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The City of Tokoname is located about 40 minutes by train south of Nagoya. It is located on the western side of the Chita peninsula, overlooking Ise Bay. Tokoname is a small city with a population of about 52,000, with most of the people in either manufacturing or the maritime industries. It is also the location for the new offshore Chubu International Airport, the international hub for this region. Tokoname manufactures machinery, textiles and brews Japanese sake. Mr Akio Morita (the former chairman of SONY Corporation) was the first born son of a family that have been brewing sake in Tokoname for more than 400 years, and it was initially intended that he would inherit the business. Sake’s loss was electronic’s gain, but fortunately Akio had a younger brother and the sake brewing continues.
However the largest industry in Tokoname by far is the famous ceramics, which even now still account for about 55%-56% of gross town product. Tokoname is one of the so-called Six Old Kilns of Japan – the other five are Seto, Echizen, Shigaraki, Tamba, and Bizen – which have been major centers of ceramics production since the Kamakura period.
Of the six old kiln towns, and the many other minor ceramic centers, Tokoname is perhaps the best in that it is the least touched, and most atmospheric ceramic town in Japan. With a history nearly 1,000 years old, it is still filled with old black wood buildings and narrow winding streets. There are walking tours mapped out for visitors and many old kilns and generations-old ceramic factories.
The high quality ceramics made in Tokoname are known throughout Japan and the world as Tokoname-ware. Even today, approximately half of the manufacturing output is ceramic based. Although a large amount of this is industrial ceramics (everything from pipes to hi-tech components), ceramic artworks and rustic pottery in Tokoname have a history which dates back about 900 years. Visitors to Tokoname can admire these beautiful works of art through ceramic galleries, museums, and other attractions located throughout the city, and can also experience making ceramics in several of the small studios.
Tokoname is most famous for it’s small, burnished red, side-handled teapots, but there are also quite a number of modern artists who have settled in this area. The local artists are friendly and curious to meet foreign potters.
The history of Tokoname-ware:
There have been kilns in use in Tokoname possibly since the later stages of the Heian period. Ancient kilns have been discovered all over Japan, from Hiroshima to as far north as Aomori Prefecture – but the number of kilns counted in Tokoname number over 3000, more than any other area of Japan.
They are believed to be the oldest kilns in the history of Japanese ceramics, and although there were several other areas in Japan which specialized in ceramics at the time, none of them could compare to Tokoname’s number of kilns and quality products.
Tokoname products could be transported all over Japan thanks to Tokoname port. Tokoname-ware was initially pottery used mainly for religious purposes, such as vases for storing Buddhist sutra scrolls. During the late Heian period (late 12th century), cremation began to become popular, and as a result Tokoname funural urns came into production. At first, they were very large, but as the years of the Kamakura period (1185-1333) passed, the urns began to be made smaller and smaller in size. However, the quantity of urns greatly increased; this was mainly due to the rising popularity of cremation. In the 14th and 15th century, the production of religious items slowly decreased as the demand for items used in everyday household life increased. As a result, Tokoname-ware began to be sold for profit.
One of Tokoname’s most famous items, the red clay teapot, was created in the 19th century for the first time. This pot is now being mass-produced, along with many other items made to meet the needs of modern lifestyles, such as tableware, tea cups, pipes, flower pots, and what are considered by many to be the best bonsai pots in the world.
Where to see Tokoname-ware:
There are a few different places in town to see examples of this famous pottery:
This hall displays and sells some Tokoname-ware, as well as provides an introduction to the ceramics of Tokoname. This is also the starting point for the pottery paths. There are volunteer guides available to show visitors around the pottery paths, but a reservation is required.
The pottery path:
The pottery path runs through the center of an area of Tokoname which was very prosperous during the early and mid 1900s. Starting from Ceramic Hall, there are two paths which can be followed: Path 1 (1.5 km, approx. 60 min), and Path 2 (4 km, approx. 2.5 hours). Whichever path you take, sites which reflect the history of Tokoname such as kiln sites, brick chimney, and maze-like winding roads can be seen and experienced.
City Folk Museu:
This building houses exhibitions of Tokoname’s products fabricated after the 19th century, as well as some items from the ancient kiln sites, such as bottles and jars. Altogether there are more than 3000 items on display. If you take Path 2 on the pottery path, you will visit this building along the way. Otherwise, it’s a little bit far from the train station and other attractions.
Ceramic Art Institute:
Located next to the City Folk Museum, the Ceramic Art Institute displays Tokoname-ware from the 17th to 19th centuries. The production of ceramics is also explained in detail here. People also come here to study ceramics in order to become potters, so visitors to the building can purchase the students’ work as well as decorate some ceramic pieces themselves.
For those people interested in acquiring some Tokoname-ware rather than touring the historical sites, Ceramall is the place to visit. Ceramic pieces can be purchased at low/wholesale prices, and this 500,000-square meter shopping center also has restaurants and a playing ground. However, it’s location is a bit far from the other tourist spots, and not very close to a train station. It is located north of the main town area, and about 2 kilometres east of Kabaike station.
Noborigama-Square Exhibition space & studio:
At this exhibition, visitors can actually try their own skill at making pots, with the help of local potters. This building also exhibits a square down-draught kiln.
Tokoname invites people from all over the world who are interested in ceramics to come and study the tecniques and history of Tokoname in an annual workshop called IWCAT, ‘International Workshop of Ceramic Art in Tokoname’. Students coming to Tokoname for this course stay with local residents for one month during the summer, while attending this workshop. A big success since the first workshop in 1985, IWCAT is held annually and has an average attendance of between fifteen to twenty students, who come from about ten different countries. The workshop is run by local volunteers.
Other things to see in Tokoname:
There are other things to see and do in Tokoname, besides visiting the tourist attractions related to the thriving pottery industry:
Tokoname holds festivals at various times of the year, the biggest ones being the spring and summer festivals. The spring festival, held in April, features a parade of thirteen large floats and performances by clockwork puppets and dolls. These completely mechanical dolls, called kamakuri ningyo, have appeared in festivals since the Edo period, and continue to amaze those who see their performances with their intricate and complex movements. The summer festival is held in Tokoname for 2 days in August, and features a ceramics sale and art contest, as well as a fireworks display. It is said that more that 300,000 people visit this festival annually.
There are many things to do on the shores of Ise Bay, including traditional seaside activities such as sunbathing, shell-gathering, yachting, fishing, wind-surfing, and so forth. One of Tokoname’s more popular attractions, held 180 days of the year, is motor-boat racing. There is a racing pool located next to City Hall, and the locals enjoy gathering here to gamble on the boats.
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