The town of Hagi lies on the Japan Sea, near the western tip of the main island. The lonely, one-car train chugged along through tiny mountain towns, crossing the island and following the coastline at the very end of its journey. Misty rock islands appeared and disappeared in after-rain gray skies.

My large room at the ryokan had a big picture window facing tiled roofs. I was the only one staying there that night, and the slightly creepy ryokan owner seemed to be hovering nearby whenever I entered or left my room. When I had checked in, he wouldn’t show me where the shower was, but instead set a time to meet me in the morning to escort me to the bath area. I considered leaving at that suggestion, but the ryokan had good reviews, so I stayed on. Shortly after each time I returned, he would knock on the door to deliver hot water for tea. Whenever I left for a while, he asked when I planned to return. Always courteous, but always there. It felt a bit intrusive to me, disconcerting, unsettling, but I believe he thought he was being helpful and attentive. I would be relieved to move on to my next destination the following day.

View from ryokan

At the west end of Hagi, an old samurai town was well preserved. Japanese tourists milled about with maps to find the residences of men of former glory. Farther west was the ruin of the old castle town—only walls, a moat, and some partial structures remaining.

Samurai house
Castle moat
Historical marker

Continuing past the ruins, I reached a grassy beach with rugged rock piers jutting out into the Japan Sea, waves softly rolling in. Korea was out there just beyond the horizon.

Japan Sea
Sign about winds and cedar forest

Hagi-yaki uses a lighter clay body with thick, creamy glazes, often white or in pastel colors, sometimes crackled or crawled. The local potters were not particularly friendly, although in one gallery, a kindly woman brought me tea and candied fruits and chatted about potters and travels. I chose two pots from her shelves. Opening my wallet to pay, I realized I didn’t have enough cash for both and was far from any money machine, so I put one aside.

“Okay, okay. Nisen-en daijoubu,” she said, moving the two pots back together. Two thousand yen was okay, a little under twenty-five dollars at the current exchange rate. I was pleased but also surprised. Could I have been bargaining all along for the purchases I’d already made?


My Hagi vase

The Hagi Uragami Art Museum had an exhibit highlighting two well-known father-and-son potters and some lovely old woodcuts.

Exhibit poster

Around town

An earlier pottery trip in Japan to Mashiko, home of Shoji Hamada: A Japanese treasure. Stops along this potter’s pilgrimage: Bizen, Karatsu, and Hiroshima (not a pottery town, but a stop along the route). This series is an excerpt from my book.

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Published by rkrontheroad

Writer, photographer, traveler

32 thoughts on “Hagi

  1. Enamoured by your detailed and some personal notes and scribblings of your travels in Japan. I love how your eyes and insight discovers and developed over time. And gradually came in your beautiful, compositionally and structured images. Images of walls, homes, that one from the Hotel window stands out and immerses in with the viewer. Lovely essay Ruth. Thanks for sharing.

    Nara x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nara, I so appreciate your visit and thoughtful comment. It was an interesting journey for me in so many ways, the art of the pottery, the culture of the country and its people, exploring each different community. I loved sitting in that window!


    1. That is an unusual wall, isn’t it? It caught my eye. When I travel, I generally follow the rule that bargaining is not common in shops, but with street stalls often it’s expected. Anything goes in some places, as I’m sure you have experienced, Latin America, southeast and south Asia. It is unusual in Japan though, so I didn’t try it elsewhere.


  2. Wow, that alleyway with koi designs hanging above is stunning! Your experience with the all-too-attentive male ryokan owner sounds a bit sketchy, but perhaps he was just trying to be friendly and accommodating, especially since the place probably doesn’t get a lot of guests (and international ones, too!). But good thing you kept your wits about you and set boundaries! Similarly, I’ve also ran into situations where I’m short of money (or try to use a credit card at a cash-only site), and it’s always a very awkward situation to be had– thankfully, that vendor was kind enough to let you in with whatever you had, and you still had a wonderful time in Hagi!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That scene with the fish banners is a shopping arcade. Although I haven’t tried looking up the katagana characters (I’m getting rusty with my sparse Japanese), I’m sure those are shop names on the yellow flags. Thanks so much for reading and your comment, Rebecca! I’m sure you have similar stories to tell from your travels.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This town looks like a real gem, but the ryokan owner needs a new schtick. I still recall the room attendants in Hong Kong, always lurking in the hotel corridor watching the comings and goings and when we arrived back in our room, all the rumples were out of the duvet or the bed had been turned down, and lights and soft music turned on. This was attentive service, but showing you where the shower was when you were ready to take one/ Thanks for taking us here Ruth. Allan

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    1. Thanks for your visit and comment, Allan! I have only been to Hong Kong as a day trip, but would not be surprised that, especially in more affluent lodgings, the culture would be over-attentive, even pampering. Soft music!

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    1. It’s a tough call sometimes when you are traveling. I had a similar feel in a town in Scotland where the owner was nasty to people coming in, suggesting they might be trying to get out without paying. That ended up being the place with bedbugs… should have left!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I reckon your ryokan host was just trying to be helpful but I would be a bit disconcerted too, especially if I were the only person staying there as you were. I’m glad you did however, as I really enjoyed your photos of this picturesque town (your opening shot is a stunner) and your account of the friendly potter 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I might have looked for another place to stay, but wouldn’t have left town. It turned out to be okay. The photo with the fish flags was from a shopping arcade. I’m sure the yellow flags described the shops, although I haven’t tried to translate. Thanks, Sarah!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Learned a new word today, Ruth, “ryokan”. Also really liked the way you described your approach to the town in the first paragraph. Reminds me of Brigadoon appearing out of the fog in Ireland.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I was so sure I’d commented on this post Ruth, but it seems to have disappeared into the ether. What a charming lady after the initial coldness from other sellers. Lovely detail shots abound from the sloping roofs and lemons to the historical marker and those lovely beaches.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. So many pots to choose from! Beautiful picture of the Japan Sea. I was wondering … did you go to the bath area the next morning (I would be a little bit hesitant) … but like you said, he was probably just being helpful (in a strange way).

    Liked by 1 person

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