In today’s article, I am going to take you to the artisanal town of Tokoname. Located on the western side of Aichi Prefecture’s Chita Peninsula, Tokoname has long been famous as one of Japan’s six ancient kilns. From as long back as the Heian period (794–1185), Tokoname has been churning out amazingly high quality ceramics thanks to its rich and earthy red clay. Today, the town is nothing short of a celebration of all things related to craftsmen. If you’re a big fan of wares like Japanese teapots and other such china, you need to add Tokoname to your list.
While the primary points of appeal in Tokoname are certainly related to its famous pottery, there is a lot more to this ceramic wonderland than just what its kilns make. For example, the village is something of an anime pilgrimage for fans of the 2020 animated film A Whisker Away which was set in Tokoname. As you’ll see if you ever visit there yourself, many of the locations in the movie have real world counterparts that make for some truly great photo opportunities.
All things considered, generations of potters hailing from these ancient kiln sites in Tokoname have been producing amazing wares for over a millennium. If you want to experience this history for yourself, take this article as a sign to add this part of Japan to your itinerary for your next trip. Tokoname is quite easy to get to and is situated on Japan’s so-called “Golden Route’’ that connects Tokyo and Kyoto. Thus, even for first-time visitors, this section of central Japan is easily accessed.
How to Get There
Let’s take a quick break to iron out the key logistics of getting to Tokoname. As alluded to, you’ll find this ancient collection of kilns in Aichi Prefecture. Situated directly to the south of Nagoya, Tokoname is actually located extremely close to the artificial island upon which Chubu International Airport was constructed. Thus, the easiest way to make the trek down from Tokyo is to simply take a flight to Tokoname. Since it’s so close, you can get to purchasing some ceramic pots and strolling about the townscape a lot faster.
At the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious, I’ll go out on a limb and note that flights are not covered by any of the many JR offerings out there. Thus, if you want to milk your Japan Rail Pass for all that it’s worth, you’re going to need to find another way down to the town of Tokoname. Luckily, this isn’t all too hard to do. Simply take the bullet train to Nagoya Station and then make your way to Tokoname Station via any of the trains that run to Chubu International Airport.
From the station, the area where all of the kilns (as well as the pottery and ceramic shops) is a bit of a ways away. Because of this, you’ll need to hoof it for around 5–10 minutes from the station. It’s basically just a straight way to the tourism information center that sits on the perimeter of the central sections but here’s a link to a Google Map if you need it to get your bearings. Since most shops here close up around 5 PM, I would suggest you don’t tax too much of your time dilly dallying in the morning and instead get an early start.
Walk Around Tokoname
By far, the best thing about Tokoname is the town’s vibe. As you’ll come to understand as you meander about, everything about Tokoname down to its aroma is infused with its history of craftsmanship. Even the mundane elements of daily life such as the walkways and walls hint at Tokoname’s storied legacy as one of the principal sites for the production of ceramics and pottery in Japan. The scenery in Tokoname is even further complimented by the sight of ten chimneys of varying height that poke up above the walls that line the town’s narrow streets.
As long time readers will know, I suggest that you spend an ample amount of time exploring this amazing part of central Japan. If I recall correctly, I budgeted for around half of a day just for Tokoname and even then I felt a little bit rushed. Thankfully, the local powers that be have created a walking course called the Yakimono Sanpomichi. This tour will take you throughout the maze-like streets of Tokoname to all of the points of interest. En route, you’ll pass a number of galleries that are operated by the local craftsmen of the city.
Part of the fun of Tokoname is simply getting lost in this part of Aichi Prefecture. Alas, it wouldn’t be one of my Japan area guides if I didn’t give you at least some suggestions. What follows are the spots that I would definitely suggest you don’t miss while wandering through the interwoven streets of Tokoname.
This path of the Tokoname network of pottery-lined alleys is one of the highlights. Picture above, it has been selected as one of the top 30 most iconic hills in all of Japan. Here, you can enjoy the sight of beautiful ceramic pipes set against some humongous sake bottles. It’s definitely a place that you’ll want to grab a few selfies.
