Bizen — literally "before (the plain of) Bi" — is an ancient province known for precisely one thing: Bizen-yaki (備前焼), the oldest and most revered form of pottery in Japan. Unglazed and fairly simple in appearance, the pottery gets its cachet from the complex earthy reddish-brown tones that form when the clay is fired. Nearly anything — dishes, cups, vases, bowls, pots — can be made from it, and according to legend it improves the taste of anything you drink from it. Modern day Bizen is in legal fiction a "city" (shi), but in practice an expanse of Okayama's suburbs and rice paddies. Most pottery kilns and shops, however, are concentrated near the station of Imbe (伊部).
Two train lines run through Bizen. The JR Sanyo Line has Mitsuishi Station and Yoshinaga Station, the most convenient for accessing the Shizutani School and buses to the Hattoji area. The JR Akō Line travels through the southern part of the city. It begins in Okayama in the west, where connections to the Shinkansen network are available, and Ako to the east. Imbe Station, where the pottery sites are located, and Hinase Station, home to the port area, are the most popular stops for travelers along this line. Trains depart about once per hour.
Bizen is a sprawling area, but Imbe is easily covered on foot from the train station.
Bizen's sights are mostly dedicated to its famous pottery and sword-making. In October, the Bizen-yaki Festival is held near Inbe station, drawing some 150,000 visitors.
- Bizen Pottery Art Museum (備前陶芸美術館 Bizen tōgei bijutsukan), 1659-6 Imbe, ☎ . Tu-Su 9:30AM-4:30PM. Just to the north of JR Imbe Station, this concrete block displays both old and new examples of Bizen-style pottery. It also has informative displays on how Bizen-yaki is produced, the various ways it is fired, and displays results of each of the firing techniques. ¥500.
- Shizutani School (閑谷学校 Shizutani Gakko), 784 Shizutani, ☎ . 9AM-5PM. Ikeda Mitsumasa, a lord of Okayama, commissioned Tsuda Nagatada to build this school. Completed in 1701, it was open not only to samurai but also farmers — it is said to be the first school in the world to be open to all classes of people. Now designated a national treasure, the school is still in its original condition, and the shining ebony floor is an impressive sight. Naturally, the roof tiles are made with bizen-yaki. The kai (楷) trees (Chinese pistache, nicknamed "trees of learning") on the grounds were brought here from a Confucius Temple in China are lovely, especially during cherry blossom season and the autumn. It's about 10 minutes by taxi from JR Yoshinaga Station (¥1200), or a longer ride from JR Imbe (¥2500). ¥300.
- Kei Fujiwara Museum of Art (藤原啓記念館), 3868 Honami, Bizen-shi, ☎ . 10AM-4:30PM. A museum featuring the artwork of Kei Fujiwara, a reknowned Bizen potter who was designated a Living National Treasure in 1970.
- Shoraku-ji (正楽寺), ☎ . The third temple of Chugoku region's 33 temple pilgrimage.
- BIZEN Latin American Museum (An 8 minute walk from JR Hinase Station). A museum containing a variety of historic artifacts from Central and South America. ¥700.
Many kilns around Imbe will let you try your hand at making your very own Bizen-yaki. A chunk of clay, firing and shipping anywhere in Japan (overseas delivery also possible) will set you back around ¥3000.
- Bizen-yaki Traditional Pottery Center (備前焼伝統産業会館 Bizen-yaki dentō sangyō kaikan), ☎ . The easiest place to give the lathe a spin, as it is located right on the third floor of JR Imbe Station. Workshops are held every weekend.
- Bishugama (備州窯). Advance reservation required. The charge is ¥2,625~3,675 (plus postage), and they'll ship 3~4months later.
The town of Imbe seems to consist nearly entirely of Bizen-yaki shops, and the large gift shop in the Pottery Art Museum has a fairly representative array of local pieces. Prices are generally steep, with even the simplest tea cups costing several thousand yen and more complex designs going for millions.
Bizen has two famous foods; Bizen Curry and oysters. The curry has a bit more of a kick to it than typical Japanese curries. Restaurants serving this dish are scattered throughout the city. The most convenient is probably the restaurant located within Inbe Station. The oysters come from the Hinase area of the city. They're fished from the Inland Sea at Hinase Port.
- Business Inn STK, ☎ 086-963-1515. Check-in: 4PM-11PM, check-out: 10AM. Singles from ¥5300.
- Takamakura Ryokan. English version of the webpage only lists ryokans in the most popular tourist areas, so information can only be obtained from the Japanese version. Rooms from ¥7350, includes breakfast.
- Tamaya Ryokan. Check-in: 3PM-11PM, check-out: 10AM. A portside ryokan in the Hinase area. ¥4725.
|Routes through Bizen|
|Hiroshima ← Okayama ←||W E||→ Une(Ako) → Kobe|
|Hiroshima ← Okayama ←||W E||→ Ako → Kobe|