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