Super grateful for the invitation from Mr. Hiroshi Sako of Hiko Mizuno College in Tokyo, to spend a day in Tochigi with their amazing students and visiting professors in a unique summer craft workshop. More about their workshop in future blog.
I had the opportunity to follow 1 group of students to visit a farming town call Nakagawa in Nasu. Nearby Mashiko is probably the most well-known to Tokyoites as an active ceramics town. The Mashiko semi-annual ceramics fairs are packed with local and international visitors. About an hour up North, tucked in the infamous vacationer town of Nasu, is a forgotten pottery town producing Koisago-ware.
When mineral-rich soil was discovered over 200 years ago, Koisago thrived in producing ceramics tiles. Korean potters where brought in from Karatsu (Kyushu) area, kilns started producing utilitarian wares. It is not hard to see the style of Koisago resembling some of Karatsu ware.
The soil is rich in kaolin and quartz, so the area started producing both porcelain and earthenware. Currently, Koisago produces only earthenware. Until now, potters take pride in using only local and natural material for clay and glazes, processed in the most traditional method.
Koisago-ware signature glazes are 金結晶 "kinkessho" (a golden hue with visual crystalization) and 辰砂 "shinsha"(a warm, cinnabar coral hue). The works carries a rustic and warm feeling.
Fujita san toured us his kiln, and we saw extremely old machines still being used to process clay. Everything is thrown by hand. The climbing kiln collapsed from the East Japan earthquake few years back and with shortage of labor, it has never been able to rebuild. All the original bricks were collected and neatly stacked up, waiting for re-use. However there is concern about the foundation of the land is no longer stable enough to build another large scale climbing kiln. Currently there are only 5 kilns remaining in the area. Fujita see the success of nearby Mashiko, and is determined to continue the legacy of Koisago ware though the scale maybe small, and history may be overshadowed by famous philosophers and potters in Mashiko.
Nakagawa Koisago is not serviced by any train, the farming town will remain quaint and serene. In fact, the region has a lot to offer, including a museum designed by Kengo Kuma with an amazing collection of ukiyo-e woodblock prints, and a picture-book museum with a cattle-ranch inside, Nasu's vast beautiful landscape, and Bato onsen.
Nakagawa Koisago is a hidden gem, and I encourage curious travelers to branch out of Mashiko and Nikko for your next excursion North of Tokyo. Koisago still maintains Spring and Fall ceramics fairs every year.