I got another chance to go to Sasayama recently, this time to check out the Historic Street Art Festival in Tamba Sasayama (http://sasayama-art.com/). The festival features displays by local artists in a part of town that features many well-preserved traditional buildings. The art was sometimes on the more eccentric side, but some pieces hinted toward local ceramic traditions. My favorite art piece by far was a giant yellow umbrella that had many holes in its canopy, letting sunlight stream through in an eye-catching pattern –maybe not great for a rainy day, but nonetheless likeable and kitschy somehow.
Sasayama (part of the Tamba region of Hyogo Prefecture) is home to one of the oldest forms of ceramics in Japan, called Tambayaki. Sasayama has many natural tambayaki workshops with kilns, one of which I visited called Gahougama (General English Website: http://www.tanbayaki.com/english/english.html). The local tambayaki master is in charge of a nearby mountain, sharing it with other artisans, and gathering his own clay there. From there, he forms his tambayaki ceramics with nearly 30 years of experience. I was stunned by the deftness and speed with which he could shape and create a teapot. After molding the clay, he uses an entirely natural kiln that lacks even a thermostat. Instead, he apparently gauges the kiln’s internal temperature by checking the color of inserted ceramic products.
Finished tambayaki products are known for their conservative, natural color, as well as their creation through natural techniques. Personally, realizing the process behind the ceramics completely changed my view of them. Usually bored by the sight of ceramic art, I gained a newfound appreciation, both seeing how it’s made and trying my hand at making some myself. Tambayaki ranges from cheap to insanely expensive, but before looking at finished products or art displays, I recommend going to a workshop and checking out a kiln first.
Finally, for those who want a true countryside experience, try staying in one of the nicely remodeled traditional homes in Maruyama Village (http://maruyama-v.jp/). In order to support the rural community in the face of depopulation, local townspeople and others banded together to set up and run a cluster of small inns –former residences of people who moved or passed away. The homes are expensive to stay in (starting at 23,000 yen a night), but they offer a richly furnished interior and many chances to experience local village life. The lodging staff proactively work with customers to arrange local tours, lessons, and more. Maruyama Village itself is a beautiful, idyllic place that’s about 20 minutes away by taxi from JR Sasayamaguchi Station.