What springs to your mind when you think of Japan – fast, modern lifestyle, technological advancements, vibrant nightlife, busy schedules, dynamic entertainment options, and people who bustle around with great purpose? But, tucked away in the mountains of north-central Kyushu, near the town of Hital, lies a tiny, quaint village as lazy and laid back as can be – Onta. This beautiful village seems to belong to a parallel dimension where time seems to have stood still for almost 300 years – for in that duration of time each family in this village has been employed in making only Onta-yaki (Onta pottery).
If you are a pottery enthusiast and up to date on all things ceramic related, you are sure to have heard about Onta-yaki. A very distinctive form of pottery, it has its origins in 16th century Korea. What makes this folk art even more distinctive is that even today the potters in Onta use nothing more than wood burning kilns and kick wheels to make teapots, bowls, cups, and plates. Each piece is handmade, making this form of pottery highly coveted. Only limited amount of pottery is made each season and discerning people grab most of it before it makes its way out of the mountains.
Another interesting thing about this little village that remains a well kept secret to a majority of the Japanese is that it is made up of no more than a dozen families. And, each has passed down the technique of making Onta-yaki to the succeeding generation. Fathers have taught their sons who, in turn, have taught their offspring, and so the story has continued undisturbed and unchanged for so many centuries.
Nestled in stunningly beautiful, yet narrow gorge among the hills, Onta is ten miles from the nearest highway. The good people of Onta decide the pace of their lifestyle, refusing to be pushed into activity needlessly. There isn’t all that much activity here in the day, except those that fall within the purview of pottery making, and by evening, the entire village, rather hamlet, falls into a deep slumber. And yet, you can hear the distinct heartbeat of the village going “thud-thud” as the water driven see-saw pounds clay ceaselessly through the night.
Should you find yourself in Japan sometime in the future, be sure to check out this little town that the Japanese government calls “The Living National Heritage.” Visit the individual workshops and bring back a piece of pottery – if not for its beauty then as a gentle reminder of the fact that life needn’t always be dizzyingly fast.