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Senior Tour Leader, Mark Fujishige leads groups all over Japan on the Japan Rail Pass. As an easy stop between Hiroshima and Kyoto, he thinks the town of Bizen, famous for ceramics, is well worth stopping at.
Most visitors to Japan will have stops in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima in their itinerary. Armed with a Japan Rail Pass though, much of the archipelago opens up, and Japan is truly, your pearl.
Odds are that you’ll use this magic, endlessly useful, ticket to travel to Hiroshima from Kyoto on the shinkansen (bullet train), and by doing so, whizz right through the town of Bizen.
Unless you have a keen interest in Japanese ceramics, chances are very good that you will not be familiar with the town of Bizen. The municipality’s biggest claim to fame is its place among the Six Ancient Kilns of Japan. With a history that stretches as far back as the 6th Century C.E. it’s certainly worthy of this designation. While the popularity of this type of pottery may have peaked a few centuries ago, it continues to be an important centre of ceramic production and innovation.
Where to start: Bizen Pottery Museum
Next to JR Imbe station is the Bizen Pottery Museum. Before visiting, I had a preconceived notion about Bizen ware. I will admit, however, that at this museum, they were nicely shattered.
The exhibition at the time was about the work of artists living and working in Bizen today, creating work that is contemporary, refreshing, and eye-opening. On the upper floors, there were exhibition rooms with the work of former Living National Treasures and other ceramists of note; a good place to start a visit to this historic little town.
Explore the town
Be sure to enjoy a stroll around town, and pick up an English language map from the tourist information centre at the station to orientate you on your adventure. As with many-a town that’s famous for traditional crafts, it can feel a bit… empty.
Don’t let this alarm you though, in my personal experience this is the norm. Many of these towns can feel eerie and lonesome during the week, but don’t be afraid to wander into galleries, whether they appear to be open or not. Each one will have work that’s unique, and besides, it’s a nice little town to walk around.
Even if shrines are not your “thing,” I would also encourage you to stop by the Amatsu shrine, as it’s decked out with so much Bizen-ware, even the most “templed and shrined out” visitor would find it a worthy addition.
South Large Kiln Ruins
Ruins! The site of the South Large Kiln Ruins is not only Nationally Designated Historic Site, but also an incredible sight to behold. Don’t be shy, but do be careful – you can walk around the site and view it from all angles.
The FAN Museum has been recently renovated, and is under new leadership. Located about a 15-minute taxi journey from Imbe station, it’s a bit of mission to get there, but well worth it in my opinion.
Visits are by reservation only, which might seem strange, but this system allows the museum to provide visitors with a personal and unique encounter with the artwork.
In the interest of time (haha!) I’ll try and choose the three best reasons to visit this museum:
1. You can drink matcha from a tea bowl that a Living National Treasure, Kei Fujiwara, created.
I’ve consumed my fair share of matcha (powdered green tea) from a tea bowl, but this was unparalleled. Getting to know an object that’s so often kept behind glass so intimately was a highlight.
2. You get a private tour of the museum.
Yes, it’s just you and your docent. You can linger, ask questions, laugh out loud, and converse: the galleries and the docent are all yours. There are staff who speak English, so don’t let a language barrier put you off.
3. Don’t worry, it’s not just brown pots.
While a significant portion of the gallery space is dedicated to the work of Kei Fujiwara and other Living National Treasures, there are plenty of surprises and other kinds of artwork in the other galleries. I encourage you to go with an open mind, and enjoy the surprises that present themselves.
So, is a visit to Bizen a good fit for you? If you have interest in the history, tradition, and future of Japanese ceramics, certainly. Get in touch with our team to plan it into your itinerary.