Located 25 kilometres northeast of Nagoya in the low mountains of the Owari Hills, Seto is most well-known as one of the Nihon Rokkoyo. The term "Nihon Rokkoyo" is used to refer to the six oldest pottery centers in Japan - Shigaraki (Shiga prefecture), Tanba (Hyogo prefecture), Echizen (Fukui prefecture), Bizen (Okayama prefecture), Tokoname, and Seto (both located in Aichi prefecture). The majority of the 130,000 people living in Seto are involved in the city's ceramics and pottery industry in some way, and visitors will notice immediately the influence that the 1300-year history of this craft, the longest of any area in Japan, has had on the city.
Seto-mono - synonymous with the word "pottery"
The location of Seto makes it ideal for the production of pottery and ceramics. The soil around the city contains good quality porcelain clay and silica (used in making glass), and there are forests nearby to provide firewood for fuel. Ancient kilns used to make pottery in Seto have been discovered in various parts of the city, and number over 1000.
The history of ceramics in Seto dates back to the Heian period (794-1185), with the creation of Akazu-yaki ware, a type of pottery where the clay could be glazed in a number of different ways before it was fired. Seto became recognized as one of the six "Nihon Rokkoyo" during the Kamakura period (1158-1333), and it stood out from the other areas as it was the only area to glaze its pottery. During this time, Seto also became known for producing tenmoku teabowls, which prior to that time had always been imported from China. However, as the demand for these teabowls grew, production began in Seto. As Seto was the only area in Japan that glazed its products, it was the only place able to make the black-glazed bowls. As a result, the form, style and color of its products differed greatly from those of the other five "Nihon Rokkoyo". During the Edo period (1603-1868), Seto's ceramic industry flourished thanks to the production of various items ranging from everyday household items to exquisite works of art. In 1807, Kato Tamikichi brought porcelain-making techniques to Seto from the Kyushu region. Consequently, the production of porcelain products in Seto grew and became famous in many areas of the world as Seto chinaware. Seto is currently the largest producer of ceramic novelties, such as animal and bird figurines, dolls, ash trays, light stands, and flower vases. These items were originally only made for export, but have recently become popular with Japanese customers, as well.
Things to see & do in Seto
Just by walking around Seto, one can experience the influence that the ceramics industry has had on the town. In the Hora-machi district, there are fences and walls called Kamagaki no Komichi, which are made out of various shapes of ceramic pieces used as supporters during the firing of pieces in the kiln. The bridges which run along the Seto River are also works of art in themselves, and there are also many pottery walls where one can see designs made by the city's children. It is often said that the city of Seto is a museum in itself.
For people visiting Seto in a group of 5 people or more, free tours are offered by the city's tourist association. Tour guides that are fluent in English and sign language are available, as well. This tour is offered from 10 AM to 4 PM, and the tourist office requests at least one weeks' notice.
Fukagawa Shrine, Touhiko Shrine & Komainu
The Fukagawa and Touhiko shrines are located right next to each other. Komainu are dogs, usually found in pairs, that guard the entrance to shrines all over Japan. There is one Komainu enshrined inside the Fukagawa shrine, who is said to have been granted a more expressive face than the other Komainu by Toushiro, the master of pottery from Seto, out of thankfulness for his success in his field. Toushiro himself is enshrined in Touhiko shrine.
Aichi Prefectural Ceramic Museum
This museum houses ceramic pieces dating from more than 2200 years ago to present from all over the world. Visitors can even make pottery items themselves at the ceramics craft studio, or visit the tea ceremony house.
Seto City Folk History Museum
This is the best place to go to learn about Seto's history. Displaying approximately 4000 of Japan's most important tangible cultural properties, more than any other such museum in Japan, also makes this museum worth a visit.
Shinano Ceramic Center
This building exhibits and sells ceramics. It also offers one-day ceramic lessons.
Akazu-yaki is a type of ware that originated in Seto in around 700 A.D. Some of the types of Akazu-yaki ware made include items used for tea ceremony, vases, and dinnerware, and these items are on exhibition (and on sale) here.
A large park, containing many natural caves, rock formations and waterfalls. Visitors can enjoy swimming in the Toriharagawa river, or go hiking (this park is part of the Tokai Hiking Route). There is also a bungalow village available for barbecues and gatherings.
There are several festivals held in Seto every year, mostly celebrating pottery and ceramics.
One of Setomono's autumn festivals is the Setomono festival, held on the second weekend of September. It is has been held since 1932, in memory of Porcelain Master Kato Tamikichi. During this festival, about 250 stores line up along the Seto River to sell their pottery products and prices noticeably lower than usual. More than 500,000 people from Japan and abroad visit this festival over the two-day period, making this Seto's most famous festival of the year.
Another festival that is worth attending is the Touso festival, held on the third weekend of April. This festival is held to commemorate Toshiro, a master of ceramics from Seto, who made an oven there in the 13th century. People attending this festival have the opportunity to see the parade of samurai, consisting of more than 100 people dressed in the traditional samural attire worn during the Kamakura period.
The 2005 World Exposition
Seto was the site for the 2005 World Exposition, an event that promoted the discussion of global issues. With the theme of "Nature's Wisdom", this exposition invited people from around the world to discuss the problems that the world faces, and to create a 'model community' that will allow humankind to live in harmony with, and with a better understanding of, nature. The committee running this exposition estimated that 15 million people would attend over the 185-day period, an estimate that in retrospect seemed very conservative as World Expo became a very major event.
How to get there
From Okazaki: Take a train on the Aichi Kanjou Tetsudou (Aichi Loop Rail) to Seto-shi (about an hour). You can either begin to explore the city from here, or walk down to Shin-Seto Station (Meitetsu Line) and catch another train to Owari-Seto, Seto-shi Yakusho-mae, and so forth.