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Support Local in a Hidden Artisan Village

Yamagata Prefecture

Support local and enjoy what this village has to offer.

Just a short drive from Yamagata city is an off-the-beaten-path village called Hirashimizu. While at first glance, it seems simple with mainly residential houses, what can really be found hidden amongst them are amazing opportunities for you to discover.

Next to Mt. Chitose, Hirashimizu is at a perfect location for using the extracted clay from the mountain. There is a family-owned pottery studio and store in Hirashimizu called Shichiemongama, which has continued the over 200-year-old tradition of creating Hirashimizuyaki ware for over 150 years over 7 generations. 

You can experience creating your own pottery in their workshop studio, with the skilled guidance of the studio staff. Everything you need for the pottery, like aprons, tools and hand pottery wheel, will be available on the day when you go. Typically, 500g of clay will create one small teacup and one plate, but the staff gives you a live demonstration of what other creations you can make like teacups, bowls, plates, and ornaments. Within the limitations of the clay, they give you the freedom to create whatever you want. There are samples around the studio you can refer to to get inspiration, as well as when you choose the color and type of glaze for your creation.

The pottery master Takahashi makes it seem easy and creates the pottery examples so quickly that you’d expect to be done in 10 minutes, but that is not the case as the technique of handling the unique clay is harder than you may think. Due to the mineral makeup of the clay, there are certain guidelines to follow when you create your work; having too thin or too thick of a product may create too much stress on the clay which can cause cracks when drying or while burning in the kiln. 

The pottery master’s demonstration showed how to create a plate with a wavy, frilled edge, so I decided to create that. Pounding the clay to be flat, rolling the clay and many changed newspapers later, the plate shape was created and the master gave guidance on how to make the frilled edges. Things to note while creating are that your product will shrink after being fired in the kiln and that it takes around one month to dry, glaze and bake. Shichiemongama can additionally help ship it to you domestically or internationally for an extra fee. I use my plate for my side dishes, snacks and cakes.

In the showroom, you can see creative pottery they have created like bread-shaped bread plates, as well as more traditional wares like mugs or vases. These displayed wares are for sale and are a perfect gift for someone or are a great souvenir to bring home. You can even use their pottery as the kind, talkative older lady of the store serves you homemade pickled vegetables and tea. The pickled chinese onion she served was especially delicious!

Next to the store is where the pottery master’s work areas are, where their kilns are, and where they store creations ready to be fired. Seeing all the wares lined up on their shelves is a sight to behold, especially if you get to see the pottery masters at work further into the building. 

Pairing with the pottery, just a short walk from the pottery buildings is another establishment owned by the same family. What better way to enjoy pottery than to use it while drinking sake? 

La Jomon was established in 2008 by Taro Kumagai, who brews pure rice sake while running his artisan sake boutique. Using a building next to Shichiemongama’s pottery workshop studio, he offers lectures and tasting sessions to customers to understand the flavour profiles of each different sake he procures by himself or from other prefectures.

The lecture we attended was very informative and whether you are beginner drinkers of sake or connoisseurs, it was explained in a way that either group would understand the presentation. It helped me understand sake more and the memo paper listing each sake’s ingredients and characteristics Kumagai provided was very helpful! Each flavour profile was unique when comparing them to each other and deciding which I liked best was difficult. All of the sake you sample can be bought at the sake boutique, so if you really like a particular sake you can bring it home! It additionally stocks locally-produced drinking snacks which you can pair with your sake for your best sake experience at home. 

Those who are interested in visiting these two family-run establishments can easily book via our experience page. This article covered the short course, which costs 10000 yen per person, but for a more in-depth experience, have a look at the long course we offer on the same page. 

 

See below for a videos showing the voices behind the ceramics and sake.

Bridgitte Kayasith

Bridgitte Kayasith

Bridgitte was born and raised in Canberra, Australia's captial city. Having a large interest in Japan, she moved to Japan in 2019 and taught English in Yamagata for two years. Her love for travel led her to enter the tourism industry, working as a hotel front in Sendai. She later moved back to Yamagata to work as a member of The Hidden Japan. In her free time, she loves to visit cafes, admire anything cute and find happiness in the little things.

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