Mention Mashiko Village, Tochigi Prefecture, and I think organic, handmade, homegrown, vegetarian, cozy, interesting, individual, artsy, friendly and above all, pottery. On regular days, a walk down the main drag in Mashiko offers views of old buildings restored, full of light and love and art, housing workshops, pottery, coffee shops, restaurants, and antique shops. Between buildings, catch glimpses of kilns and lush green landscaping. Festival or not, you must walk to appreciate Mashiko. Wear comfortable shoes!
Mashiko becomes yet a greater arts and curiosity emporium come festival time, with tent stalls burgeoning along the main street and filling a nearby park, selling all kinds of wares from pottery to sculpture, produce to handicrafts, and let’s not forget–festival foods such as takoyaki and okonomiyaki; BBQ smoke hangs over the main street like a bride’s veil.
Artisans not only from Mashiko, but neighboring areas and across Japan gather during the first week of May and the first week of November for this festival. The 2011 Great Tohoku quake caved in kilns and shattered wares, but didn’t stop this event or the wonderful spirit that sustains it.
I find happiness browsing leisurely amongst thousands of wares made by hand, mostly earthenware, and chatting to the artists. This festival is best attended with a keen friend, not a group (you’ll want to go where your eye takes you); leave young kids or a disinterested spouse elsewhere to amuse themselves.
Near the main road, find farmer’s produce such as bamboo shoots (spring), Japanese pears (fall) and strawberries. Then, pass the antique shops, full of beautifully arranged curiosities. Next, you come to some cafés and restaurants, food stalls, and the town center with a giant hideous ceramic raccoon dog (tanuki) towering over the town square. The Indigo dye house with its thatched roof marks the end of the main street.
The spring festival occurs during Golden Week, when daffodils and many other flowers are in bloom, but also when Japanese roads and trains fill with vacationers. Fall is not much different – the first week in November is prime time for city dwellers to go driving to enjoy the autumn colors - so take this into consideration when planning how to get there.
Utsunomiya Information Center at the Utsunomiya Station can provide walking directions to the bus stop for the Mashiko-bound bus (about 10 minutes walk from the Station’s West Exit) if you decide to take that route. No matter how you get there, you'll need to burn some calories to see it all.