Kumamoto’s shattered pottery reborn with Wajima lacquer twist


Akira Otaguro was organizing an online photo exhibition of pottery works with a potter friend in Kumamoto Prefecture when a series of powerful earthquakes jolted southwestern Japan in April last year.

After learning that many works made by his friend were broken in the quakes, Otaguro came up with an idea to restore them using a traditional lacquering technique.

The city of Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture, decided to push ahead with his project by tapping its furusato nozei (hometown tax) donation system. The city, known for Wajima-nuri lacquerware, was hit by a 6.9 magnitude quake in 2007 off the Noto Peninsula.

Under the project, Wajima-nuri artisans put together pieces of broken pottery with lacquer to make them into new pieces.

“We want to demonstrate that Japan has been reborn a number of times from disasters,” said Otaguro, a producer of TV programs in Yokohama. His hometown is in Kumamoto Prefecture.

Five Kumamoto potters became interested in Otaguro’s idea of remaking broken items with Japanese lacquer and gave him 48 liters of pottery fragments free of charge.

Enchanted by the Wajima-nuri custom of reusing repaired wares, Otaguro asked artisans to join the project.

Using the kin tsugi (gold connecting) technique of connecting fragments with lacquer, artisans repair the joints with gold powder and draw designs on the surface with gold or silver powder to make five products, including a tea bowl.

Wares to be produced under the project will be named Gotorin, linking the five potters with Wajima-nuri artisans.

A prototype tea bowl, Yoshizakura, with a picture of cherry blossoms at iconic Kumamoto Castle, has been already created. Other planned products include a tea bowl with the theme of Mount Aso in Kumamoto.

The products will go on display in Kumamoto and Ishikawa prefectures and Tokyo soon after completion. Otaguro is also considering overseas publicity.

Wajima will use the hometown tax system, in which people donate funds to governments of their choice, to collect ¥10 million for the project by the end of September. It will prepare 30 limited-item Gotorin chopstick rests for donators in return.

“We hope that this project will be a good example of uses for furusato nozei donations,” said an official of the city government.

Tatsuya Goshima, a 36-year-old porcelain potter in Yamaga, was unable to dispose of some of the 250 works broken in the quakes and decided to provide parts for the project.

“I’m now looking forward to seeing how the pieces will be reborn,” Goshima said. “I hope to meet the Wajima-nuri artisans,” he added, expecting the project to create a new form of traditional craft.

Natsue Inami, a 44-year-old artist of makie lacquer designs, which are sprinkled with gold or silver powder, is one of the artisans in Wajima who took part in the project. She hopes it will make Wajima-nuri more widely known.

“This is a wonderful idea,” Inami said. “I hope that the project will be an opportunity for the artisans to get to know each other and cheer up everyone.”