Kōka City, in the southeast of Shiga Prefecture, is undoubtedly most famous for Kōga ninja. But, pottery lovers visit Kōka for something else. The city, home to one of the Six Ancient Kilns in Japan, has another local specialty, the Shigaraki ware (信楽焼). So in Kōga, other than the ninja decorations, the other mascot representing the city is the chubby ceramic raccoon dog!
The history of the kiln in Shigaraki Town can be traced back to the late Heian period (794 – 1185). Because the soil in Shigaraki is sturdy, highly fire resistant, and has good plasticity, it was easy for the potters to create various types of potteries. The town thus thrived as a primary pottery maker.
So if you are interested in ceramics, you should visit Shigaraki on your next Japan trip! Apart from the many workshops in the town, here is a list of attractions that are usually enjoyed by tourists even if they aren’t particularly passionate about pottery.
- Kōka City Shigaraki Traditional Industry Center (甲賀市信楽伝統産業会館)
- Shigaraki Ware Tanuki Village (信楽陶苑たぬき村)
- Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park (滋賀県立陶芸の森)
Kōka City Shigaraki Traditional Industry Center (甲賀市信楽伝統産業会館)
Before exploring the ceramic town, a good place to stop by is Kōka City Shigaraki Traditional Industry Center.
The history of Shigaraki ware is presented in the exhibition room by the potteries from different periods. You can examine the artworks from the mid-Kamakura period (1192 – 1333) to the modern days.
Although there are few English explanations in the center, you can still get a rough understanding of how the pottery industry evolved in Shigaraki through the photos on the panel and short videos.
Kōka City Shigaraki Traditional Industry Center’s Opening Hours and Access Information
- The center is open from 9 am to 5 pm daily except Thursdays
- If Thursday is a public holiday, it will close on the next business day instead
- From Shigaraki Kōgen Railway’s (信楽高原鐵道) Shigaraki Station (信楽駅), it is around a 3-minute walk
Tip: We would recommend strolling around the township around Shigaraki Station. The pottery town has workshops scattered around and is decorated with ceramic signs and pottery plates embedded on the roads. If you are lucky, you might be able to see the smoke rising from one of the kilns!
Tanuki and Shigaraki Kiln
Tanuki is the Japanese word for raccoon dog.
Since ancient times, the Japanese have seen the animal as an auspicious figure. Why is it auspicious to them? It is because the pons of “tanuki (たぬき)” can have the meaning of good luck (強運) when it is written with another set of Japanese characters “他抜き”.
So when Emperor Shōwa visited Shigarak in 1951, the locals placed many tanuki figurines holding Japanese flags along the path the emperor went past. Seeing the tanukis, the emperor was impressed and made a waka poem.
The scene was broadcasted across the country, and suddenly, Shigaraki tanuki became the town’s mascot.
Tanuki Figurines in Different Appearance
When you stroll around the town, you might notice the raccoon dogs have different facial expressions and hold/wear different items. The Japanese don’t just randomly make a tanuki with a bigger smile on its face or put a sake bottle in its hand. Just like a beckoning cat, not all tanukis express the same meaning. So according to what you want the tanuki to bring you, you have to choose the one with a suitable appearance.
- The ones wearing a bamboo rain hat: avoiding unexpected disasters and bad luck
- The ones with big eyes: making the right decision
- The ones with a big smile: friendly
- The ones holding a sake bottle: maintaining a high virtue
- The ones holding a passbook/bankbook (basically a transaction statement of your bank account): having good credit
- The ones with big stomachs: being calm and can make big decisions
- The ones holding a money bag: attracting wealth
Shigaraki Ware Tanuki Village (信楽陶苑たぬき村)
Shigaraki Ware Tanuki Village is an attraction with artworks from the local potters on exhibit. At the same time, the visitors can participate in various kinds of pottery-related workshops.
Arriving at Shigaraki Ware Tanuki Village
When you get to the village, you will be welcomed by three of Japan’s biggest tanuki figures (´▽｀*). Around them, there are many smaller tanukis in different sizes.
