Centuries of international trade and cultural exchange have ensured an abundance of craftsmanship throughout Nagasaki Prefecture. Skills learned long ago from visiting merchants thrived in a once closed Japan. Nowadays, craftsmen are working to preserve these traditional techniques in Nagasaki. Read about the places where you can see and experience such crafts for yourself!
The Nagazasshi meets designers and craftsmen Mirjam and Kenichiro Watajima at their ceramics studio, nestled in the mountains of Hasami, Nagasaki Prefecture. Mirjam is originally from Germany, and Kenichiro from Kumamoto Prefecture, but they are currently building their studio and workshop in Hasami.
How did you come to live in Hasami?
MW: I came to study at the nearby Arita College of Ceramics as an exchange student while studying in Germany. I always wanted to be a potter and to learn how to 'throw' porcelain pots on the wheel, which this area is famous for. My boss offered me a job at his company in Hasami, painting whimsical designs on pots, and I decided to stay!
KW: I also studied at Arita College of Ceramics, and I was lucky enough to have a part time job in a studio here in Hasami. My boss wanted to give young people the rare opportunity to not only learn the skills to make ceramics, but also to use them, instead of working in an unrelated job, like the service industry.
What is special about Hasami for you, and what made you want to move to Nagasaki prefecture?
KW: Hasami has a reputation for being trendy, and Hasami design is very popular with young people. There is a lot of freedom here, so craftsmen feel that they can do what they want. I feel like the culture is very different from Kumamoto, or any of the other places that I've lived in Japan – Nagasaki culture has historically been influenced by lots of other countries, like China and the Netherlands, which means that I don't always understand or know about the customs here.
It sounds like a very special place to live. Have you learnt different techniques in Hasami? Can you tell me some more about Hasami ceramics and what is special about them?
KW: In Hasami, each family-run company deals with a particular step in the process of making ceramics – for example, the whole town will get an order from a large company, and then each studio will produce one aspect of the process before passing it on to the next; one will cast the plaster molds, the next will slip-cast the pot using a liquid clay, another will make the pots on the wheel and then finally another studio will glaze and fire the pots in a kiln before decorating them. It really is a whole town effort. For us, style and good quality work is very important. Everything is about the style, which is why we feel customers who like our work are more likely to come to Hasami than Arita for the trendy atmosphere. Actually, we will be the only studio in Hasami to do all the parts of the process of making our ceramics ourselves.
What would you recommend for visitors to do on a day out in Hasami?
MW: Come and visit us and our workshop! In 2018, we will open our studio, gallery and workshop space, and start running pottery classes. We want to encourage foreigners and Japanese people to learn together in English. There are two festivals in Hasami every year, one in October and one in April, when all the studios are open and the town comes alive. There are lots of nice cafes in Nishinohara and you can even climb the mountain to see the white stones that Hasami people grind down to make their porcelain from. You can also visit our boss' studios Koushungama and Toubou-Ao. There is a shuttle bus from Arita station during the festivals.
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