Combining Broken Tea Bowls Help Heal Kanazawa Potter’s Broken Heart; Japan’s Ohi Ware Artist Creates New Works From Old Family Creations

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Ohi Chozaemon XI is considering how to create new works from broken tea bowls. Works in the forefront can be seen on display at exhibitions.

KANAZAWA — A Kanazawa potter has been fusing together fragments of tea bowls, which were shattered during the massive Noto Peninsula Earthquake, from three generations of artists — his grandfather, his father and himself — to create something new.

Ohi Chozaemon XI, 65, was in a state of shock for some time as a result of the extensive damage caused by the Jan. 1 earthquake. However, he became more motivated after seeing how heavy the damage was in Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture, and how his fellow artists there began taking steps toward reconstruction.

“I’m being tested by the heavens, and this is my response,” Ohi said.

Ohi, whose real name is Toshio, is a successor of Ohi ware, a renowned pottery style dating back to the Edo period.

On New Year’s Day, Kanazawa was hit by a tremor with a maximum intensity of upper 5 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7. Some pieces at the Ohi Museum, which is located in the city center and displays generations of Ohi ware artists’ works, suffered damage, including one of Ohi’s pieces that won the highest award in the applied fine arts category at the Japan Fine Arts Exhibition.

His workshop, which is located in the suburbs of Kanazawa, was even more heavily damaged. The building tilted, the kiln was damaged and more than 100 tea bowls created by each of the three artists were broken. Ohi had moved the works of his father, who died in October and was a recipient of the Order of Culture, to the workshop at the end of last year.

“I had kept them in three separate locations to manage the risk, but I moved them [to the workshop] to select items I could donate to the city,” he said. “I felt responsible for my decision.”

Once he returned to the workshop after the quake, Ohi stopped an employee who was trying to clean up the broken pieces of tea bowls. He could not bring himself to throw away the fragments because of the strong feelings he had for his father and grandfather, as well as for his own works. He spent a week sorting through the pieces but had no idea what to do with them.

“I tried to see whether I could change my style by forming works with the broken pieces in front of me,” Ohi said. “But since I didn’t have a functioning kiln, I was in limbo for a while.”

He came up with the idea of combining the works of three generations around February.

Ohi said: “They are not intentionally broken to fit together. It’s possible because it was done by the heavens. If works spanning 70 years are combined, it’s like a time traveling tea bowl.”

He continued to think of ways to make it work every day.

Ohi renewed his determination in March when he visited his friends, who are lacquer craft artists, in Wajima.

“One person’s house burned down, and another’s had been completely destroyed,” he said. “But some of them had already resumed production, and it motivated me to work harder.”

He combined clay with glaze, which he used as glue, but the mixture swelled when it was fired and did not work well. But he figured out that the swelling can be suppressed by adding powdered pieces of broken tea bowls.

In April, he completed four works, which are irregularly shaped and have a collage-type appearance.

The pieces can be seen in Tokyo at Nihombashi Takashimaya department store from June 5 to 10.

Ohi said his life has been marked by unexpected losses, including the early deaths of his younger sister and eldest daughter.

“Compared to them, [what I experienced during the earthquake] was nothing,” Ohi said. “Because I was able to give the heavens a clear answer in response to their test, I feel like my grief will be healed.”