I started out for Noritake Garden (after a fortifying nonfat Cafe Mocha from Starbucks) on a cool grey morning...didn't see sunshine for the rest of the day, but it was still warmer than yesterday, when we had flurries on base. The Noritake complex is about a 15-minute walk from Nagoya Station. The garden (such as it was in mid-January) and shops are free, but the Craft Center costs 500 yen.
I started by walking around the gardens; the grass looked like Texas mid-summer, but there were a few pansies and hardy flowers hanging on. There are several brick factory buildings around the grounds, and several smokestacks. These buildings house a variety of Noritake-themed exhibits, the most striking of which is the Canvas Morimura-Okura Museum. This free gem showcases the contributions of ceramics in engineering, including auto manufacturing, water purifiers, automotive filters, high-tech toilets, insulators, and more. It's obvious that a lot of love (and money) went into Canvas; the interactive experience starts off as you step into a recreation of the original Noritake kiln, and metal doors slide shut as an introductory video plays and colored lights mimic the firing process (you're surrounded by unfired ceramics). Typical of Japan, you even get a card key with a built-in ruler and (Celsius) thermometer that unlocks the interactive exhibits (you accumulate up to 23 points as you visit each station). There's an oddly beautiful Toto Washlet (part of Japanese toilets that include a bidet and bottom-washing spray) that, under UV light, creates gorgeous patterns of water droplets, and ceramic heating elements that sound like pipe organs (you can play five different notes).
Next, I checked out the Noritake outlet, which had a variety of Noritake patterns as well as traditional Japanese ceramics, lacquerware, and American contributions like Yankee Candle, Seda France candles, and sachets. The Craft Center allows you to walk through a Noritake production line, from design to finished product. At each station, there are videos that show the various steps, and right in front of you are Noritake artists performing each step in person, including cutting and fitting clay parts, painting on gold leaf (it goes on clear brown but fires gold, just as blues start out as green pigment), and delicate hand-painting. You can also try your hand at painting your own mug or plate for around $25 (the items are ready in 6-10 days). Finally, I stopped into the exclusive Noritake gallery, where high-end limited-edition china is displayed, from $200 cup and saucer sets to vases costing six digits.
Next, I visited the Yamazaki Mazak Museum (Shinsakae Station on the Higashiyama Line). I first heard about it from a flyer at the Menard Museum, and was particularly interested in its collection of Art Nouveau furniture and glass. Ever since visiting Casa Lis in Salamanca, I’ve been in love with the graceful, nature-inspired forms of Art Nouveau, and Yamazaki Mazak didn’t disappoint. Like the Nagoya Boston Museum, there are free coin lockers, a café, and a wine bar. There are only two floors; you start on the fifth, which contains European paintings and sculpture from the 1700s to the 20th century, including Impressionist works by Sisley, Monet, and Pissaro, to more modern contributions by Picasso and Miro. There are numerous sculptures by Rodin and a rather crude terra cotta by Renoir.
The fourth floor was sheer magic, beginning with a complete dining room in Art Nouveau by Paul Alexandre Dumas, including wall paneling, doors, mirrors, tables, chandelier, fireplace and sideboards. This room was originally part of an exhibition in 1902. The next several rooms contain beautiful Art Nouveau specimens with astonishingly complex wood inlays that look like paintings. Finally, the last room is full of etched glassware by Emile Galle and a couple of Daum and Tiffany lamps rounding out the offerings.