Obori Soma Ware -What is tradition? Seeking the invisible answer-

Takeshi Matsunaga

24th July, 2022

11 March 2011. The magnitude 9 earthquake in the Tohoku region of Japan and the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant caused severe damage to my hometown of Namie-cho, Fukushima Prefecture. Not only were buildings and other structures damaged by the earthquake, but the entire town became an evacuation zone, making it uninhabitable. At the time, there were more than 20 kilns in the Ohori area of the city that produced the traditional Ohori Soma-yaki craft. The Matsunaga kiln, where I am now the fourth generation, is one of them. But we were all forced to evacuate, leaving behind kilns that had been passed down from generation to generation.
The Namie-cho evacuation order was partially lifted six years later, but the Ohori area is still evacuated (in June 2022). Nevertheless, a dozen kilns, including the Matsunaga kiln, have rebuilt their kilns in new locations, with great effort, so as not to extinguish the light of this traditional craft that has endured since the 17th century. By mixing clay and new glazes, they have revived the Ohori Soma products.
While the revival of their hometown's traditional craft has become a source of comfort to the people of Namie who have continued to be evacuated, the kilns that were forced to leave the area are now asking, "What is tradition? What is home?" The kilns continued to face difficult questions such as, "What is tradition?

Born in the samurai era, Ohori Soma pottery was designated a national traditional craft in 1978. It has been loved by the local people as a common pottery and has the following three main characteristics.
The painting of the horse is also called "left horse" because it is always painted looking to the left, which is associated with the meaning "there is nothing to the right" and is considered a sign of good luck.
The cracks, caused by the difference in shrinkage between the material and the glaze, extend across the skin of the celadon and form a background pattern known as 'blue cracks'.
This is a technique unique to Ohori Soma Ware. The water in the pot does not cool easily and is not hot to the touch. This technique is the result of the ingenuity and resourcefulness of people in their daily lives.
However, these styles, which are considered "traditional", have only been established in the last 100 years or so of Ohori Soma-yaki's 300+ year history. This pottery has indeed been through the ages, changing its form over time.
The disasters of the Great East Japan Earthquake and the nuclear power plant accident could, from a different perspective, be the driving force behind the birth of a new "tradition". With this in mind, I made the decision to pass on the family business, Ohori Soma-yaki, to the next generation, which I had not previously intended to take over. I now believe that the way of being and the way of life of the people who make the pottery shape the tradition.

From this perspective, I have been working on the development of the following new productions and expansion of sales channels, and actively disseminating information overseas, making use of my experience from my student days in various business operations abroad.
For example, the Croterrace series is a collaboration with the town of Ogatsu in Miyagi Prefecture, which was also affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake. The town's speciality, the famous Ogatsu stone used to make inkstones, is crushed and used as a glaze and applied to Ohori Soma-yaki clay to create a jet-black surface that reflects the food.

Another innovative product that makes use of the double-layer structure is IKKON, a sake vessel with the same outer appearance but a different inner shape. Inspired by the fact that the shape of the glass changes the taste of wine, this product was devised to enjoy the changing taste of sake.

Even today, disasters and wars still occur frequently in the world, and many people suddenly lose the living environment they used to take for granted. I would be more than happy if the story of the revival of Ohori Soma-yaki, which was forced to flee its homeland, and my view on traditional crafts, could be a hint to such people when they think about "where their heart is based".
For enquiries about Ohori Soma Ware, please contact Gatch inc. info@gatch.co.jp, a trading company specialising in traditional Japanese industry that acts as a sales agent for several kilns, including Matsunaga Kiln. Some products can also be purchased in the online shop.

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Takeshi Matsunaga