Welcome to Imbe, the Bizen Pottery Village!
Bizen City in Okayama prefecture is made up of all types terrain; from the sea to the mountains. Further inland is Imbe, an area where the famous Bizen pottery was born and still produced today. The historic streets are lined with old wooden buildings and if you look up at the skyline, you’ll see dozens of red brick chimneys still standing tall.
What’s Bizen pottery’s history?
Bizen ware saw its boom in the 16th-century during the Momoyama period. Even throughout the Edo period, support and special privileges were given to families who produced Bizen ware by the lords in Okayama. Bizen was highly popular in Japanese tea ceremonies for the ware’s rustic looks in deep red and brown hues. During Japan’s modernization period in the 19th century, traditional crafts such as Bizen nearly disappeared, but an effort to revive the craft in the 1930s saved the traditional work of Japan. In 1982, the Japanese government declared Bizen ware a traditional Japanese craft and now preserves the area and its 300 operating kilns. Thanks to its revival efforts, the streets of Imbe now consist of countless Bizen ceramic shops, artist homes, and even ceramic classes to teach visitors how to make their own piece of Bizen ware.
A map of Imbe now guides and directs visitors from all over the world to learn about Bizen ware.
What is made from Bizen pottery?
Bizen ware shops have special plates, cups, statues, and other more unique items on display and for sale. Some stores are well kept and new, while others seem a tad older, perhaps run for generations by family members. I stumbled into one where the elderly man chatted with me about the Bizen works in his shops. While the front of this wooden home is the Bizen shop, there is a warm gas fireplace inside with places for guests to sit all around. As I showed interest in the beautiful architecture inside, he guided me into the backyard of 100+ year home, where he showed me the old saké brewing shed his grandfather used to run. He told me tales of his family, as deep as roots that grew out of the stop of a fallen Bizen chimney that also existed in this backyard.
Imbe, a historic town with a Bizen shrine
Further down the promenade is a shrine made out of Bizen ware called Takuraushi Shrine. While it’s an Inari Shrine – meaning the protectors are foxes – the shrine is also home to many creatures who are protectors of different spirits. No animal is too small to be significant here, thus seeing statues of mice, dogs, monkeys and cows, just to name a few.
These are Shichifukujin, the seven gods each representing different types of good luck.
This shrine is full of stairs, but a walk up is well worth it for the view and the serene forestry setting that provides peace. There are benches and resting spots all around so visitors can enjoy the view and spend as much time as they wish. A walk further down on the other side of the shrine comes out by some of the working grounds for potters in Imbe.
A view of Imbe, featuring old chimney tops.
Firewood used to heat up the kilns to make Bizen pottery.
Little pieces of Bizen culture thrive all over Imbe. Even playgrounds and rooftops are made out of the Bizen ware.
For a piece (quite literally) of history, head out onto the southern end of Imbe station and across the tracks where you’ll find the old ancient grounds of pottery-making. The mountain in which the old kilt was placed is made up of shattered old pieces of Bizen ware. These ruins show evidence on how the craft was once produced.
Make sure to check out the area around Imbe station as well. If you are more interested in seeing old artifacts of Bizen ware over ones produced for commercial use recently, visit the Bizen Ware Traditional Industry Hall inside of the Imbe station.
Bizen City Access
Imbe station on the JR Ako Line, Bizen City, Okayama Prefecture
994-1 Fukuman, Yoshinaga-cho, Bizen city, 709-0222 Okayama-prefecture
Nina is a professional and recreational writer currently exploring her motherland of Japan. When she's not busy working on her upcoming conversational English book, she can be spotted biking around Tokyo to indulge in delicious food and attempting to snuggle with kitties at cat cafés. She's an odd collector of free brochures from travel counters, always looking for the next exciting destination. Nina often likes to escape the Tokyo city life to go discover new trails on the outbacks of Japan, where she enjoys connecting with locals and wanderers alike.
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