Experience the Daiichi Sake Brewery Tour and discover the most historic brewery in Tochigi, tucked away in Sano town.
Mashiko is a pottery town located in the southeast corner of Tochigi prefecture just two hours from Tokyo (map). The town is well known for its pottery called “Mashiko yaki” (Mashiko ware) made from the local red-brown clay which produces highly durable ceramics. It was also made famous by artist Shōji Hamada who was designated as Japan’s Living National Treasure in the field of crafts in 1955. Since then the town has been attracting people from all around the world especially crafts enthusiasts. In addition to the pottery heritage, Mashiko is also known to grow amazing strawberries and make delicious sake. Both are great ways to enjoy Mashiko in Spring.
It was my first time to spend a day exploring Mashiko in spring and I was surprised to discover how easy it was to enjoy many things in one day as everything is very close to each other. It is a small town with friendly folks who welcome visitors with warm smiles and greetings. The place gives this cozy vibe of a countryside which is very nostalgic.
Upon arrival at Mashiko station my group and I went straight to the Mashiko Tourism Office which is right beside the station and has a lot of information about fun events, where to go, and things to enjoy in Mashiko in Spring. Spring is also a great time to hire a bicycle as it isn’t too hot or cold. We approached the small counter inside the building and filled a form to rent the electric assisted bicycles. The price for each bicycle is 700yen a day from 09:00AM till 04:00PM
We used the bicycles for the whole day as our mode of transportation going to each place we visited. It was quite convenient because it is battery powered and doesn’t require much effort. Riding the bicycle alone was so much fun as I could enjoy the fresh spring air and the relaxing scenery of the countryside on the way to the next stop.
Below, I have listed 10 fun ways to enjoy Mashiko in the spring. I also included a few facts, insights, and tips to help you figure out which activities are best for your trip.
Strawberry season in Mashiko is from December till May (Winter & Spring). During this time strawberry picking is one of the most popular activities for both local and international tourists. Yoshimura Strawberry Park (English Website) is open from 09:00AM till 11:00AM and offers strawberry picking packages depending on the month you visit. We visited during March, so the price (1,500yen per person) is quite cheaper than the earlier months. The packages include all you can eat with unlimited time. Please note that it doesn’t include take-away so you must eat the ones you’ve picked. We were able to have a lot of fun and indulge ourselves picking and eating different kinds of strawberries.
“Skyberry” an uncommonly large strawberry that is both beautiful in appearance and sweet in taste.
Aside from famous Tochigi strawberries like Tochiotome, Tochihime, Skyberry and Milkyberry the park also grows several other varieties of strawberries produced in Japan which I’ve never heard of and was my first time to try. Such as OiC berry, Akihime, Nyohou and Kaorino. All the strawberries taste delicious and differ in size, texture, and level of sweetness and acidity. What caught my eye was the “Kaorino” which tasted very sweet and smelled like peach. The inside part of the berry looks a little red orange from the side then fades to white towards the middle. Another interesting variety is the “Milkyberry” which is white in color!
Coming from a brewer family in Utsunomiya, Itsutaro Tonoike founded Tonoike Sake brewery in Mashiko during the year 1937. During the Winter and Spring, the brewery produces a wide range of sake and is well known for its “Sanran sake” brand (English Website). Sanran (燦爛) means sunshine, sake which has won gold for 6 consecutive years at the Japan Sake Awards.
Inside the compound is a brewery, a shop, a café, and a gallery. The shop sells a wide range of sake products, as well as Mashiko pottery sake cups, sweets, and sake cosmetics. Opening hours is from 09:00AM to 05:00PM every day.
At the right end of the shop is café “Yu” (湧), where you can try standard sake tasting for 1,000yen and premium at 2,000yen per person. If you like sake, spring is the best time to visit as you can enjoy freshly pressed sake. However, aside from sake tasting, you should also try the sake ice cream, and coffee made from the same water they use to brew the sake.
