A Travellerspoint blog

October 2013

Shigaraki and Nagahama

Clay and glass

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Shigaraki, home of the ceramic Tanuki; as previously featured within these very pages.

I did indeed come here once before on my way to the nearby Ninja Mura, and I snapped lots of Tanuki pictures then. Of course, as you can see above, I couldn't resist snapping a few this time too. However, Tanuki hunting wasn't the point of our visit this time, and in may ways the Tanuki are merely a by-product of what Shigaraki is really famous for - ceramics and pottery.

That local tradition for making ceramics, or Shigaraki-ware, has a long history and covers a lot more than just racoon dogs. Today we came to try and hunt down some of the old earthen ovens where the more traditional ceramics were originally fired.

The best know of these original kilns is up on a hillside a bit away from the main road, and not so easy to find; as a couple of wrong turns we took will testify. It is a rather impressive structure though, built of stone, earth and clay, in a series of stepped chambers that climb up the slope of the hill.

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At the lowest point is the red brick hearth where the fire would have been lit, the heat being conveyed to each subsequent chamber via a series of small internal openings. That way each chamber, according to how near or far away it was from the fire, could be kept at a specific temperature. I assume this could be used to fire various specific types of ceramic or to make different glazes and effects possible. It could also simply be an early example of mass production in action. The kiln had obviously seen a lot of action as well, and over the years the internal walls themselves have become black and cracked with use.

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Although interesting, the kiln was pretty small and it didn't take us long to look around. So, after that, we headed off to the Shigaraki Ceramic park for a spot of lunch in the cafe there.

As you might expect the lunch bowls were made of a very pretty hand crafted ceramic.

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Unfortunately, the Ceramic Park itself was rather a disappointment. I think I was expecting a far larger collection of grand statues, or abstract pieces, to be on display. As it was, while there were a few nice bits and pieces, there was nothing really that impressive there. However, being increasingly aware that this could well be my last year in Shiga, I'm glad that we went and checked another place off the list of 'Things we should check out whilst still in Shiga'.

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In a similar vein, soon after, I decided that Haru should also go and see the Kurokabe Square area of Nagahama while we are still here. As Shigaraki is to ceramics, so Nagahama's Kurokabe Square is to glassware. There are many glass workshops and stores around the square selling a wide range of glassware. In many of the store sell the good of specific local craftsmen whose workshops are attatched to the shops. In some cases you can see right inot the workshops and see the craftsmen, blowing and shaping the hot glass.

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In translation Kurokabe square literally means Blackwall Square, and is named for the black-walled old bank building that stands at the heart of it. Nowadays, not surprisingly, this building (whilst retaining many of it's original fittings) now houses one of the biggest and best glass shops.

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The surrounding streets are also full of other well preserved period buildings, with many housing other craft and glass shop; several of which we to browsed around.

There are even a couple of places where you can try your hand at crafting glass for yourself, and we might well be going back to try that out some time as we didn't get a chance during this trip.

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Perhaps my favorite though was the gourd shop tucked away on the second floor of yet another glass shop. It just seemed so random, a whole store devoted to decorative gourds - almost as if long ago at the height of the glass boom someone had said, 'You know what, I think this glass thing is just a fad - gourds that's where the future lies, mark my words!'. The stock probably hasn't changed much since that fateful day.

Plus, the only thing that gourds brings to mind for me is one very funny scene in 'Life or Brian' - I was very tempted to ask the owner if they had any fake beards to sell, and then try to haggle a free gourd into the bargin.

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Posted by DKJM74 23:08 Comments (0)

Spring Scrapbook 2013 Part 2

Mother Lake and Grandfather Time

Spring is a time to rekindle love affairs that withered on the vine during cruel winter. Which is just a fancy way of saying that every year I fall in love with the place that I live in all over again during the spring.

After being holed up in the house for most of the cold months it is always a joy to rediscover what a wonderful scenery there is right on my doorstep, and Lake Biwa in spring is a beautiful sight.

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All of these lake view pictures were taken within 5 mins cycling range from my flat as well. I will miss this so much when I have to leave next year.

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Continuing the theme of trying to find new aspect to familiar places, which I started in the last entry, I also took a spring time trip down to the Lake Biwa Museum. I've visited this place many times with the Satoyama group, but there is actually a whole side to the site that I've never seen that isn't directly connected to the museum. For example there is a rather nice garden park there as well, which I visited with Andrew and Josh.

The outer garden has many of the Japanese staples, such as a ponds with red bridges and koi. It also has it's own wind turbine which is less typical.

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There is also a glass house which houses some very nice lily ponds.

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Best of all though was the small tank of axolotls (not a word I have to write often), because... well because axolotls (there used it again) are amazing creatures!

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After the park closed we decided to go hunting for a recreation park that Josh had seen on the internet that looked interesting. We found it eventually, but it wasn't so interesting, despite some rather impressive (and possibly dangerous) playground equipment that we were too old to use (and which Andrew and I most certainly didn't climb to the highest point of).

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Maybe the biggest surprise of this spring though was Haru offering to introduce me to her Grandfather, who I was quite sure had been dead for several years.... What made this all the more suspicious was that she suggested this when I said that I wanted to go to Osaka to seen an art exhibition about Japanese ghosts, spirits and monsters. Just exactly how was she planning on introducing me to him??

Well on the day, we went to the exhibition first (which was excellent, but photography was prohibited) in an area close to the heart of Osaka. Deep Osaka as it's known, away from some of the more tourist areas and full of Osaka residents. It is also home to many small resturants and the ageing Osaka tower.

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From there we walked to a nearby temple. Things began to make sense, she was just being hyper-bolic I thought, we're going to visit his grave.... I thought....

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In the end I was half right with both thoughs, we did stop at the temple to pay our respects to Haru's grandfather but in an odd way he had also been raised from the grave and I did 'meet' him personally as well. You see this temple has a rather unique project, with the permission of the living relatives, the bones of dead held there are ground into a powder which is then used as the base of a kind of plaster. In turn that plaster is used to create new devotive statues of Bhudda for relatives to pray for their ancestors at. So the statue in the on the far left of the row of three (see below), which you can see more clearly in the middle of the collage - well that kind of is my Grandfather-in-law.

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As far as my school is concearned Spring is also a time of tournaments, and many of the kids travel to play big matches with their various teams at other school. In fact there is one day when there are basically no kids in the school because they're all out playing matches, so I'm allowed to go and watch some of the local games as well.

Despite not being a sports fan in any way, shape or form I appreciate the chance to get out and cycle around a bit, so I decided to go and check out the baseball club who had a match just a train stop away.

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I watched for a while, and chatted to the team during a break in the game, but I was far more interested in the big hill behind the sports field. So as soon as I could went off to do a spot of hiking and exploration instead. What I found was a rather nice network of paths running up to the top of the hill, and a couple of nice observation platforms built to look out over the lake.

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In the Spring haze the sky and the lake kind of merged into one seamless blue, but it was still a heck of a view and a nice reminder too; just how wide open the horizon is, how much there is still left to see and do.

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Posted by DKJM74 23:20 Comments (0)

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