Last Tuesday we had a public holiday, something that one of my charges so inventively described in Engrish as “bunka no day”. Gotta hand it to that 5 year old, did the best he could, which is a lot better than most adults could manage in this country. But, I’m not here to rant about English (or lack thereof) in Japan, because that’s something as obvious as the sun rising every day.
So, instead, let’s talk about this mysterious “bunka no day”, which translated to proper English is simply “culture day.” For most people here it was just another day off work. When asked about the significance of “culture” in the name, my Japanese coworkers simply shrugged and said, “shopping?”
But I wanted real culture, and by god (or a higher power of your choice), I was gonna get it.
You see, the great thing about Japan is that there is always a local festival going on somewhere, pretty much every weekend of the year. And non-weekend public holidays are no different.
The festival we went to on Tuesday also happened to be very conveniently located in the nearby town of Mashiko. I’ve written about Mashiko before. And I’ve been to Mashiko before. But never during its semi-annual pottery shindig.
Now, I’m not a fan of pottery, ceramics, whatnot. I’m perfectly happy with cheap and tacky dishes from a 100 yen shop. So it amazes me to no end that people are actually willing to pay thousands of yen (hundreds of dollars) for stuff that looks absolutely unremarkable and very frequently – downright ugly and crude. Of course, there are exceptions, but during my visit to Mashiko they were hard to find.
Out of the hundreds of pottery stalls that were lining the streets and parks and every other available surface, I can honestly say I liked only three. One artsy-shmansy Clive Barkerish inspired (or so it looked to me) work by Hinotama. And two very functional selections by Euan Craig, a professional Aussie potter who’s settled in Mashiko (ridiculously expensive) and Genevieve Navarre, a French woman who’s been living in Japan for over 20 years (just expensive). And isn’t it odd that the two functional ones I liked just happen to be made by foreigners? Hmmm… Interesting…
Hinotama, on the other hand, is totally from another planet, if not from another universe.
But he was selling. The stuff wasn't cheap at all, but boy, was it selling...
This is his take on maneki neko, I guess.
But that’s Mashiko for you. The local potters there only really have two chances a year to sell their works to the public, and hence the prices reflect that fact. And because pottery snobs (like my mother in law, for example) actually buy the stuff (about 20 dollars for a set of chopstick resters, anyone?), then I guess everybody is happy.
Now, for the practical bits:
There are two Pottery Festivals in Mashiko, one in May and one in November (normally around November 3rd). Mashiko Tourist Association will always know the exact dates, alas, as most things in Japan, their website is in Japanese only. I guess even with all the foreign potters living in their town, they haven’t figured that foreigners may want to visit the place as well. No wonder that ceramics and pottery themed tours from the US don’t include Mashiko in their itineraries.
Getting to Mashiko is more or less easy. It’s one of the stops on the Moka railway. And if you want, you can even travel there in style – the original choochoo steam engine does stop there en route from Shimodate to
Motegi. I wrote about it here.
And now, if you excuse me, I have a gyoza festival to attend. Now, that’s what I call culture!