Potter turns Mihara’s lava into isle’s trademark pottery

OSHIMA ISLAND, Tokyo — Jun Oba takes advantage of the volcano here, even though he is not a souvenir vender or a seismologist. A ceramic artist, he uses lava to make pottery.

A resident of the island for just 20 years, 70-year-old Oba is the creator of Izu Oshima Yaki (pottery), now one of the island’s special products. “To me, Mount Mihara is not scenery or an object of religious faith,” he said. “It gives me the most important material. In a way, it is my master.”

In 1974, while working in the western Tokyo suburb of Chofu, Oba started frequenting Oshima to fish. Local people he befriended suggested he try to make pottery from lava, hoping it could become a new industry here.

But moving to a new workplace was a big decision for him. He asked his friends to send volcanic rocks over to Chofu and studied the possibility of success for three months, he says. “I couldn’t make up my mind until I was confident the new kind of pottery matched other kinds in quality.”

Two years later, he quit his pottery class in Chofu and resigned as an executive of an artist group to move to the island. His wife, also a ceramic artist, remains in Tokyo and sometimes visits him. He collects pieces of old lava near his pottery studio at the foot of Mount Mihara, breaks the rocks into powder with a mill, and mixes the powder with ordinary soil in a ratio.