- The Takita House
The family that lived in this domicile during the 1800s ran a local shipping business that was responsible for taking the clay wares that Tokoname produced, like teapots and other ceramics, and shipping them all around Japan. The home was restored in the early 2000s and now serves as a museum showing what local life would have been like in Tokoname.
- Noborigama Square
Found a little deeper into Tokoname than the Dokanzaka, Noborigama Square opened in 1995. Here, there are a few workshops where you can try your hand at making pottery. It’s also a location that was featured heavily in A Whisker Away so fans of the film will definitely want to make sure that they swing by here.
- The Noborigama Kiln
The namesake for the square mentioned above, this Noborigama (lit. “Climbing Kiln”) is built directly into the hillside and has been designated an Important National Cultural Asset. Originally built in the latter years of the 1800s, the furnace was in operation until 1973 and is one of the largest of its kind in all of Japan. In fact, the kiln was so large that it took eight days and nights to heat up. Over the years, teapots, vases and other ceramics were fired in here.
Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to things to see and do in Tokoname. While there is of course the standard route, you can also break out of any and all preset molds and go it your own. No matter what you do though, you’ll want to keep the lids on any anxious inclinations to rush from attraction to attraction.
Tokoname Ware Shopping
Calling all pottery fans! If you ever make it to Tokoname, you’ll be glad to know that there any many spots in Tokoname where you can buy all of the local wares that your travel budget can afford. Moreover, there are also a lot of places where you can get your hands dirty and try making your own teapot or something else under the tutelage of a master craftsman. While you’ll need to leave the firing in a kiln to the experts, you can at least create your very own magnum opus. They’ll even offer to ship it to you.
Also, even if you don’t end up buying one, I suggest you at least marvel at the masterpieces that are the Tokoname teapots while you’re in town. Known in the local language as kyusu, these beautiful devices have been created from top tier material for the sole purpose of serving Japanese green tea (namely sencha and gyokuro for the enthusiasts out there). While I am not much of a tea drinker, even I was tempted to purchase one of these pots for their aesthetic value.
Back by Tokoname Station
On your way back to the train station, make sure you swing by the giant Maneki Neko head that you can see in the photo above. Perched above one of the main roads that rolls through Tokoname, this cute statue is made in the likeness of those lucky feline effigies that you see all throughout Japan. Boasting a width of 6.3 m and height of 3.8 m, Tokonyan is sure to impress. You can think of it as one final ceramic attraction before heading on to somewhere else in Aichi Prefecture.
Sadly, you can’t actually get up close to Tokonyan. In fact, the nearest that you can get is the fence of the bridge seen in the bottom left of the photo above. While this sadly does mean that you can’t pose directly next to the adorable Tokonyan, you can still get a good shot for the Gram as can be seen in this pic by my good friend and fellow Japan lover Cheesie.
Other Nearby Attractions
In addition to all of the wonderful charms of Tokoname, there are a few other points of interest nearby that you could consider before putting the proverbial lid on the pot. On the far side of the station, you’ll find Rinku Beach down by the coast. This beautiful stretch of seaweed-free sand is popular with the people of Nagoya and features epic views of aircraft taking off as well as some truly romantic sunsets. Nearby, there is also an AEON shopping mall too if you need to get some shopping done..
For me, the main allure over here was actually not Rinku Beach but the Mago-no-yu hot spring facility though. Since my visit to Tokoname was in summer, this was just what I needed to freshen up before taking the bullet train back to Tokyo. After all, Tokoname is a town that requires a lot of walking and despite the fact that I wasn’t hauling around a tea pot or any pottery, I had still managed to work up quite the sweat.
Strangely, Mago-no-yu offers a variety of baths to choose from. What’s more, they even import waters from all over Japan so that the locals of Aichi Prefecture can experience soaking in the famous hot springs of far flung places without needing to actually go there. During my 2022 visit, Mago-no-yu had waters from Kusatsu Onsen up in Gunma Prefecture but I believe that there is a regular rotation (don’t quote me on that one though).
Until next time travelers…