Karatsu

I thought that the last stop on my potter’s pilgrimage, on the island of Kyushu, would be the most remote and provincial, but Karatsu, Japan is a thriving city, the women were fashionable, and it’s a bit of a resort town. Several school children called out “Hello, how are you?” giggling as they tried outContinue reading “Karatsu”

Hagi

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 atContinue reading “Hagi”

A potter’s pilgrimage: Bizen

During my third year living in Japan, in 2011, I made a potter’s pilgrimage to three historic towns where contemporary potters, many descended from old masters, still produce mingei, stoneware folk pottery. This trip had been long planned; I had spent years gathering information and improving my Japanese. For a week, I alternately traveled aContinue reading “A potter’s pilgrimage: Bizen”

Shirakawa-go

A day bus trip from Takayama to Shirakawa-go brought me to the UNESCO World Heritage village of Shirakawa-go. Weathered brown wood cottages topped by steeply angled, thick thatched roofs have been well preserved, probably because it was so isolated in years past. Gassho-zukuri, the architectural style, means “praying hands.” Some of the existing houses were built overContinue reading “Shirakawa-go”

Takayama

It was a long ride to Takayama: a couple of hours west to Nagoya by Shinkansen or bullet train, then a couple more on an express. The train headed north into Gifu prefecture to what is known as the Japanese Alps, following the Hida river in a spectacular stretch, at first along a rock canyon. Deep andContinue reading “Takayama”

Ancient GyeongJu

In the historic capital of Korea, GyeongJu, Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Grotto were our third and fourth World Heritage sites on this journey. A steep hike up to the grotto revealed an amazing stone arc-shaped room, housing a magnificent Buddha looking out over the countryside, surrounded by figures in bas-relief. The ever-present Korean street markets wereContinue reading “Ancient GyeongJu”

Busy Busan

In Busan, South Korea, Beomeosa temple climbed up a steep hillside. Legend says that at the temple’s mountain peak, there is a golden well which never dries up, home to a mythical golden fish. Hence the name of the temple, Beomeosa, means “Heavenly Fish.” The temple is home to so many Buddhas—big and small, goldContinue reading “Busy Busan”

Icheon pottery

Having been a potter in my younger days, I often seek out traditional ceramics when I travel. Not to be confused with Incheon, the city with the major airport serving Seoul, South Korea, the town of Icheon is known as a pottery center and is about an hour southeast of Seoul. The area came toContinue reading “Icheon pottery”

The soul of Seoul

The Insa Dong neighborhood in the heart of Seoul was vibrant with activity: tiny shops with gifts in vivid primary colors, goods in bins on the sidewalk, the smell of food from street stalls around every corner, textured handmade paper hanging on racks, tea shops, young couples, tourists, and just life. I was traveling with aContinue reading “The soul of Seoul”