A Day in Karatsu and the Old Ochawangama

I make the trip to Karatsu. It’s actually not that far from Arita, via Imari. The first time that I came here, Janine and I made the trip on the train. Two trains actually, changing lines and companies at Imari. I’ve written about Karatsu previously, so I don’t want to repeat my self here, so will just stick to new places and observations.

I want to re-visit the workshop and kiln of Nakazato Taroemon the 14th. But who’s counting? This family have been important potters in this town since 1516!  I wonder if the 14th generation Nakazato Taroemon has a first-born son? No pressure! Just wondering?

Interestingly, I’m told that Ri Sampei, came here to Karatsu first, before travelling on to Arita, where he discovered the now famous porcelain stone deposit at Izumiyama. Then again, I’ve also read that he didn’t really exist at all and is a convenient character to hang a whole lot of speculative psudo-history. Or, it may have been a whole raft of Korean potters who came and established the high fired pottery industry in this area in the late 1500’s?

We make our way to the Nakazato Family compound. There is a lovely old family Gallery here in one of the back streets. Personally I don’t care for much of the work on display here. It just doesn’t speak to me at all. What I am keen on seeing is the old family climbing chamber kiln. The ‘Ochawangama’. It is located up one of the nearby alleys and is one of the most beautiful old kiln ruins that I have seen. There is one in Shigaraki that almost rivals it, but this one has the wabi/sabi edge I feel.




It’s a beautiful thing.

We peek into the private workshop window to see if there is anyone in there and sure enough, Taroemon the 14th is at work on Saturday the 19th. And the 14th is turning his 7th tea bowl of the morning.


Later, we visit Mike Martino, on the outskirts of Karatsu He is a really lovely guy, very welcoming and so open to questions and very giving of information. He makes time for us, even though he is quite busy. We have tea from his wood fired cups and made in one of his traditional lidded bowl tea pots. The centre of his studio is dominated by a rather large old stone grain grinding wheel. It makes a rather nice, if somewhat unusual table. It manifests the character of both shibui and wabi. Mike uses both electric and gas kilns as well as a large wood fired kiln outside the pottery. He has a courtyard path, not unlike our own driveway, composed almost entirely of shards.



We all find that we have to dispose of work that isn’t quite successful. Pots that aren’t either firsts or seconds, but something quite other. Work that we don’t want anyone else to see. Yes! That bad. Failures can become something quite beautiful collectively as shards. It has worked for us in our driveway.

It comes out in general conversation, that both Mike and Tatsuya lift weights for a hobby. It shows!

Best wishes from the so unfit Steve In Karatsu