Favourite Places in Japan: Seto

Continuing with my posts about my favourite places in Japan, I’m going to write a bit about another – Seto (瀬戸市) in Aichi. As many people assume that you are talking about the Seto Inland Sea when the name ‘Seto’ is mentioned, it is common to refer to Seto not only as Seto city, but also as 瀬戸物の瀬戸, the Seto of ‘Seto-mono (Seto-things)’. ‘Seto-mono‘ is a common way to refer to pottery or ceramics, for which Seto city is famous.

I lived in Seto in 1993-4 when I was an ALT on the JET Programme. I have been back a few times since then – though I think the most recent was way back in 2005 when I went there for EXPO (see my post ‘EXPO 2005 and Trains‘).

As you can see from the map below, Seto is close to Nagoya – about 20km from centre to centre. Despite being so close to Japan’s fourth largest (and perhaps most forgotten city, as I mentioned in my post ‘Book Review: “An Affair with a Village” by Joy Hendry‘ and is discussed in my third novel, FOUR, many of the children that I taught referred to Seto being ‘inaka‘ (countryside). Yes, there is plenty of greenery around the city (though some was lost so that the ‘environmental’ EXPO site could be constructed). A city of 120,000 people (as it was then) is not, in my view, inaka… the village that I grew up in, with a population around 200 is inaka.

While I was in Seto on JET, I rotated around the eight lower secondary (junior high) schools. This was tough as I never really got to settle at any one school and get to know the teachers and pupils. At weekends, I often travelled to Kinosaki/Toyooka, where my wife was on JET. If she visited Seto, we spent much of the time in Nagoya or visiting somewhere else. There really wasn’t much to do in Seto. It didn’t help that I didn’t have any particular interest in pottery, either.

Despite all of this, I look back on my time in Seto fondly. It is the only time that I have lived in Japan and I learnt a lot about life in the country thanks to my experiences. The experiences in the schools also helped to lead me onto doing a PhD and specifically about education in Japan, which became the subject of my first book, Japanese Education Reform: Nakasone’s Legacy. One experience also came into my research about the JL123 crash. On the map above, you will see a star in a golden pin mark – this is the site of The China Airlines Flight CI140 Memorial. Flight CI140 crashed while I was living in Seto, and seeing the coverage on TV helped me to understand better the coverage of JL123 when I studied that. I visited the CI140 memorial in 2015, as you can read about in the post.

As I said, when I was living in Seto, I had little, or no, interest in pottery. I did go to visit one of the original kilns on one of my first days (which I think was reported on by a local newspaper), but otherwise my main interaction with the industry was playing chicken with some of the dump trucks transporting clay on the narrow streets as I drove my car to/from school. I was asked to come up with the English translation for one museum/shop in the city and at the end of the year I was asked by the city hall which employed me to choose a farewell gift, which had to be pottery. Being into sumo, I chose a pottery figurine of a yokozuna, which is at home proudly looking over our lounge (the cabinet also includes the ceramic tea cups discussing in my post about Kashiwa Sushi).

It was obvious, then, when I came to having some sumo references in my novels Tokyo 20/20 Vision and FOUR, that there would be references to Seto. The oyakata Owarihagane gets his name from the ‘Owari’ region in which Seto is located and is from Seto, allowing a discussion in FOUR about the station Owari-Seto (the ‘hagane’ (steel) part comes from me living in Sheffield for nine years).

Whether it is a sign of old age or something to do with nostalgia, I don’t know, but I have a much greater appreciation of pottery now. It’s probably time I paid another visit to Seto.

Seto in 1994
Seto in 1994
Seto in 2005

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