Dear Family and Friends,
Recently a friend came to visit. Of course, I turned to Ito San and her fabulous travel agency to help plan our trip. Instead of heading to the Tohoku area, where I live, we decided on the south. Not as far as Kyushu, with its torrential rains this year. Rather we chose a cluster of three prefectures: Shimane, Yamaguchi, and Hiroshima.
The trip itself was beautifully planned, as usual. Every detail was carefully thought out and perfectly coordinated. Yet, even though each place was a feast of discovery, there were a few that stood out more than others.
Those peak experiences did not include Izumo Taisha, the second most important Shinto Shrine in all Japan. Izumo Taisha is the home of the God Okuni-Nushi, second only to His female counterpart Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess.
Neither did peak experiences include the special housing for the eight million gods and goddesses who make an annual visit to Izumo Taisha. They go there to worship and to rejuvenate before returning to their home shrines and all their incumbent duties.
World Heritage Ginzan silver mines were important. And Matsue City was charming with its castle, a National Treasure, well-kept Samurai houses, and marvelous boat tour around the castle moat. That unique trip entailed crouching very low, over and over again, to pass under a multitude of old bridges.
Adachi Art Museum with its expansive garden was noteworthy. It included the surrounding mountains and natural waterfall as part of its full landscape.
Towards the end of the trip were the gracious wooden walking bridge in Iwakuni,
Miyajima with its famous Torii gate, and Hiroshima’s Peace Park.
All of those places were captivating and educational. But they were not the peak experience that other places offered.
One of those special places was a teeny port village called Yu-No-Tsu Onsen （温泉津温泉）It has been a fishing and spa town for well over a 1,000 years. It has the run-down feel of many rural places in Japan. It has shabby houses and hunched-backed oldsters wandering the few streets there are.
But what made Yu-No-Tsu unique was the unexpected blend of old and new. Young people who want to get away from the pressures of city living have started buying property there. They have opened guesthouses, craft shops, and restaurants. They try to blend in with what is there, respecting the old timers, while tastefully bringing in a breath of hope.
My friend and I stayed in a guesthouse that felt like a person’s home. There were sliding doors made with handmade Japanese Washi paper, beautiful decorations on the walls, and a casual, at-home feel.
There was only one shower for everyone, but right down the street was a public bath with natural hot waters that have served the locals for thousands of years, literally.
We had to eat out, but only one of the town’s three restaurants was open. It overlooked the fishing harbor and sunset. The food was outstanding. We told the waitress we would be back for breakfast. And while we were eating it, she came racing in saying she had hurried there early to say good-bye to us and to thank us for coming. “Please come again. You are always welcome.”
Waiting for the rare train to arrive, by chance, a traditional dancer was there, taking a break from the relentless heat. We, and the town’s only taxi driver, were the only ones there. So, he was happy to entertain us with silly, but very fluid, dances.
I thought that would be our one and only peak experience. But another was soon to come.
I love Japanese pottery. And I knew that Hagi, in Yamaguchi Prefecture, was famous for it. So, that is where we headed next. Hagi has much of what Matsue offers: a castle and Samurai houses, plus historical sites connected to Japan’s fast and impressive industrialization. But pottery was our purpose.
So, in the tourist office I asked for information about professional pottery, not just stacks of almost-all-alike pieces often found in tourist shops. The ladies there finally realized how serious we were. So, they called three famous ateliers to make appointments for a visit.
And how breathtakingly wonderful they were!
The first stop was at the studio of Toubou Taikeian, at his Higuchi-gama, or kiln. The artist himself came out to greet us, while his wife explained in detail about how his pottery was made.
The next had stunningly beautiful pieces that evoked a very challenging creative process, combined with a silence so deep each piece felt reverential. This thirteenth-generation artist, Miwa Kyusetsu XIII, entered briefly, but his daughter-in-law graciously took us to see the kilns and then showed us a fascinating video of the master at work. My friend and I left, knowing we had been touched by something unspoken and very profound.
Our final stop was at the home of Saka-Kourai-Zae-Mon. We sat in the room for guests, which looked out on a Japanese garden. We were given tea as an assistant explained the works of the artist. The highlight, though, was the upstairs room. It had one pot for each of the many generations of family artists. The oldest was over 400 years old.
Obviously, this trip was a great success. And as always, I have started thinking of where to go next. When that materializes, I will share, of course.