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ShiShi is King Dog at weekend festival

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2009-04-03

The shishi dog absolutely rules this weekend at its birthplace in the Tsuboya pottery district of Naha City.

The three-day Tsuboya Shishi Festival runs Friday through Sunday, paying homage to Okinawa’s finest pottery, which dates back to the Ryukyu Kingdom era centuries ago. April is SHI in Japanese, and 3 is SAN in Japanese; hence, the Shisa Day, which keys in on the shishi dog made popular through the generations. It’s a festival where everybody can join in, learning how to make pottery shishi dogs, eat a lot of foods, and wander the rows and rows of pottery, touching to your heart’s content.

Opening ceremonies kick off at 10 a.m. Friday in Naha’s Tsuboya District, the hub of Okinawan pottery since 1682. Purists point out though that the popular pottery really began being made about 6,600 years ago, with dozens of workshops still being handed down from generation to generation. The ceremonies in the Tsuboya Pottery Museum open space on Tsuboya Pottery Street is just the beginning, attracting shishi dog drum performances and Tsuboya shishi dog pottery exhibitions throughout the weekend.

Saturday’s the day for making shishi dogs, followed by competition to determine the best ones made. Reservations are needed with the Tsuboya Pottery Museum. Sunday’s a day for adventure and exploration, with visitors meandering through pottery town Tsuboya, and also visiting castle ruins for a look at pottery pots and history.

Several forms of Tsuboya’s most popular and well known products are produced in Naha City. The most famous is Arayachi Tsuboya-yaki, an unglazed pottery often coated with mud or manganese glaze. The style lends itself to larger pottery pieces, often formed as storage vessels for Awamori, water or bean paste. Joyachi Tsuboya-yaki is a colorful glazed version used in vases, teapots, pots, bowls, plates and even Awamori traveling flasks.

The Tsuboya District really blossomed when Chibana, Wakuta and Takaraguchi pottery districts merged into a single district by a royal decree of the Ryukyuan Kingdom. It was issued because of the Kingdom’s increased trading with China and southeast Asia nations, which clamored for more of the products. Entry to today’s Tsuboya Pottery Museum is usually ¥300 for adults, ¥200 for high school and college students, and ¥100 for middle school and younger students, but is expected to be free during the three-day festival.

The Tsuboya Pottery District is located in downtown Naha City, in the Kokusai Street area. Across from Okinawa Mitsukoshi Department Store on Kokusai is Heiwadori, a shopping arcade. After walking through Heiwadori arcade, visitors reach Tsuboya District. For those traveling from military bases, travel south on Highway 58 to Naha City, then turn left at signs for Kokusai Street.

Another route is to travel Highway 330 south into Naha City. Just before Naha Police Headquarters is Yogi Park; the Tsuboya pottery district is on the right side of Route 330, just before Yogi Park. There’s limited parking in the pottery district, so it’s best to park in a paid parking lot, or take a taxi or walk from Heiwadori or Kokusai Street.

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