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Potters in Iwaki

May 28, 2018

Potter fires up kilns again after evacuating from nuke disaster



Manabu Kondo, left, and his son Takashi hold their wares freshly out of the climbing kiln at the Tokichirogama pottery in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture. The building in the back is a gallery. (Hiroyuki Yaginuma)



IWAKI, Fukushima Prefecture--Manabu Kondo is determined not to let a centuries-old pottery die with him, even after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster forced him to evacuate from Namie in the prefecture.


Kondo, 64, the ninth-generation proprietor of the Tokichirogama pottery, opened a full-scale studio here in the spring this year.


“What matters is the spirit handed down to you,” the potter said. “No matter where I do pottery, I have no intention of throwing away the heart and soul of Obori Soma Ware.”


Determined to devote himself to pottery making in his new base with his eldest son Takashi, 37, Kondo installed four kilns, including climbing and gas kilns, in his new studio.


The two will open a gallery for their works on May 30.


Tokichirogama was originally founded during the Edo Period (1603-1867). The kiln in the Obori district of Namie, which had been handed down from his ancestors, cannot be used following the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.


With much of the town remaining designated as a “difficult-to-return zone” seven years after the nuclear disaster because of high radiation levels, prospects for his return home remain uncertain.


Kondo has mixed feelings about leaving his original production base.


“I want to return but I can’t,” Kondo said. “I have no choice but to work in a place to which we evacuated.”


In April, Kondo and his son fired their first batch of pottery in the climbing kiln at the new studio. The last time they made wood-fired pottery was eight years ago when they used the climbing kiln in Namie before the nuclear disaster.


On April 22, the potters, soaked with sweat, removed the vessels, decorated with unique patterns produced by fire, from the kiln.


“I feel like we have taken a new step,” Kondo said with a smile.


Kondo's works featuring “futae-yaki,” a double-layering method distinctive to Obori Soma Ware, and the “zogan” technique, used to create various motifs such as birds by inlaying colored clay, have been displayed at the prestigious Nitten art exhibition and many other contests. Takashi's porcelain have also been shown at Nitten and other exhibitions.


Although their styles are different, the father and son fired their vessels in the climbing kiln together and removed their first batch of works from the furnace.


“I also had reservations, but we managed to somehow work it out,” Takashi said. “I can’t say I don’t feel attached to Namie, but now that we’re here, we want to do our best in this place.”


The Tokichirogama pottery in Iwaki was remodeled from a vacant house formerly used as a private museum, with a new studio added to the structure. The old museum building will be used as a gallery to showcase works by the Kondos, who also invite fellow craftsmen to bring their wares to display. Pottery classes will also be offered.


Dating back at least 300 years, Obori Soma Ware originated in the Obori district of Namie and became widely available mostly thanks to support from the Soma Domain, or present-day northeastern Fukushima Prefecture. It is known for unique features including a running horse motif and blue cracks covering the entire surface.


More than 20 pottery producers had operated before the nuclear crisis erupted, but they scattered to many other locations after they evacuated the town following the nuclear crisis.


Half the potters who left Namie have resumed operations in the Nakadori region in the prefecture and at other locations.



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