Coming soon!: Bizen Pottery Festival in Okayama
Visit Japan's oldest pottery kilns and score some deals while you're here
Many fans and afficionados of Japanese culture enjoy the traditional arts, pottery being one of them. Many people are aware of beautiful Kyo-yaki from Kyoto or Kutani-yaki from Ishigawa Prefecture, but did you know that Okayama Prefecture boasts THE oldest pottery kiln in Japan?
Bizen-yaki began in the Heian period (794 to 1185 A.D.) and is one of only six remaining medieval pottery kilns in the country. The people of Okayama are proud of this heritage; you can find Bizen pottery galleries and shops in nearly every main tourist area in the prefecture.
To the untrained eye, Bizen pottery looks like plain brown earthware. The clay is high in iron content and other materials that are unreceptive to glazing; hence, Bizen pottery is always unglazed. However, using a variety of techniques such as wrapping sections of the pottery in straw or sprinkling ash over the piece as well as considering placement in the kiln when the pottery is fired, a wide variety of decorative effects can result.
The town in which Bizen-yaki is made hosts a huge pottery festival annually, always on the third Saturday and Sunday of October. This year's festival will be held on October 19th and 20th (2014), and I urge anyone with a passion for pottery or who is just looking for a fun way to spend the weekend to stop by.
At the festival, several hundred vendors open their shops and kilns; although normally Bizen pottery prices can be quite expensive, the prices are discounted during the festival days and most vendors will negotiate on prices. One can also buy "Fuku-bukuro" or surprise bags of pottery. In addition to finding some great deals on pottery, visitors can also take part in a tea ceremony (utilizing Bizen tea cups, of course), visit the historic Shizutani School whose roof is made from Bizen tiles, visit the Kei Fujiwara Museum of Art (Mr. Fujiwara was a National Living Treasure), visit the Bizen Pottery Art Museum just next to Inbe Station, and try your hand at making Bizen pottery on a wheel.
The festival is held in the town of Inbe, which is easily accessible on the Ako line from JR Okayama Station or JR Himeji Station. The entire festival area is easily covered on foot and is a great way to spend an autumn day.