Oga Showten: Art, Craft and Cuisine Freshly Born from Traditional Spaces
While I love Kyoto for its traditional aesthetics and endless places to stroll and inspect, there are times when I want to make the most of a weekend ‘at home’. Yet when the urge to luxuriate and lounge in similar settings to those I enjoy in Kyoto is still strong I know I can head to Omi Hachiman to get the best of both. If you live in Shiga and haven’t been to the Hachiman Bori area, you are missing out. If you’ve been, you’ll probably recall ambling along picturesque streets walled by charred cypress framing glimpses into long-lived lush gardens. The houses, many of them generations old, lure the eye over the craft of their creation. It’s a pleasure to be there and added pleasures await those diverging off into the cafes and galleries found enriching the laneways. You can certainly make a full day of it, or, for those looking to sample a solid selection of delights over an afternoon, ‘Oga Showten’ is a great place to start.
Oga Showten is a grand old store building with an inviting understated presence in the north-west of the ‘Bori’ area. While outside it looks like many of the other traditional wood paneled shop fronts, inside it offers a creative architecture that brings out childlike joy discovering how all the rooms come labyrinth-like together. It dates back almost 150 years when the area was well known for its merchant families and shops. Originally a wholesale sugar store, it later became a wholesale shoe store after the Second World War. Now, Oga Showten has again remodeled itself into a cluster of six creative coves (adding to the adventure-like feel of the place), each offering a sample of Japanese craftsmanship and care.
When you enter from the main door and are taken in by the warmly lit antique air of the place, you’ll immediately notice on your right ‘Koukoan’ run by Saito-san, a Japanese seal (hanko) and calligraphy artist. While it is customary for people in Japan to have name seals, the way in which Saito-san crafts them is utterly unique. After discussing with an interested client, he will create a work of art that genuinely merges a person’s name and character into one symbolic piece that people will treasure and use for a lifetime. Even if you’re not in need of a seal yourself, you can peruse his extensive catalogue of works in the small blue bound notebooks he has on display. Or, enjoy his vibrant and energetic calligraphy pieces that dynamically capture the simultaneous form and feel of words.
From Koukoan, you’ll be either led by the trail of crafts displayed to the left down into the craft belly of Oga Showten called ‘Sacra’ or you’ll linger along the stool-lined bench table running the scenic length of the front windows. I suggest the latter for journey’s sake and soon you’ll come to ‘Idea’, a forever changing (rentable) event space filled in rotation with the likes of photography, painting, flower arrangements, edible delights, fashion design, handmade shoes and more. And what’s more is you can explore the almost secret exhibition ‘loft’ space off here by a small set of steel steps up against the back wall that almost seem ‘staff only’ but are usually free for visitors to use.
After Idea is ‘Bond Yard’, a working metal welding studio that you can openly stroll through or use via one of its welding workshops. The owner, Kodo-san, shows his quirky sense of art in his works on display such as his bike-cum-witches broomstick and insect lights you can admire decorating the walls.
Out the other side of Bond Yard is the newest addition to Oga Showten – an antique shop featuring both traditional Japanese pieces in with collectables from across Europe. If you’re in the mood, you can possibly buy a few collectables and an antique display case to keep them in. Luckily, the shop is set in a loop arrangement which will send you back through Bond Yard, past Idea and on to the craft adorned left entrance wall. If you follow the range of ceramics, glass, wood work, prints and textiles beyond the range of local food produce for sale you’ll reach ‘Sacra’.
‘Sacra’ has been lovingly mentioned along with Oga Showten before on Be Wa as it is a hot spot for good craft in Shiga. Midori-san who has run Sacra for 15 years knows how to source good and original craft for her space and there is no shortage of well made, well designed and well priced items for sale. The brightly sun-lit open wooden space of Sacra is a joy to absorb itself before you head across to the little nook of added craft in the back center of the building. Here is a special place for me as I know I am sure to find another tasteful art accessory or weep-worthy wooden spoon to make any tea time bliss. Midori-san, with her sincere interest in all visitors fronted by a warm and generous smile, is more often than not here ready with kind enquiries about what you casually mentioned you were up to last time…. and, in perfectly relaxed bilingual mode too!
By this time, having stimulated your soul and eyes to excess (and in my case probably wallet too), it is well worth settling into one of the comfortably classic arm chairs or even floor cushions (set closer to the wonderfully smelling and inviting tatami straw mats) to enjoy a hearty and healthy meal from the in-house cafe ‘Suiran’. Suiran serves up beautifully presented local produce arranged into tasty menu treats covering curry dishes, rice topped arrangements and other specials of the day. The sweets and drinks menu is also worth a good sampling and affordably so. As your order will be brought to you wherever you choose to sit, I recommend finding the hidden staircase over behind the main seating area wall which will take you up to the satisfyingly secluded second floor. Here, you can claim your own sense of ‘private library’ space by lounging next to the large wooden shelves supporting a range of art books, mixed literature, magazines and a whopping great camera lens no one ever misses to be amazed at. Alternatively, crawl into the windowed tatami space nested into the far eaves to fully appreciate the cozy glow this space exudes.
Having been refreshed and relaxed enough and preparing for the ascent back into the main floor, don’t forget to peer out from the upper floor to see how unique the open architecture of Oga Showten really is. This place does an amazing job of combining creative open space with an acute sense of homeliness that can be appreciated time and time again.
For more details on Oga Showten, visit their website at http://oga-showten.com/. Parking is available – and don’t forget to see if the big exhibition ‘barn’ like space is open with an added event as you head round to the front entrance! Cool fliers and pamphlets for other exhibitions and places available inside on the way to the toilet.