Going Potty

Posted by on Oct 5, 2011 in Tochigi, Travel Volunteer Journey | 3 Comments
Going Potty

There really aren’t many downsides to travelling full time, but for Katy the lack of her own creative space sometimes becomes frustrating. For the last couple of years, she’s been reduced to taking pictures of everything and anything she likes: crafts, pottery and a thousand knicknacks from around the world. We’ve seen some inspirational stuff, but it’s going to be a hell of a To Make list, when we finally head home.

However, here in Tochigi, Katy hasn’t had to wait because the Art Biotop hotel and spa offer on-site lessons in ceramics and glassware. Part hotel, part spa, part artist’s retreat, the Art Biotop (which means “habitat” in German) has regular classes in both mediums every day. Once Katy found out about them (she immediately chose pottery), wild horses couldn’t have stopped her from attending. It was raining hard outside, but my feeble pleas to just, y’know, stay indoors and watch some TV were utterly futile. “This is our first day off…” I whined, but I may as well have been talking to the clay itself.

Over in the studios, things were almost disappointingly neat and tidy; very functional. As the cold weather will soon set in, people are starting to appreciate the massive kilns in the glass studio. In summer, though, the temperatures can get up to 40C. Meanwhile the pottery workspace, is altogether more mellow year round.

Whereas glass was a comparative newcomer to Japan, the art of pottery has been practised for thousands of years. Over the millennia, the process has been refined to a high art: what initially arrived from China soon evolved into a distinctly Japanese style. Towards the end of the Edo Period, things reached their delicate zenith – if you coughed near the wrong vase it would have shattered into a million little pieces. Probably.

That was then, today a far more rustic, organic style has once again become wildly popular. The tebineri technique uses an extremely fine clay that can be moulded using dry hands, and relatively little use of a wheel. The firing process is typically done at much lower temperatures, too. It’s a much more tactile approach to traditional pottery, and imperfections are the name of the game.

Which all sounds lovely, but as tends to be the case with these things, watching an expert quickly create something from nothing is far easier than doing it yourself. Katy found it tricky to maintain consistent thickness around the side of her would-be rice bowl. Alas, that was precisely what the sensei demanded.

She’s nothing if not persistent, though, so with plenty of rolling, pinching and caressing, plus a bit of cutting, and a final remoulding it was done: through the magic of clay, there appeared a rice bowl. Higgledy piggledy, just the way it’s supposed to be.

Our time in Tochigi prefecture was made possible by:

Our guide in Nikko, Yukari Kawai, who somehow managed to squeeze about three days’ worth of an itinerary into just a few hours. We’re glad that we’ve restored her faith in the British accent too.

Scout: owner, head chef, janitor and IT support chief at the Zen Hostel. He knows almost as much about the local area as he does about Apple apps (and he’s a living encyclopaedia on them). Also, look out for his utterly superb, very American, calorific breakfast.

The Art Biotop hotel and hub of creativity. There are kinds of materials employed around the place, by artists and guests alike, but whatever secret material they make their duvets from is a total winner.











Scoutさん、Zen Hostelのオーナーで、シェフで、管理人で、ITのサポーターでもある彼は、この辺りのことならなんでもござれの“歩く辞書”みたいな方でした。そしてアメリカンスタイルの朝食は最高でした!(ベーコンを焼く匂いが目覚まし代わり♪)



  1. scout
    October 5, 2011

    you two are certainly wearing many hats on this trip.

  2. Julia
    October 11, 2011

    Amazing post — I would love to stay at this hotel and do some ceramic classes. How much is it per night? And do they have a website in English?