Last weekend I had the opportunity to be part of a Tour to Mashiko（益子）. This city, located in the Tochigi prefecture, is known as the “city of ceramic arts” in Japan and also a widely known city for fans of ceramic arts from all over the world. However, due to the great earthquake disaster in eastern Japan, Mashiko suffers from great damages, that are unforeseeable yet. Ceramic works, including the valuable existing and other facilities for the creation of pottery kiln were damaged from the devastating earthquake in Mashiko. In addition Mashiko suffers because of rumors concerning the nuclear accident at Fukushima.
To help the people in Mashiko and to reflate the tourism in this area, the “Mashiko Fun Tour” was created. Let me tell you about an incredible weekend far away from the big cities with their skylines and the busy streets.
The tour started on Saturday morning at 9 am. We were 36 people from six different countries and of all ages. After around three hours on the road we stopped at Ichigodanchi (イチゴ団地), a part of Mashiko, which is famous for the growing of strawberries. An experienced tour guide explained the characteristics of Ichigodanchi and how a really good strawberry has to look like. After the speech it was time to taste the delicious strawberries.
Next stop was our accommodation in Mashiko, where the next highlight was waiting for the group. For lunch we created Onigiri on our own and to be honest, that were the most delicious Onigiris, which I’ve ever tasted. Really special and completely different from the ones you can buy at the Konbinis. After lunchtime we had a long walk around Mashiko to visit several potteries shops and to enjoy the beautiful landscape.
After the walk we enjoyed a tasty dinner together with some locals from Mashiko. Everybody introduced himself to the group and shared his first impressions of this beautiful spot. We learned more about the art of producing fine potteries and sake. Only the best rice and water were used for the fabulous sake, that we were allowed to taste. For me the best sake I’ve tasted so far. After dinner there was plenty of time for interesting and nice conversations. The first day of our tour ended late, but was full of satisfaction and a very good feeling.
On Sunday we started with a traditional Japanese breakfast, before we went once again experienced the fine potteries arts of Mashiko. There were always new incredible potteries to see and so many ways to create them. Another highlight just waited for us, because we could take part in the production process and join the locals, while they kilned new potteries or just pace through the festival. We got the chance to buy some potteries, enjoying the delicious foods or tasting ice cream and cakes made out of soba. Something I haven’t tasted before.
At 14.30 pm we took part at the remembrance ceremony for the victims of the earthquake one year ago. At 14.47 pm (the time when the earthquake hit Japan one year ago) the monks chimed the bell of the temple. The ceremony was accompanied by a wind ensemble and a taiko group (太鼓). For me the first time to see a taiko group and I was really impressed by the accuracy and the devotion of this performance.
After the remembrance ceremony we left Mashiko. But before we really went back home, we had the chance to buy some of the strawberry products of Ichigodanchi and the fine sake distillery. On the way home everybody on the bus had the chance to take a résumé of the trip and share his impressions with the others. No wonder, that everybody was absolutely satisfied and deeply touched by this very unique tour away from all the ordinary tourist activities. Mashiko really left a permanent impression and I can just highly recommend to everybody to visit Mashiko. This city with its own charm is definitely worth a journey.