Located at the back of the brewery is the gallery where previous sake making tools and photos of how sake is made from rice are displayed. There, you can also find information about the brewery’s history and its pioneers. Entrance to the gallery is free.
One of the best ways to enjoy Mashiko’s spring countryside scenery is by riding a vintage steam engine train from Moka station to Mashiko station. SL Moka connects Shimodate, Moka, Mashiko, and Motegi. It operates every Saturday, Sunday, and National Holidays. You may purchase SL tickets a month in advance or on the same day at Moka, Mashiko, and Motegi station. Same day tickets are also sold by the train conductor onboard which costs 500yen per adult and 250yen per child. Take note that you also need to purchase an ordinary ticket for the boarding section on top of the SL ticket. A one-way ticket from Moka station to Mashiko station costs 840yen per adult and 420yen per child in total. The train leaves Moka station at 11:13AM and arrives Mashiko at 11:34AM. Click here for train times.
Just 6 minutes from Mashiko station is Kashima Shrine. People come here to pray to the god of victory to help them win their upcoming tournament, competition, or win in life in general. It is also the center of several festivals in Mashiko.
The locals hold festivals like the Hydrangea Festival during early summer around the last week of June, and the famous Mashiko Gion Matsuri which is a three-day festival held every 23rd till the 25th of July. On the night of the 23rd, volunteers light up the sky with hand tube fireworks which is a tradition also practiced in other places in Japan. On the 24th they do a very interesting tradition where 10 officials of the local community drink 6.5 liters of sake from a huge sake cup in offering to the gods for an abundant harvest. The traditional practice can be traced back to the Edo period and is considered as one of the three most unique festivals in the Kanto region. So, if you like festivities, visiting Mashiko during the summer festival would be a great idea.
Although there is a large Spring pottery fair in May, there is also a smaller Mashsiko pottery market held on weekends and national holidays. Local potters set up outdoor tents at the Mashiko Kyohan center and sell affordable ceramics for everyday use. The price ranges from a hundred to a few thousand Yen and there are so many selections to choose from. They sell different items from bowls, cups, vases, decorations, chopstick holders, etc… Some spring themed as well. Most of the earthenware have the distinct Mashiko ware design that is quite thick and has a shiny glaze which makes it easy to hold.
I personally like the items sold in this market because it is practical, and it fits my budget.
I’ve created a video about the 10 things you can do in Mashiko, so feel free to watch the places I talk about in this blog!
Curry Kitchen Yamani is a short two-minute walk across the potters’ tents at Kyohan Center. They offer curry and soba meal sets on their menu. The meal costs around 870yen to 1,350yen per person. The restaurant opens from 11:30AM to 03:00PM and is closed during Fridays.
For the curry dish they use a slow cooked “Yume” pork (a high-quality livestock locally raised in Tochigi prefecture), their original curry spice recipe, local Mashiko rice, and a salad on the side. I got to try the pork and it was soft and very tasty, which in Japanese term is “Umami”.
I ordered cold soba and tempura meal set since it is one of my favorite Japanese food. Soba is noodle dish made from buckwheat flour which is rich in fiber, protein, and energy. The buckwheat flour the restaurant uses to make the noodles is locally grown in Mashiko. The dish is usually served together with spring onions and wasabi on the side together with a cup of soba sauce (looks like a cup of cold tea). The dish goes perfectly well with the freshly fried tempura and is really delicious. The meal also comes with sweet redbean and mochi dessert.
The most famous activity in town is the “Pottery Experience” which I personally recommend. For the pottery lessons, we went to Furuki-Mashiko Ceramic Art Club & Kominka Furuki (益子陶芸倶楽部 古民家古木). And aside from the local instructors, they also have international instructors who can conduct classes in English!
The course we took was a three-hour class covering the basics like: the two types of clay to use (white and red-brown), which glaze is compatible with the different types of clays, centering the clay on the electric wheel, how to make a bowl, cup, and plate, and a few techniques on how to shape the clay. The activity was very enjoyable but just make sure to wear comfortable clothes which you can get dirty because even though the clay is easy to remove with water, getting it on your clothes is inevitable.
