time to make them nice! Coat this with a little olive oil also.

Now all the parts are ready to build the canapé.

  1. Pipe out the spread onto corn chips.
  2. Scoop some brunoise red onion on top.
  3. Position the shrimp on top of the spread.
  4. Garnish with a leaf of cilantro.


Visit to Saratetsu Dye Studio, Part 2 – The Technique for Printing on Both Sides of Japanese Linen (Hint: It’s Very Difficult)

Hagiwara Ichizo of Saratetsu, the last yuzen dye studio of wrapping cloth (or furoshiki) in Tokyo, is an expert at dyeing a variety of natural fabrics, so Studio Kotokoto asked him to print a pattern from their collection of old paper stencils onto Japanese linen.

Hagiwara Ichizo

We chose Japanese linen because it becomes more beautiful with time and use. Moreover, this fabric has deep roots in Japanese history. It was among the most popular fabrics used in the country until a century ago but was pushed aside by cheaper imports. It has been making a slow comeback in the past few years.

However, linen is also notorious for its resistance to dye transfer, and today’s dyed linens are mostly piece or yarn dyed. Despite these production challenges, Hagiwara-san not only took on the task but said that he could also dye a different color on the back. This is a truly amazing feat and he is probably the only dyer in Japan or elsewhere who can make this happen!

The factors that control colors are the mixing of dyes and the duration of steaming to fix the dye. Hagiwara-san tests each color and combination and carefully records the results in a logbook.

Color Logbook
Red Yuzen Dye

After the dye is applied, the fabric is steamed to bring out and fix the color. Hagiwara-san gave a demonstration to show how the duration of steaming can change the hues of the same color.

Identical Dye on Silk Steamed for 4, 1, and 0 Minutes
Fabric Steaming Box
Steaming Box in Action

When a fabric is dyed on both sides, the color on one side adds to the hue on the other. So Hagiwara-san and his colleagues undertake constant experimentation and testing to achieve the intended effects.

Front and Back Color Combination Experiment

Controlling the dye and preventing seepage into the back is a special skill that has taken several generations for Saratetsu to perfect.

Crab Patterned, Double Sided Cotton Facecloth (Tenugui) by Saratetsu
©All Rights Reserved

In the next blog post we will share some of Saratetsu’s collection of old paper stencil patterns and decide which of these styles to apply to our linen.

<-Read the previous post about Saratetsu

Read the next post about Saratetsu ->

KotoKoto Visits a Dye Studio Engaged in the Disappearing Art of Yuzen Hand-Dyeing

Hand-dyed wrapping cloth by Saratetsu in our shop ->

Take a look at this silk fabric that has been dyed into deeply contrasting colors on its two opposing sides.

Silk wrapping cloth by Saratetsu Tokyo.
Silk wrapping cloth by Saratetsu Tokyo.

This is the work of Saratetsu, the last remaining hand-dyer of wrapping cloth (or furoshiki) in the central 23 wards of Tokyo. Owned and operated by Hagiwara Ichizo, Saratetsu has been dyeing yuzen-style for three generations since 1910. Ai was given a tour of their studio in early May.

Yuzen is a method of dyeing fabric by using sticky rice husk resist. Hagiwara-san says that by only using this traditional dye resist is it possible for a thin fabric such as silk to be dyed into a different color on each side. While many dyers in Japan have switched to machines and other more economical methods, Saratetsu has continued to carry on the yuzen tradition by dyeing everything by hand.

Yuzen dyeing is extremely labor intensive, involving detailed accuracy and care at each step of the process.

In the following photographs, yuzen-dyer Harima Jun of Saratetsu demonstrated the dyeing process for KotoKoto:

Preparing the wooden dye board by misting it with water to activate the rice resist
Placing the fabric on the board
Placing the paper stencil with pins


Applying dye resist onto the fabric






carefully removing the stencil
Sliding the stencil to continue the pattern.
Then going back and repeating this process many, many times!

Saratetsu specializes in free hand and stencil yuzen-dyeing, and their attic is full of hand carved paper stencils that were previously used. The patterns of old stencils are beautiful and continue to appeal to our modern eyes. KotoKoto is discussiing with Saratetsu to revive one of these old paper stencils onto fine linen.

Can we do it?

Read the next blog post about Saratetsu ->