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Tour de Nippon

Shigaraki, Koka

Beyond tradition to create the new standard

Located in the southern part of Shiga Prefecture, Shigaraki is surrounded by hills on all sides, but has long been an important transportation hub connecting the Kinki and Tokai regions. The combination of the high quality clay and the proximity to Kyoto and Nara (where the tea ceremony culture flourished) led to its development as a production center for Shigaraki ware. Shigaraki ware has a rich variety of forms and expressions, ranging from vessels, flowerpots, chairs, tiles, and even raccoon dog figurines. In such a place of craftsmanship, there are people who go beyond the potter’s wheel to reconstruct tradition and nature. We are off on a journey to meet people full of such creative spirit.


Like a landscape painting, it represents an extension of nature.

During this trip, I heard the phrase “the way of life in this land defines you and your creations” several times. I didn’t enquire as to the specific elements of their lifestyle they were alluding to, but one thing that springs to mind is the ubiquitous nature. No famous mountains or rivers, just living in the heart of nature.

Sachie Noda’s flower shop, Hananoen, is nestled among the fields and mountains. 2 years have passed since uprooting here. The garden, which used to be asphalt, now resembles a natural box garden combining horticultural flowers and trees with wild weeds. Originally a painter, Noda-san began painting familiar landscapes at some point or another. This desire is also reflected in the plant formations she creates in addition to being a florist.

“Everything is an extension of nature, so I don’t create a “form”. Rather, I grasp the landscape with my bare hands, and while checking the contours, place them within the frame of the space,” explains Noda. When I heard this and touched her work, I felt a sense of connection with the landscape deep in my memory. “I also try not to be too pointy or sentimental,” she continues, with a knowing smile: “After all, I want to be an everyday florist for the locals.”

“Hananoen,” like a landscape painting that expresses nature in its entirety.
Noda-san’s creations are made by collecting plant fluff.

World-renowned architect I.M. Pei also sublimated the nature of the site directly into his design. The MIHO MUSEUM, located on a vast site in the hills of Shigaraki, was designed to resonate with the mountains. The astonishing feature of the museum is that 80% of the building is underground, with a tunnel inspired by the Chinese book “The Chronicle of the Peach Blossom Garden” leading up to the museum building. The tunnel that appears to lead into this otherworldly realm changes its appearance with the seasons and is one of the distinctive landscapes of this area.

Bewildering architecture of the “MIHO MUSEUM”

Living with what the land provides

Gallery Cafe TORASARU is loved for its wide selection of cheesecakes served in tasteful Shigaraki-ware and other refined tableware. “We are somewhat obsessed with the harmony of the space, the vessels, the finer details, and the overall look of the restaurant,” explains proprietor Ryu Soejima. The Asamiya green tea rare cheesecake I ordered was a light greenish-yellow color and stood out well against the black-and-white serving dishes.

“Asamiya Matcha Rare” at Torasaru, where you can feel the local love.

Asamiya tea is a famous Shigaraki tea that was once offered to the emperor. We paid a visit to Mr. Takatomo Katagi of Katagi Kokaen, which grows Asamiya tea without pesticides. Although we hear a lot about pesticide-free tea nowadays, the previous generation took up the challenge when the concept was not widespread at all. Although there were negative opinions at the time, people now apparently flock from all over Japan to learn how to make pesticide-free tea. “Weeds and tea plants are part of nature” he explains as he prepares Asamiya tea that is as clear as light, and has a rounded flavor.

Katagi-san inspects tea leaves in a verdant field.

Meanwhile, at “Donabe Gohan & CAFE Mutsumian,” visitors can experience cooking rice in earthenware pots, standard fare for locals. Surrounded by Shigaraki-ware earthenware pots, we eagerly waited for 20 minutes. When the lid was lifted, the fluffy, aromatic rice was met with jubilation. We learn that in the near future, the store will be moved to the owner’s parents’ house, which used to be an earthenware pot production kiln. It is exciting to hear that they are preparing to offer an earthenware pot experience at the production site.

