Yomitan pottery village (Yachimun no Sato), is a little nest of creative genius that can be found within the confines of Yomitan Village, Okinawa. If you love ceramics and original, authentic art, read on to discover more.
Naha was Okinawa’s original pottery hub, but due to a population boom, became unable to support the burgeoning ceramics trade. This was mostly due to the smoke resonating from kilns upsetting the local populace, and, as a result, was moved to Yomitan from Tsuboya (in Naha, though remnants remain of the industry here) in the 1970’s. The Yuntanza Gama was constructed, a huge kiln that still stands today. Shinman Yamada was one of a group of artisans who built the kiln, a large step unit necessary for creating high quality pieces. And so Yachimun no Sato was born.
There are three such step kilns contained within the grounds. The red roofed nine step kiln (Yuntanza Gama), is synonymous with the village, shared by a number of its resident crafters. Further up you’ll find Kita kiln, used by the younger craft folk, and also Kinjo kiln, famous for it’s use by late Living National Treasure Jiro Kinjo. The village spreads out through a small hilled area, with 45 artisans contained within this. It’s advisable to cover every part, including tiny roads, so you don’t miss any. They live and work here, often with workshops attached to their living quarters. Visitors are allowed, it’s open year round, but it’s expected of you to not disturb the artisans at work. There is parking, but during busy periods it’s a game of luck and creativity! (you’ll see people parked in some funny places. Most locals on island drive little cube or box cars, when you visit places on busy days, you’ll see why, they are much easier to park than my big Sedan!).
This of course varies from artisan to artisan, but in general, Okinawa-style pottery is thick set, often mute in colour, with simple, asymmetric lines. However, as with art of any form, there are interpretations that differ. And happily so. I love the traditional style, but there are some simply stunning modern and quirky pieces to be found here. Yuntanzayaki cooperative store in particular has some incredible pieces, I especially love their huge, fluffy-looking Shisa (lion dogs, often found in pairs that act as guards against evil spirits), and the deep turquoise blue of some of their practical items, such as plates, cups, and bottles. There’s not only Shisa and typical pottery items available, you can also purchase hanging decor, chopstick rests (the little fish ones were adorable!), and ornaments. I even spotted a fist made of pottery! There’s something for every taste and budget, with some of the smaller wares going for as little as 500 yen, right up to tens of thousands for one off pieces. Everything is yen only, no credit card, so take plenty of cash with you.
We all know Japan loves a good festival, with Yachimun no Sato being no different. Probably their biggest and most notable is the huge sale that takes place annually just before Christmas. Over a three day weekend (Friday-Sunday), artisans slash prices on their old stock, hoping to clear out for fresh work to go on sale in the following year. This is a great opportunity to snag that piece you’ve had your beady eye on (that your bank account couldn’t quite stretch to!), or to give this place a try for the first time. There’s food and drinks available, and all the studios open their doors, allowing you a behind the scenes look at the craft rooms (something not all studios do year round). I ended up coming away with two traditional cups, and not so traditional wall hangings (two, one of an ox, one of a cockerel, each representative of myself and my husband’s Chinese zodiac signs. cute!), but I could’ve easily come away with more (if I’d had the money!).
Located on Okinawa’s Western coast, but a little inland, Yomitan Pottery Village is fairly easy to find. A short diversion off Highway 58 (one of Okinawa’s best known highways), you can find it here: