If coming from Kyoto, Osaka or Hiroshima ride the Sanyo Shinkansen until Okayama Station. From there, change to the local Ako Line for about 35-40 minutes until Imbe Station (伊部).
Bizen is a town known for Bizen-yaki, one of the oldest forms of Japanese pottery. It’s main characteristic is its lack of glaze and instead having a more rough and earthy finish. While I don’t really have much of an eye for pottery, seeing so many different pieces through the shop windows and the chimneys used when making them was curious. One of the workshops had pulled the wall off, and I was able to see the shape the kiln must have had.
Kiln’s are filled with the Bizen-yaki (or sometimes tiles or whatever else it is that the person wants to make) at the further end, then the first half of the kiln is filled with firewood. Heat and smoke go up so it passes through the Bizen-yaki and out through the chimney, hardening the pottery in the process. I read that firing bizen-yaki usually takes ten days!
Here is also the first time I ever saw an old kura house.
As soon as I got off the train I hurried to Tenshin Shrine before it closed. Usually shrines and temples close at around 5pm and I wanted to add another stamp to my shuincho, but as I got there it turned out to be empty. Working by honour code, I left a 500yen coin next to some other coins and bought a small ema board made out of bizenyaki.
Tenshin Shrine was very small but surrounded by pottery of different sizes and shapes, animal figures and covered in bizenyaki tiles on the roof and walls. Having in mind how expensive the pottery is today, this shrine must hold great meaning or sentiments as town members spare no thought on price when making a donation.
I was about to leave when I spotted a statue of Ninomiya Kinjirou (also made fully out of bizenyaki)! This really made my quick stop in Bizen just a little bit better.
From Imbe Station I could see an old tunnel kiln, 500 years old and designated as a national treasure, although if we’re being honest it really just looked like a lump in the ground and I would’ve never guessed it had been a kiln.
There are more things to do in Bizen. A couple of pottery museums are next to the station (I didn't go because I arrived fairly late and they were about to close), as well as many stores to buy pieces and small restaurants to eat on them! It's a short day trip from Kyoto or Osaka for anyone who really likes pottery.