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Kyoto's Gojo-zaka Pottery Festival







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Gojo-zaka Pottery Festival

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Kyoto's Gojo-zaka Pottery Festival

 

 

 

In this issue of Kyoto Mist, we take a look at the Gojo-zaka Touki Matsuri, Kyoto's largest annual open-air pottery market.

Festival Information

 

Imagine the sense of exhilaration children feel when they walk into a candy store filled wall-to-wall with delectable goodies of all kinds. For anyone who appreciates Japanese ceramics, be it the casual aficionado or the serious collector, the sensation of walking through the Gojo-zaka Pottery Festival is strikingly similar. Stands set up by ceramic shops and local artists (nearly 500 in all) extend five blocks along both sides of Gojo Street, all offering visitors an endless variety tea cups, saké vessels, plates, tea ceremony bowls, vases and more - the kind of delectable pottery and porcelain that has made Kyoto one of Japan's major ceramic centers.

The red and white curtains on the front of these stands, hung during most auspicious occasions in Japan, signal to the visitor that is going to be a good time. And it is.

Cheerful vendors greet everyone with a loud "irrashaimase!" (welcome!), bargain hunters hurry by with bags full of things for the cupboard, and treasure hunters carefully scan the lower shelves and corners for those rare pieces that beg to be added to their collection.

 




Kiyomizu-yaki Porcelain

 



Bizen Pottery

For centuries, the kilns of the Gojo District (eastern Kyoto) fired some of the finest pottery and porcelain in Japan. New environmental regulations, though, forced all wood burning kilns to relocate outside the city's boundaries; the last community kiln was closed in 1980. Yet the shops associated with these kilns continue to thrive along this historic street and play host to the annual event.

The Gojo-zaka pottery festival serves as a way for shops to get rid of unsold inventory and make room for stock from the next season's firing. Much of what is sold there, but not all, is "B-grade" pottery, usually marked by Minōr flaws or irregular shapes. These items are marked down 50 to 60 percent of their regular price and vendors are easily talked down even more with a little prodding.

At other stands, you'll find pottery from other parts of Japan like Shiga, Tamba, and Hagi, to name a few. Neighbors sometimes make interesting companions; smiling ceramic cows and other colorful kitsch share space with the unadorned beauty of Bizen-yaki from Okayama Prefecture.

A large number of stalls are set up by young, local artists who use the festival as a venue to introduce their work to a large audience. This is quite beneficial to up-and-coming potters who lack enough reputation to display their work at prestigious department store galleries like Takashimaya or Daimaru. It's also a good way for buyers to find nice, contemporary pieces at very reasonable prices. Who knows? That piece you pick up today may be worth thousands later - even Living National Treasures have to start at the bottom.

 
 

A common sight to almost all pottery festivals in Japan, including this one, is a large amount of mass-produced tableware from areas like Arita and Minō. For inexpensive tableware, there is no better place for buying such things.

To truly take in the whole festival, a good hour is needed to scan up and down both sides of Gojo Street. When the wheat has separated from the chaff, another hour is needed to return to those stalls that had something that caught your eye.

In the end, no one leaves the Gojo-zaka Pottery Festival disappointed. As one gleeful foreign visitor was heard saying,

 

"This is like nothing I've ever seen! I wish I had brought another suitcase to bring more of this home."
 



 

Tips for First-Timers


Go early

According to the Kiyomizu-yaki Ceramics Association, nearly 50,000 visitors attend the festival during the four days that its held. The best finds are picked over quickly, so the earlier the better.

 

Don't forget your uchiwa


First-time visitors to the festival should be warned - it's hot and often rainy. The festival is held at the first week of August when afternoon temperatures in Kyoto can reach 39°C (100°F) or more.

Make sure to bring your sunscreen, plenty of bottled water, and an uchiwa (fan).

 

Bring a bento

 

Several stands sell can drinks and festival food, but it's recommended that you bring your own lunch. There are few restaurants and one convenience store along Gojo-dori, so bringing a bento (lunch box) is highly recommended.


 

Gojo-zaka Pottery Festival Information

 
Location :
 
Gojo-dori (Gojo Street); eastern Kyoto
Date & Time : August 7th -10th (4 days).  Dates are the same each year.
Stalls are set up at 9:00 am and stay open until 7:00 pm or later.
 
Best Access :
 
Gojo Station (Keihan Subway Line)
 
What to do after : 20 minutes on foot east of Gojo-dori is the majestc Kiyomizu Temple.

Two streets leading up to the temple, Gojo-zaka and Chawan-zaka, offer some of the best ceramic shopping in Kyoto.
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

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