12 years after the Tohoku earthquake (11 March 2011)

Takeshi Matsunaga

7th March, 2023

Twelve years have passed since the great earthquake of 2011. I dedicated my youth to the restoration of the Ohori Soma pottery when I was still a novice. I worked hard and achieved everything I could. I developed sales channels, developed products and recruited staff. Not everything went according to plan, and looking back, I think I had more disappointment than success.

Most importantly, I no longer have to worry about the tradition fading away.

In the end, the work paid off. The temporary workshop has been renovated and young craftsmen have been recruited. We are now self-sufficient, especially since product development and marketing have been well structured. Despite the economic turmoil caused by the covid crisis, profits have continued to rise. 
Of course, there are still many challenges for Matsunaga Pottery to overcome. However, looking at the production of all the potters of Ohori soma yaki, I feel that the cataclysm caused by the earthquake and then by covid has been contained. Thanks to the mobilisation of volunteer craftsmen in the framework of regional reconstruction, the kilns have become dynamic again. Like the young Naohiro Yoshida, the next generation is assured and we can count on them to pass on the local know-how. 

And now, what remains to be done?

1. Launch of Rokuro-so
The idea of a co-working space on the second floor and a guest house on the third floor has always been in the back of my mind. I wanted the trainees to be able to stay at their workplace. I also needed a workspace with an office, so I built it myself. Now that the sanitary measures are becoming more flexible, I would be happy to host artists and potters in residence.

2. A social support project for people with disabilities
In the village of Nishigo where the workshop is located, there are several employment support structures. I have used them many times to carry out some of the manufacturing processes. Among my acquaintances, there are several who run them, and I had the opportunity to meet one who lives in Sendai and whom I have known for ten years. After our exchange, we concluded that joining this particular workforce with traditional crafts would be a real asset. Some people with disabilities are meticulous in carrying out tedious and unglamorous tasks, while others have a remarkable artistic sensitivity. 
I am convinced that this collaboration has great potential.

3. Support for mergers and acquisitions of creative activities
After the earthquake, the recovery of Ohori Soma pottery could not have been achieved without the digital platform. The digital platform has enabled the continuity of sales and product development. Moreover, since the covid pandemic, the internet has become the main engine for promotion and trade in handicrafts. I am now more involved in marketing than in making pottery, and to be honest, I feel more comfortable doing it.

Japan is facing a serious shortage of successors for small and medium-sized enterprises and for individual entrepreneurs. The ageing population and rural depopulation are the main reasons for this. 
In this context, the Matsunaga Pottery, a family business, is in the middle of a succession. I'm getting to know the legal status and tax regulations as best I can. Compared to other workshops, the Matsunaga kiln has managed to hold its own. Indeed, too many competent potters cannot find successors and the know-how is being lost. Due to a lack of skilled labour, successful pieces are often relegated to oblivion, which disappoints buyers who can no longer obtain them. Too many workshops in all sectors of the craft industry have to close down.  
That's why I want to contribute to a revival of workshops, so that they in turn become fully-fledged businesses with a more commercial dimension. Because of their traditional character, they do not always position themselves on the M&A market. I therefore hope to be able to support them to ensure the transmission of traditional techniques and local crafts. 
I have always been in the business of creating objects, and I am now driven by a desire to be an entrepreneur.

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Takeshi Matsunaga