To most Japanese people, Tobe calls to mind Tobe-yaki, a type of ceramic known throughout Japan. People tend to imagine it as a picturesque, arty sort of town, visibly full of potter’s ateliers, known as kama meaning ‘kiln’. Actually, your first impression may be of a nondescript place, a suburb of Matsuyama strung out along an uninteresting stretch of road. Nevertheless, when you get into the side streets, there are plenty of things to see and do in Tobe, making it well worth a visit, especially if you like looking at beautiful ceramics or you’re in need of some plates.
The Tobe road runs southwards from Matsuyama across a river and through some low hills. You’ll soon see huge signs pointing to Tougeikan, or the Ceramics Center. This is an unashamed tourist trap, but they have some very nice things to see and do here. It’s one of several places in Tobe where you can see the massed works of the various ateliers, arranged by kama with a photo of the potter. Tobe-yaki tends to be white with navy blue decoration, although there are many variants within this type, as well as many exceptions. The potters of Tobe also make beautiful elliptical vases with a very fine turquoise glaze and the slightest hint of decorative relief work. Much of the work is of a highly practical nature – you can purchase very serviceable tableware for everyday use, and several friends who have built houses in Ehime visited Tobe to purchase the artisanal ceramic lampshades and washbasins sold there. Installed in their homes, they add a touch of local elegance.
Visitors to Tobe can spend a pleasant hour or two at one of several centers by paying a small fee to purchase a pre-made plate or cup and finishing them in the Tobe-yaki style. I watched people of all ages intently drawing flowers, insects, or abstract patterns of their own devising on their otherwise plain crockery. These would-be artists then choose a glaze and submit their work for firing. After a month or so, the finished pieces are returned through the mail.
Tobe has a fine museum of ceramics, the Tobe Pottery Traditional Industry Hall, where you can view historical pieces and also buy modern articles on the second floor. You can also rent bicycles here for 300 yen a day, which is a convenient way to see the area. The Tobe Autumn Festival is a good time to visit, when the area around the Industry Hall is packed with pavilions selling pottery and other local products. Among these products is sake – Tobe has a number of breweries producing some very agreeable marques.There is also a festival in spring, held on the third Saturday and Sunday of April in Yutori Park.
Name in Japanese
砥部 — Tobe