It's time for a mini Japanese lesson! The Japanese word for pottery is yakimono. But in the unique dialect of Okinawa, pottery is called Yachimun! Yachimun has an impressive history spanning 400 years, and in the pottery world it's right up there alongside famous Japanese ceramics like Mino-yaki and Akita-yaki! Before Okinawa became the Okinawa we know and love today, many of its islands were united under the rule of the Ryukyu Kingdom. In the time of the Ryukyu Kingdom, trade led to a boom in ceramics and porcelain, and locals learned the art of creating pottery. Yachimun pottery is now a popular Okinawan souvenir and much-loved craft. So please allow me to share the delights of Okinawa's Yachimun pottery!
Yachimun is a firm favourite of Okinawan people, who use Yachimun pottery for all kinds of household utensils, including tableware and cups for awamori (a traditional - and strong! - Okinawan liquor). When you pick up a piece of Yachimun, you'll notice its heaviness. Ceramic bowls tend to taper off toward the edges, but Yachimun bowls are generally thick-rimmed, and they're often rather plump. I love how they effortlessly combine cute and cool. The Yachimun pottery being made today can be roughly divided into the following two categories: Ara-yaki and Jo-yaki. Ara-yaki is fired without being glazed first, retaining the natural look of the clay. Jo-yaki, on the other hand, is glazed before being fired, and it's the most common kind of Yachimun pottery these days.
Once upon a time there were kilns all over the place in Okinawa, but in 1682 Okinawa's kilns were brought together to Naha's Tsuboya district. This lead to the creation of Tsuboya-yaki, which has played a vital role in the development of Yachimun pottery. By 1970, the smoke that is created during the firing of pottery had started causing problems with pollution, and so in Naha the use of wood-burning "Noborigama" climbing kilns was banned. The change to using gas-firing furnaces became inevitable, and many potters moved to Yomitan which underwent massive development as Yachimun no Sato, meaning "the home of Yachimun". And still today, tourists flock to Naha's popular sightseeing spot, Tsuboya Yachimun Street.
Tsuboya Yachimun Street. While this cobbled street is located in the downtown area of Naha, it's retained traditional scenery, like houses with red tiled roofs as well as uganju Okinawan shrines.
Alongside the Tsuboya Pottery Museum there's a paid car park, so even visitors who arrive by car can enjoy a relaxed walk along this fascinating street. On Tsuboya Yachimun Street there are so many things to see! There's Fenukama, the kiln that was built when Tsuboya-yaki first began and which has since been designated as a Prefectural Tangible Cultural Property. It's also home to Agarinukama, the Noborigama kiln specialised for Jo-yaki and designated as an Important Cultural Property. As well as these pottery gems, you can enjoy uganju shrines and shisa Okinawan lion statues with an incredible variety of expressions.
These days, in addition to shops dealing in pottery and traditional earthenware, more and more stores are emerging that produce fresh new Yachimun designs that are perfect for modern life. Even on Yachimun Street the number of these modern pottery shops is increasing. In particular I'd like to recommend Craft House Sprout. At Craft House Sprout you can see traditional Yachimun items created by veteran potters alongside unique new versions of traditional Yachimun designs by young potters. It's a real luxury to be able to enjoy pottery with completely different hues and textures all in one place.
Craft House Sprout
1-17-3 Tsuboya, Naha-shi, Okinawa
url ： http://chsprout.ti-da.net/
tel ： 098‐863‐6646
Opening times: 10:00 - 19:00
Closed: Open daily unless otherwise noted
Sightseeing can be pretty tiring, so when you need a break why not enjoy a relaxing drink of buku buku cha? Uchina Chaya Buku Buku is next to the Jo-yaki specialist store Arakaki Touen, and the building in which it's located used to be a radio station. It's said that in the past, buku buku cha (jasmine tea topped with toasty rice foam) was drunk at times of celebration, and at Uchina Chaya Buku Buku customers can savour a cup of unique Okinawan buku buku cha with its impressive mounds of bubbles while enjoying the wonderfully calm atmosphere. Have fun getting the foamy white bubbles on your nose as time lazily passes by. In order to maintain this peaceful atmosphere, customers with children under the age of 10 and visitors who only want to have a look inside aren't allowed in the teahouse.
Uchina Chaya Buku Buku
1-28-3 Tsuboya, Naha-shi, Okinawa
tel ： 098‐861-2952
Opening times: 10:00 - 18:00
Closed: Open daily unless otherwise noted
Once you've enjoyed a tour of all these amazing pottery locations, you might find yourself wanting to have a go at making some pottery yourself. At the ceramics classes organised by Tsuboya-yaki - Ikutouen participants can enjoy getting their hands on Okinawan clay and creating pottery of their own, including shisa, cups, plates and more. The daily classes include serious courses in which participants learn traditional Tsuboya-yaki techniques from kiln masters, and anyone who wants to learn the techniques is welcome to join in. The pottery items you produce during the lesson will be delivered to you about 1 month later. The anticipation of waiting for your creation to arrive is really fun too! You can reserve a place on a class up until the day before, but as classes do fill up it's best to book early to avoid disappointment.
Yachimun no Sato in the village of Yomitan is located about a 50 minute drive away from Naha, and it's home to a great number of pottery workshops. Visitors get the chance to see Noborigama kilns, which you won't see any more in Tsuboya, and the sight of pottery being fired amongst the flames rising from burning firewood is very impressive! The vision of Yachimun no Sato's 15 pottery workshops, stores, galleries, and cafés blending into the surrounding nature is strikingly mysterious. The merging of the power of nature and the power of man is beautiful to behold. You could walk around Yachimun no Sato in around 1 to 2 hours, but if you're determined to see everything there is to see then your visit will take quite a while longer, so make sure you're prepared! But it's a wonderful feeling when you find the perfect piece of pottery for you. If you're lucky you might even be able to take a look inside one of the kilns.
Lately Yachimun pottery is starting to attract a great deal of attention. Even if certain hues and shapes seem familiar, when you take a closer look you'll notice that the colour, shape, and even the texture of every single Yachimun piece is different to that of the next. Plus, the fact that each piece is completely handmade gives you a warm feeling inside, right? So why not make the most of your trip to Japan and enjoy a relaxing visit to Yachimun?