Mashiko On a BudgetMashiko is a town in Japan famous for its pottery, called "Mashiko yaki." Large noborigama kilns were first brought to the area in 1853 by immigrant potters from a neighboring community in the Ibaraki prefecture. It is also home to the site of Saimyoji temple, one of the oldest temples in Tochigi prefecture, as well as the shrine of the Utsunomiya han.
SightsMashiko is known in Japan and around the world as a center for pottery production. Since the trade began in this town, the number of resident potters has continued to grow. Most visitors come to learn more about its history and shop around for their own pottery to take home.
Mashiko Sankohan is a museum located near the Sankokan-mae bus stop. Once the home and workshop of Shoji Hamada, a famous Japanese potter of the 20th century, the place now displays about 30 of his works and his private collection. Near the thatched roof home is also a hug climbing kiln worth a look.
Togei Messe Mashiko is another museum for the ceramic arts that displays much of Hamada's work plus other potters from around Japan. Then there is Zen no Roka, an indoor and outdoor museum of statues and art, displaying works by a Hungarian sculptor named Nandor Wagner who lived in Mashiko for 30 years.
NeighborhoodsMashiko is a small town with an economy highly dependent on the tourism spurred from its ceramic crafts industry. The streets are lined with many different pottery workshops, kilns, retail shops, and a good selection of restaurants. Mashiko is also largely a commuter town with residents living locally, but commuting for work to the neighboring Mooka and Utsunomiya. It is very rural, located about 3 hours by train from Tokyo, and is home to about 380 kilns and 50 ceramic shops. There are even places where visitors can try their hand at making their own pottery. If you are visiting Mashiko, you are there to see the pottery and will leave with a greater understanding of its importance in Japanese culture and history.
ActivitiesThe most popular time during which to visit Mashiko is during the Pottery Markets which occur twice-yearly, one week long each. One is held in April-May, the other in November. During the market week, many workshops set up stalls throughout the town, and all stores hold sales for specially discounted works. These markets are a great chance to pick up some stunning pottery and other crafts including woodwork, leatherwork, glass, jewelry, and textiles. There are also several festivals, or matsuri, held throughout the yearone of the largest and most popular occurring in late July.
Shopping for pottery is one of the major draws to Mashiko. If you are looking for a large selection at bargain prices, Mashikoyaki Kyohan Center is a cooperative sales center that sells works by most kilns in town at reasonable prices. If you are looking for something a little more personal, however, Harvey Young Pottery is a small handmade pottery workshop operated since 1984 by an American who first came to Mashiko in 1969 to study pottery making. Selections include things like tableware, kitchenware, flower vases, and visitations need to be scheduled by appointment.
If you want to get your own hands dirty at the wheel, the Messe Mashiko museum mentioned earlier has a pottery studio on-site where you can try your hand at sculpting and painting pottery yourself.
Food and DiningMashiko's dining scene only began to grow in the recent past. Today many options can be found in town with an assortment of local, organic, and vegetarian restaurants. Popular local eats include things like ramen and gyoza (a type of dumpling), which can be found at a place called PePe. Restaurant Kotori is known for its tonkatsu which consists of a breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet, while handmade soba is popular at Azuman. Katsukare, a curry dish served just about everywhere in Japan, is another option if you are looking to indulge in local cuisine. As far as dessert goes, "Mashiko no Sato" is a traditional cake made in Mashiko cityalso a very popular souvenir that tastes like sweet potato.
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By train, the fastest route is to take the JR Utsunomiya Line from Ueno to Oyama, which takes 42 min by Shinkansen or 82 min by normal train. Change here for the Mito line to Shimodate (about 21 min), then change again to the private Moka Railway line to Mashiko. You can also take the JR Joban line from Ueno to Toride, then change to the private Kantetsu-Joso line to Shimodate.
For a train/bus route, you might also take the train to Utsunomiya and continue from there by Toya bus directly to Mashiko. The bus stops are in front of the main entrance to the train station, and Mashiko is bus station 14, with buses leaving hourly.
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