A Psychedelic Disneyland: Yoneko-yaki Pottery Farm

Art — 18.06.24

Photos & Words: Olga Shatokha

In a group of Japanese Okinawa islands, there’s a remote island called Ishigaki, located close to Taiwan and the Tropic of Cancer. On the northern part of Ishigaki, there’s a peculiar sightseeing spot – Yoneko-yaki Pottery Farm: a sculpture garden surrounded by an enormous jungle.


At first glance, it seems to be a park for kids, with the sculptures resembling whimsical cartoons. But the closer and longer you look at the sculptures, the more questions arise. First of all, is this really a kids’ park? Or is there a hidden meaning behind these sculptures, similar to tales like Alice in Wonderland, where philosophical contemplations are disguised as a story for children? Is there any connection between these creatures and Japanese culture? Why do they look so psychedelic? And, eventually, who is the author? We tried to find the answers.


The park was founded in 1981. The creatures of Yoneko-yaki are an interpretation of shisas – a traditional Okinawan cultural artifact and decoration, something between a lion and a dog. In every Okinawan household, shop, or any other establishment, there are two shisas at the entrance: the left one with a closed mouth (to keep good spirits in), and the right one with an open mouth (to ward off evil spirits).


This is pretty much the only information available on the farm and the internet. Attempts to ask the souvenir shop employee about the author of the statues failed: he’s not a public person and never gives interviews or maintains any contact with the general public whatsoever. Asking the other islanders also didn’t bring any results: everyone knows the garden, but no one has ever met the person. The only sign of his presence is a ladder and cans of paint next to an unfinished piece.


Thus, the rest of the interpretation is left to the audience. Some creatures look friendly, evil, and even sinful (references to the sins of gluttony, envy, laziness?). On the other hand, all these interpretations are just our conditioning, ironically ending up as a sin of coveting, yearning to possess the full understanding, breaking down the unknowable into simpler (and thus possessable) meanings.


After all, another island called Iriomote (an hour by boat from Ishigaki) is famous for its psilocybin mushrooms, so maybe Yoneko-yaki is just a psychedelic dream that we should not overthink – I guess we’ll never know for sure.