Then, to the left, there is a simplified red torii gate with a tanuki on top. That is the entrance to a world of raccoon dogs. There are at least 10,000 tanuki figures which will surely overwhelm you!
Pottery and Kiln at Shigaraki Ware Tanuki Village
At the back of the shop, a promenade leads to a kiln that has been used since the good old days. Due to the decline in demand for ceramics, only a small part of the large kiln is used nowadays.
Let the staff know if you are interested in making and coloring your raccoon dog (or other pre-made ceramic such as tea bowls or plates). They will give you an un-colored tanuki and glaze in different colors. As the glaze will dry up in 30 minutes, you can bring the finished product with you on the day. The cost for this activity starts from 880 yen.
It is also possible to make your tanuki from scratch or other types of pottery. But, it will take one to two months before the product can be shipped out.
Important: Please keep in mind that they won’t be able to ship it overseas. You will need a Japanese address for the shipping.
With that being said, some foreign tourists just wanted to enjoy the process. They were happy not to receive the final products.
Shigaraki Ware Tanuki Villiage’s Business Hours and Access Information
- The village is open from 10 am to 5 pm daily except from the end of December to the beginning of January
- From Shigaraki Kōgen Railway’s (信楽高原鐵道) Kumoi Station (雲井駅), it is a 7-minute walk
- To get to Kumoi Station, change trains at JR or Ohmi Railway’s Kibukawa Station (貴生川駅)
Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park (滋賀県立陶芸の森)
If you find Shigaraki Ware Tanuki Village too commercial, we are sure you will love Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park.
The 40-hectare ceramic theme park features several indoor exhibition centers in different forms and many large ceramic sculptures scattered on its lawn area. At the same time, the park is also a teaching facility for the Shigaraki ware.
The park is largely divided into four areas, the ceramic art museum (陶芸館), the Shigaraki ware gallery and shop (信楽産業展示館), pottery studio for Japanese and foreign artists (創作研修館), and a vast lawn area where large ceramic artworks are exhibited.
The staircases from the lawn area to the museum are particularly interesting. It is called the Diet Stairs (ダイエット階段). The calorie consumption is marked on the staircases so you know exactly how many times you have to climb up the stairs to burn off the extra calories that you have consumed from the delicious food in Japan (´▽｀*).
The museum specializing in ceramics holds exhibitions on various themes. In the exhibition rooms, not only Shigaraki ware will be on display but also ceramic artworks from around the world.
The Kilns in Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park
At the west of the park, there are two types of old kilns. One is a climbing kiln (登り窯), and the other is an Anagama kiln (穴窯). Because the climbing kiln is so large and labor-intensive to fire, parts of it have been converted into a ceramic exhibition space. Examining ceramics in the kiln is just a unique experience that can hardly be found elsewhere!
Lastly, even if you come to the park by public transport, stop by their fourth car park.
The car stop of each parking lot has a ceramic laying above! Because they come in different shapes, how about checking them all out to determine which one you like the best?
The Flower Calendar at Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park
- The cherry blossom usually blooms from mid to late April
- From late April to late May, the azalea on one side of the lawn will be blossoming
- From early July to early August, Momiji Lake is a hidden spot for lotus admiration
- In November, head to Momiji Lake for the vivid fall color
Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information
- The park is open from 9:30 am to 5 pm daily except Mondays and from the end of December to the beginning of January
- The last admission to the museum and gallery is at 4:30 pm
- If Monday is a public holiday, it will close on the next business day
- The park is free to enter except for the museum. The admission fee to the museum changes depending on the exhibition
- Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park is a 20-minute walk away from Shigaraki Kōgen Railway’s (信楽高原鐵道) Shigaraki Station (信楽駅)
Discover Other Fascinating Attractions in Kōka City
Explore the ninja-themed attractions which Kōka City is most known for. The city also has a couple of hidden gems for cherry blossom and fall foliage hunting.
So check out our article on Kōka City and start planning your next trip (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.