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Scene, Sunday, September 23, 2007

In Tokoname’s Pottery Village, the streets are paved with clay.

One of six traditional pottery centers of Japan, the city of Tokoname has been manufacturing ceramics for nearly 1,000 years.

Today, the legacy of this craft is reflected in village architecture. Pieces of pottery are everywhere. Walls along the streets are built from old pottery, clay pots, pipes and roof tiles. It supports building foundations and even takes the place of brick and cobblestones on some of the streets.

Overlooking Ise Bay, Tokoname — in the Aichi prefecture, south of Nagoya — is a must-visit destination for anyone wanting to learn more about Japanese pottery and do a lot of shopping at the same time.

Even though much of Tokoname’s modern-day ceramics industry is relegated to the manufacturing of industrial parts and technological components, visitors to Pottery Village can still see traditional- pottery workshops and kilns.

The last weekend in August, my wife and I visited Tokoname as part of a tour organized by the Yokota Air Base Arts and Crafts Center. The trip was timed to parallel the city’s annual pottery festival, where vendors from throughout the area try to sell their wares to the more than 300,000 visitors descend on the city.

Prices ranged from a few hundred yen to a few hundred thousand yen. Savvy shoppers can find beautiful handmade pottery, including teapots, plates, bowls and sculptures.

One of the traditional styles of pottery in Tokoname involves putting seaweed on a piece before it is fired in the kiln, creating a delicate, wispy pattern on the item’s surface.

While the festival itself is a fun experience with an amazing variety of items to see (including fireworks) and buy, to truly get a feel for the culture and history of ceramics in Tokoname, you must leave the confines of the festival and venture out onto the streets of Pottery Village.

The Pottery Path snakes its way through the village to all sorts of shops, studios, museums and craft centers, where you can shop in peace away from the hustle and bustle of the festival while learning more about the history of the pottery industry.

Highlights along the path include the Climbing Kiln — a massive structure built in 1887 — and the Takita Family Home, a reconstructed Japanese-style home from the Edo Period.

In many of the studios you may view artists working on pottery, and if you’re lucky, someone might even let you try to make a piece on the pottery wheel.

Even though we got twisted around on the path — turns out we had the wrong map — we still got to see most of the village in one day thanks to many of the local store owners who were willing to give us directions and updated maps.

Tokoname’s Pottery Village gives visitors a first-hand view into the culture and history of the Japanese pottery industry. It’s a little bit out of the way for most living in the Kanto Plain, but well worth the trip.

For more information about Tokoname, contact your base travel office or go online to www.city.tokoname.aichi.jp/fl_html/english/.

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