Japan is a modern country, famous for its electronics and technological prowess. Thankfully, a few little pockets of the old, traditional Japan remain. Such as the wonderful little village of Onta.
Onta, nestled into a narrow green gorge among the hills of eastern Kyushu, has been a pottery village for the whole of its recorded history. Every one of its 300 residents, it seems, either produce pottery, work in pottery shops or run accommodations for pottery buyers from out of town.
Pottery here is a tradition passed down from father to son, practiced in ways that have changed little over time. The same basic tools used to make pottery in Onta today were used a hundred years ago. Visit Onta on a sunny day and you’ll see front yards filled with drying pots and plates. And the clear mountain stream that bisects Onta is still used to pound clay via a kara-usu.
A kara-usu is a sort of see-saw with a large bowl on one end and a pounding hammer on the other. Water from the Onta stream pours into a bowl, lowering it until the water spills out. When that happens the large hammer on the other end of the see-saw comes crashing down into a mound of clay. Then water refills the pot and the process begins again.
What little activity there is around Onta during the day shuts down after sunset. At night the village is completely silent except for the babbling of streams and the gentle thud-thud-thud of the kara-usus. It is completely quaint and other worldly.
Where to stay: Yorozuya Ryokan—traditional Japanese rooms and hot baths located in the center of town next to the stream. No English is spoken (as with the other lodges in Onta) but the staff are exceptionally friendly to international visitors.
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