If you want to take home the pieces you’ve made, you may have it delivered to your doorsteps for an extra fee for firing which starts from 650yen, and 1,100yen for the shipping fee. Take note that reservations are required for the activity. Please call them on TEL: +81(0)285-72-3866.
The place also offers accommodations at Kominka Furuki where you can experience staying in an old traditional Japanese style guest house.
Mashiko Yuuwakan was originally built in Nikko during the year 1905 and was formerly known as “Nanma Hotel”. It is the building where the previous emperor, Emperor Akihito, evacuated to during the end of World War II in 1945. It was then relocated to Mashiko town in 1973.
It was recently renovated and re-opened as a 5-bedroom hotel in the spring of 2020. On the second floor of the building is the “Peace Gallery” open to the public where visitors can see newspapers during the time of WW2. Just by reading you can peak through Japanese history and imagine how the people live their lives during that time. Opening hours is from 01:00PM till 04:00PM, 10:00AM-04:00PM during National Holidays, and closed every Tuesday and Wednesday.
Inside the Peace Gallery, you may listen to the recording of the “玉音放送, Gyokuon-hōsō”, the Emperor’s announcement ending World War II.
The hotel offers spacious rooms and a shower in the room and there is also a Japanese style bath for guest to book. It is also noticeable that they have incorporated Mashiko pottery in the interior design of the building. The rooms’ design is a mixture of traditional Japanese and contemporary style which looks really refreshing to the eye. A stay per night is 7,000yen on weekdays, 8,500yen on weekends, and 9,000yen during peak seasons and the spring and autumn pottery fair. Overnight rates include breakfast (The hotel does not offer dinner). For reservations you can contact them on Tel:+81(0)285-81-5582.
Whether you’re looking for some ceramics for a gift or for something to display at home, you may find a lot of interesting items at Pottery Shop Tsukamoto which is conveniently situated in front of the Mashiko Yuuwakan Hotel. They sell a lot of bright colored pottery as well as cute animal shaped ceramics. The shop is open from 10:30AM till 05:00PM and is closed every Thursday.
On our way back to Mashiko station, we passed by pottery shop Mashikoyaki Togeikan at Kyohan Center, where you may find ceramics and pottery designed by famous artists like Tatsuzo Shimaoka, who was Shoji Hamada’s student. Both Hamada and Shimaoka are considered as Japan’s Living National Treasures.
The shop also sells products from intricately designed pottery which cost a few thousands yen, all the way to ‘works of art’ which can cost a few million yen per piece! It’s a nice place to shop especially if you like collecting beautiful hand made items.
The most noticeable landmark at the Mashiko Kyohan Center is a huge “tanuki” racoon statue named “Ponta”, Mashiko’s official mascot. Ponta holds a cup on its left hand which is made of Mashiko pottery. The statue was built to bring prosperity to the town.
Beside the statue is a red banner which says “Mashiko Kottou Mura” or Mashiko Antique Village (益子骨董村). The shop sells local antiques, some very random items and even old Japanese swords & samurai armor!
You’ll have to walk through a narrow pathway inside the shop to browse for items. I was careful not to step on or knock down anything because antiques can be a bit delicate. The items the shop sells are quite interesting and amusing, so just browsing can be a lot of fun.
My trip to Mashiko in spring opened a whole new perspective of how I could enjoy Japan’s countryside. I had so much fun doing all the activities but most importantly I got the chance to experience its culture and learn about its traditions, which makes the trip a lot more memorable. There are still so many more things you can do, and ways to enjoy Mashiko in the spring. If you plan to visit Mashiko, a day tour is a good idea but if you have more time, I definitely recommend a few days stay so you could enjoy as much as the town could offer.
Contributor: Venice Akamatsu
Venice’s lives locally and has a passion to make travel videos so she can provide reliable information to travelers visiting Japan. After starting her youtube channel, she’s been continuously sharing about travel, local events, and everyday life in Japan.
youtube: Venice Aka