Sunday, December 19, 2010

Yomitan Yachimun: Okinawa's Pottery Village

Naha’s Tsuboya District had been the hub of Okinawan pottery since the late seventeenth century. The District really got going when it’s been said that several pottery districts merged into the single district by a royal decree of the Ryukyu King and It remained the epicenter of the art till well after the war.

As Okinawa bounced back from the ravages of war and Naha morphed into a modern metropolitan city, the Tsuboya district was forced to change. The older wood fired “hill climbing” Kilns used in making the pottery were deemed an annoyance to local residents which sent some artisans looking elsewhere to ply their trade.
Hill Climbing Kiln at Yomitan Pottery Village

Still, many of the big named artisans kept retail shops within the old Tsuboya district and some artisans who remained switched to electric and gas fired kilns that don’t pollute the air with smoke, mass production of the art moved to Yomitan Village with Okinawan legend Kinjo Jiro, designated a “National Living Treasure” by the Japanese government leading the way.
Examples of Arayachi style pottery

There are essentially two forms of tsuboya-yaki that Okinawa is famous for. Arayachi tsuboya-yaki is an unglazed pottery, often coated with a mud or manganese glaze. Pottery of this type is formed into large pieces that become storage vessels for large “bulk” quantity items such as awamori, water or bean paste.
Examples of Joyachi Pottery

Joyachi is a colorful glazed tsuboya-yaki made into smaller items for everyday use such as vases, teapots, pots, bowls, plates and even awamori traveling flasks. They are highly prized for their beauty and make great gifts.
A potential customer browses the goods at the Yomitan Pottery Festival, Dec 18, 2010

Many folks will head down to Naha’s Tsuboya Dori “Pottery Street” to browse the shops but to see the master’s in action, as well as shop, you’ll have to head for Yomitan village.

To see Tsuboya Dori in Naha, enter the covered Heiwa Dori “Peace Street” market. You’ll find it on Kokusai “International” Street, immediately across from the Mistukoshi Department Store. Follow that back till you reach a fork in the road, veer to the left and look straight ahead. Tsuboya dori begins where the covered market street ends.
Workplace benefits - all the comforts of home, almost:
Inside this potter's workshop in Yomitan, as well as most others, you'll find hard packed dirt floors, a kitchenette with refrigerator and stove (just off camera) as well as this break area complete with a Hibachi to sit around and sip tea at while on your break.

To see the pottery village in Yomitan, drive north along Okinawa’s Highway 58. Once you’re in Yomitan village, look for highway 12 and turn left. About a kilometer ahead, you’ll see a sign. Turn right and go up the hill through a residential neighborhood and follow the signs till you get there. There are several parking areas as well as restaurants. There’s even a small glass factory where you can see the artisans of this craft ply their trade.

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