Mashiko is famous for its pottery, known as Mashiko yaki (益子焼). Mashiko is the site of Saimyoji temple, one of the oldest temples in Tochigi prefecture, and the shrine of the Utsunomiya han, located in Kami-Obaa. Large noborigama kilns were first founded there in 1853, by immigrant potters from the neighboring pottery community Kasama in Ibaraki prefecture. Simple and rustic in style, the main glazes are a clear wood ash glaze, a white rice husk ash glaze, black and kaki (persimmon), sometimes decorated with enamel red, yellow and green. These are worlds apart from the courtly ceramics of Kyoto but yet very Japanese. Pottery has been made since Jomon times (over 10,000 years ago) in Mashiko, but modern Mashiko yaki dates only to 1853. The style was popularized by the potter Shoji Hamada. He was designated as NINGEN KOKUHO (Living National Treasure) in 1955. Because of Hamada, Mashiko yaki has been viewed as a good example of Mingei (Folkcraft) pottery.
Mashiko is a convenient day trip from Tokyo,and it is easy to get there by car, train, bus, or some combination of all three.
By trainUeno to Oyama, which takes 42 min by Shinkansen or 82 min by normal train. Change here for the Mito line to Shimodate (21 min), then change yet again to the private Mōka Railway line to Mashiko (41 min). By normal train, the total cost is ¥2360 and the trip takes around three hours one way with transfer time factored in.
An alternative approach not much different in time or price is to take the JR Jōban line from Ueno to Toride, then change to the private Kantetsu-Jōsō line to Shimodate.
Note that the Mōka Railway (真岡鉄道) runs steam locomotives (coded as "SL" on schedules) once a day in each direction on Saturdays and Sundays. As of May 2013, departure from Shimodate is at 10:36 and the return from Mashiko at 15:02. The SL fare is about double the regular fare of ¥740 between the two stations. The railway station at Mōka is shaped like a giant steam locomotive and is covered by a webcam .
Another alternative is to take the train to Utsunomiya and continue from there by Toya bus directly to Mashiko. The bus stops are in front of the main entrance to the train station. Look for bus station number 14 to Mashiko. Buses leave approximately hourly, take one hour and cost ¥1100. Remember, you don't have to be at a bus stop in the Jonai shopping area: just raise your hand and get the driver's attention and they'll stop and let you on.
While Mashiko is small enough to get around on foot, there are also many special attractions surrounding the town, such as pottery studios and workshops, shrines and temples, and noodle shops and gardens hidden up the mountains and valleys. It's sufficiently stretched out to make it a bit of hike, from the train station to the pottery area, but along the way if you look carefully you can see the remainders of the old commercial district, such as the tatami and basketmaking shops. It's possible to rent bicycles at the train station for a cost of ¥800 per day, or ¥400 for two hours, plus ¥100 for each additional hour.
Maps and English brochures are available from the tourist information office to your right as you exit the platform at Mashiko station.
The town consists of many different pottery workshops, kilns and retail shops. It also has an excellent selection of restaurants as well. The twice-yearly weeklong Pottery Markets (陶器市 Tōki-ichi) , held in April-May and November, are good times to visit. Many workshops in town set up stalls throughout the town, and stores large and small hold sales of specially discounted work. There are also several matsuri throughout the year, the one in late July being the largest and best attended, featuring laquered wagons carved in Kanuma by the workers who built Nikko many generations ago.
The primary thing to purchase in Mashiko is pottery. The main street from the station to the center of town is filled with shops and boutiques offering all kinds and all price levels of ceramics. If you look closely, you'll also discover the indigo dyeing workshop and other handcrafts as well.
Twice a year, coinciding with the Golden Week Holidays in the first week of May, and again for the first week of November, there is a pottery and crafts festival where potters and craftsmen from Mashiko and surrounds come to the town and set up stalls. A great chance to pick up some stunning pottery and other crafts including woodwork, leatherwork, glass, jewellery and textiles, and great bargains.
While thirty years ago Mashiko was a veritable desert of ceramics, that is not the case today. You can find many different restaurants and a broad selection of interesting things to eat whatever you're interested in, running the gammet from katsukare to a broad assortment of local, organic, vegetarian restaurants. It's easy to find ramen and gyoza inexpensively at "PePe" next to Moegi, excellent tonkatsu at Restaurant "Kotori", handmade soba at Azuman, and while it's a little known secret, there's an Italian woodfiring bread on a little back road that's served on the tables of some of the finest restaurants in Tokyo! The collection of shops known as Starnet also has a cafe and restaurant up the hill which is worthwhile. Kamakura soba tops a mountain overlooking the town and has an excellent view!
"Mashiko no Sato" is a traditional cake made in Mashiko city. It taste like sweet potato, and is very popular as souvenirs. The price is about ¥120 a piece. It is sold in most large souvenir shops in Tochigi.
The following are all onsen (hot spring) hotels.
Mashiko's tourism office is located at the train station. Open daily 8:00 am to 8:00 pm., tel. 0285-72-8846 (or 0284-72-2111 on weekends and holidays). With advance notice, they can arrange pottery classes for you.