Freshly cooked rice in an earthenware pot at Mutsumian

If you want to stay and experience the lifestyle of artisans, visit “Ogama,” operated by the 400-year-old Meizangama Kiln. In addition to the café, gallery shop and pottery classrooms, they also opened a cottage guesthouse last autumn. Shigaraki ware adorns the kitchen, living room, even the bathroom. The view of the climbing kilns and chimneys from the second floor window desk is sure to inspire.

According to brand manager Keita Ishino, “Shigaraki ware does not have a fixed style or design. I think its appeal lies in its flexibility.” The resilience of the people of this region to evolve through the present and into the future while utilizing tradition and nature, is very much evident.

Experience life with Shigaraki ware at the “Ogama” guesthouse

Connections forging new beginnings

Even if you are not a pottery lover, you have probably seen the works of Tetsuya and Momoko Otani of “Otani Pottery Factory” at least once. Tetsuya’s signature pieces are white porcelain vessels and earthenware pots without lids. Momoko’s work is marked by tropical plant patterns. While the Otanis insist that “living here is itself a part of our work,” they are not fixated on Shigaraki ware.

Rather, they employ the technique, but they remove its intrinsic nature and render it stateless. The couple has been taking on apprentices for several years. “We want students to continue making pottery after they enter the workforce,” notes Tetsuya, who has also taught at a ceramics school. Gallery “knot” is attached to the studio. As its name implies, new creations will be generated by connecting the present with the next generation, and fusing tradition into the present and into the future.

The Otani Pottery Factory, cultivating the next generation of potters
The Otani’s creations are spawned by their cozy lifestyle.

A keyword similar to “knot” is also found in “NOTA_SHOP,” which sits majestically on a hill overlooking the bucolic scenery. It is an atelier and store where Shunsuke and Kayoko Kato reconstruct and propose forgotten designs that fit in with today’s lifestyle. “Nota” is a Shigaraki ceramic term for glue. Although they coined the name to serve as a binding point between people, things, and time, they realized that it could be interpreted as “not a commercial premise”.  

“I want this to be a place that connects up creative people who have grand designs for the land they live in,” says Kato. The people I met on this trip were full of creative spirit, and their gazes fully focused on the nature and lifestyle before them. The future of this land, created by such individuals, will be avant-garde, and yet substantial and comfortable. Beyond tradition, we may see the emergence of a way of life that can rightfully be called the new standard.

The spatial beauty of “NOTA_SHOP”, created by a beautiful arrangement of artworks and antiques.

Creative getaway to the land of craftsmanship
Tour de Nippon in Koka Shigaraki

Held on the weekend of November 25 and 26, 2023

From the home of Shigaraki pottery to hilly terrain with its pristine scenery. Come and enjoy the spirit of craftsmanship that has been passed down from generation to generation in Koka, Shigaraki. Encountering the creative minds here and experiencing the unadorned beauty of nature will bring you inspiration and ideas. Feel the excitement in the air as you pedal along, ready for new encounters with people and things.

The call for participation in the Tour de Nippon in Koka Shigaraki is scheduled to open in late October 2023.

Tour de Nippon Guide
Shigaraki, Koka

947 Kasuga, Minakuchi-cho, Koka City

300 Momotani, Tashiro, Shigaraki Town, Koka City

970-4, Chokushi, Shigaraki Town, Koka City

Katagi Koukaen
1090 Miyajiri, Shigaraki Town, Koka City

Earthen pot rice & CAFE Mutsumian
317-21, Nagano, Shigaraki Town, Koka City

947 Nagano, Shigaraki Town, Koka City

2317 Chokushi, Shigaraki Town, Koka City

Papersky’s Tour de Nippon project is about finding the magic of Japan’s rural districts, their inhabitants, nature, culture and food. We travel to various prefectures and ride bicycles. Traveling via bicycle allows us a clean and healthy way to explore Japan’s rural areas.
text | Shinba Miyako photography | Mai Narita