View from JR Imbe Station, Bizen
Bizen (備前; ) is the eastern part of Okayama prefecture on the Japanese island of Honshu.
Bizen — literally "before (the plain of) Bi" — is an ancient province known for precisely one thing: Bizen-yaki (備前焼), the oldest and most revered form of pottery in Japan. Unglazed and fairly simple in appearance, the pottery gets its cachet from the complex earthy reddish-brown tones that form when the clay is fired. Nearly anything — dishes, cups, vases, bowls, pots — can be made from it, and according to legend it improves the taste of anything you drink from it.
Modern day Bizen is in legal fiction a "city" (shi), but in practice an expanse of Okayama's suburbs and rice paddies. Most pottery kilns and shops, however, are concentrated near the station of Imbe (伊部).
The JR Akō line connects Imbe to Okayama, where connections to the Shinkansen network are available. Trains depart about once per hour and reach Imbe in 35 minutes (¥570).
Bizen is a sprawling area, but Imbe is easily covered on foot from the train station.
An elaborate piece of Bizen-yaki
Bizen's sights are mostly dedicated to its famous pottery and sword-making. In October, the Bizen-yaki Festival is held near Inbe station, drawing some 150,000 visitors.
- Bizen Pottery Art Museum (備前陶芸美術館 Bizen tōgei bijutsukan). Just to the north of Imbe station, this concrete block displays both old and new exaples of Bizen-style pottery. Admission ¥500, open daily except Monday from 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM.
- Shizutani School(閑谷学校）Ikeda Mitsumasa, who was the lord of Okayama at that time commissioned Tsuda Nagatada to build the school. It was completed in 1701. It is the oldest school for common people in the world still in its original condition. Not only samurai but farmers could study there. The education was based on Confucianism mind. Shizutani School has some unique qualities. All the roof tiles are made with Bizen-yaki pottery. The floor is ebony colored, and it shines like a mirror. Visitors can enter in the auditorium, and see the floor. Visitors can also enjoy the scenery through the four seasons. In the spring, cherry blossoms are very beautiful. The best season is autumn when the leaves change color. Especially, the kai(楷) trees are very famous. The kai is called the tree of learning. Entrance to the school grounds costs ￥300. Shizutani School is open from 9AM to 5PM. It takes about 10 minutes from JR Yoshinaga station by car, which is about 1200 yen by taxi. It is designated as one of Japan's national treasures.
Many kilns around Imbe will let you try your hand at making your very own Bizen-yaki. A chunk of clay, firing and shipping anywhere in Japan (overseas delivery also possible) will set you back around ¥3000.
- Bizen-yaki Traditional Pottery Center (備前焼伝統産業会館 Bizen-yaki dentō sangyō kaikan). The easiest place to give the lathe a spin, as it is located right on the third floor of JR Imbe station. Workshops held every weekend.
- Bishugama (備州窯). Advance reservation required. The charge is ¥2,625~3,675 (plus postage), and they'll ship 3~4months later.
The town of Imbe seems to consist nearly entirely of Bizen-yaki shops, and the large gift shop in the Pottery Art Museum has a fairly representative array of local pieces. Prices are generally steep, with even the simplest tea cups costing several thousand yen and more complex designs going for millions.