In Mashiko Town, Tochigi Prefecture, you’ll find a quirky and cool neighborhood, with lots of charm and many hidden spots to explore. This walkable area has a great sense of community and offers cafes, pottery stores, shopping and restaurants all within easy strolling distance. Here’s our best of Mashiko Pottery Town.
Mashiko Pottery Town
Mashiko is often considered to be a pottery industry city, but it’s truly an artistic town thanks to its huge creative community and flourishing traditional kilns that line the main street packed with concept stores, cute cafes and vintage stores. To get a true taste of Mashiko, you’ll want to spend your day wandering the area by foot or by renting a bicycle so you can soak up the people and places.Mashiko is a geographically deal place for potteries with its nearby mountain clay and wood for firing. Mashiko manufacturers items from drain pipes to kitchenware and has been producing Mashiko-ware pottery since the 19th century. These days, many artists and creators are being attracted to the town. Combining traditional craftsmanship with the lively atmosphere of newcomers, has resulted in the creation of various types of studios in the area. The main street in the Jonaizaka area is where you will find most of the pottery stores, cute cafes and restaurants and where you can experience creating your own pottery.
Shoji Hamada Memorial Mashiko Sankokan Museum
Shoji Hamada played an important role in the mingei, folk-craft movement, which found beauty in functional objects. He set up a kiln along the slope of a hill in 1930 and other potters in Mashiko gradually learned his technique to produce ceramics for everyday use. Mashiko-ware later spread throughout Japan.Shoji Hamada collected folk arts from all over the world and the museum was opened as a reference place for craftsmen. You can see a complex of houses and workshops in traditional style surrounded by rich nature. This museum exhibits about 30 of Shoji Hamada’s works and showcases his private collection of Eastern and Western ceramics, furniture and paintings. Here you can truly get a sense of how beautiful and charming Mashiko pottery is.
Mashiko Pottery Fair
The Mashiko Pottery Fair happens every May and November. This Mashiko Pottery Fair is where you can pick up goods from tableware to sake flasks, chopstick stands, ceramic stools, plates, cups, vases and giant Japanese racoons. It’s a great place for a stroll with coffee too.
Satoyama woodland walk
Trails on the outskirts of Mashiko lead to the Satoyama woodland and an agricultural landscape. Once on the path, you are in the middle of rice paddies and strawberry fields.
When I walked along a small path to enjoy the Satoyama woodland landscape, I encountered a Kawajiri Potter with a small sign of “kiosk”. There are over 300 kilns in Mashiko, though some of them were destroyed by the March 11, 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Gas kilns are common these days, but Kawajiri Pottery rebuilt their noborigama climbing kiln from scratch after the earthquake. Its hand-built clay kiln can be fired at 1,300 degrees Celsius for 60 hours.In winter, we usually eat various kinds of mixed vegetables, seafoods and meats in a broth called “Nabe (pot)” and I wanted to buy an earthenware pot for “Nabe” made by hand from Mashiko. Kawajiri Pottery has different designs of earthenware pots which I love. I additionally ordered blue plates which the potter could create to be picked up next time. He also introduced several nice cafes near his site. Starnet – Starnet is the perfect place to grab an afternoon coffee. It’s a charming organic produce store that has a boutique, gallery, cafe and also makes quick and easy bites like healthy rice bowls. I enjoyed the view from the window and the bookshelf full of secondhand books selected by librarians which are available for reading.Natural Bakery Nichinichisha – Known for their bagels and delicious baked breads, Nichinichisha is a popular spot for something sweet or savoury. Cafe Fune – A homey space for casual lunch. There are a few locations throughout the town but regardless of which one you pick, the food on offer is delicious and extremely affordable. The garden was outstanding and my favorite part was flower arrangements by the owner and vases. They were selling “the family of fourteen” autographed book by Kazuo Iwaki who lived near Cafe Fune. I was convinced there were rich sources of imagination in Mashiko with green mountains, forests, rivers and an artist community. Toko Store – My favourite find was traditional and new styled potteries at the gorgeous store. Toko has a wide range of potteries from vases, tea cups and small chopstick stands to take home as mementos from your trip.
Tsukamoto, one of the largest kilns in Mashiko, started business at the end of the Edo period. Tsukamoto has produced earthenware pots for Oginoya in Gunma Prefecture which is renowned for producing Kamameshi pot cooking rice with vegetables and meats.Tsukamoto is part ceramics gallery and part affordable boutique offering a vast selection of pottery created by the Mashiko potters. Tsukamoto renovated an old house into Tsukamoto Art Museum exhibiting a history of Mashiko and Shiko Munakata works. You can also make your own pottery here.
Mashiko Museum of Ceramic Art
The site of Mashiko Museum of Ceramic Art has a variety of earthenware-related facilities, including; a museum focusing on Mashiko and Tochigi pottery, along with a former thatched home and kiln that once belonged to Shoji Hamada. It also shows how ceramic ware is created and you can follow the process from the excavation of the clay to the shaping of the pot.When I visited the museum, it was exhibiting mainly Mashiko and Kasama pottery table wares. I found a simple blue sugar pot with cherry blossom twig at the exhibition and was pleasantly surprised that I could buy those works on display. When I found the sugar pot at the museum store, I immediately decided to buy it.
Roadside Station Mashiko
Opening in 2016, it was built with local earth and wood and designed with wide windows for natural lighting. You can wander through local produce featuring a great selection of fresh vegetables. If you rent a bicycle from Mashiko Station, it takes a good one hour of cycling.
How to get there
Take the Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Utsunomiya Station and catch the Toya bus (#14) toward Mashiko Station. You can also take the Kanto Yakimono Liner bus heading to Mashiko from Akihabara Station. Advanced reservation is needed.
How long to stay
One day will not be enough to wander the streets of the pottery town, meandering in and out of alleyways and cafe hopping as the day passes you by. A one night stay would give you chances to visit some other nearby attractions. Keep in mind, Mashiko Pottery Fair season (May and November) and weekends are when many visitors make their way to find the best potter, so accommodation offerings are often booked out in advance. You might be tempted to combine Nikko and the hot spring towns of Nasu and Shiobara into your itinerary as they are also located in the north-western region of Tochigi Prefecture.