OGATSU, Japan – Last year, Mr. Takahashi watched helplessly from the safety of a hilltop as his business was swept away by a tsunami wave more than 100 feet tall.
“Everything was destroyed,” he said. “When the water started to return to the sea, it scattered all my belongings.”
Mr. Takahashi is an inkstone craftsman—an ancient craft passed down to him by his father and grandfather. Ogatsu inkstone is a rare, black, dense rock that has been quarried in the village for more than 600 years.
Mr. Takahashi and other local craftsmen have learned the intricate and ancient craft of cutting, carving and polishing the black rock into specially shaped inkwells, designed for grinding ink sticks and mixing water to make the ink used in Japanese calligraphy.
Before the tsunami, the region around Ogatsu produced 90 percent of Japan’s inkstones, Mr. Takahashi explained. So when the tsunami hit, Mr. Takahashi wasn’t the only one to lose all of his equipment and supplies.
Working together, the local inkstone craftsmen pooled their resources and bought a few pieces of machinery to share. Still, they lacked some of the necessary equipment to set up shop once more.
So Operation Blessing provided Mr. Takahashi and the inkstone guild with several key pieces of equipment they needed to get back to work, such as a refurbished forklift, routing tool and belt sander, and a myriad of other hand tools.
“Even here in Japan, not everyone is familiar with inkstone culture,” Mr. Takahashi said, “so the fact that foreigners have come to help us sustain this traditional craft is something that we’re very grateful for.”
With the new tools provided by OBI, Mr. Takahashi and the other craftsmen will be able to produce more inkstones than ever before.
“After the tsunami, I was concerned for the future,” Mr. Takahashi said. “Now we are able to do things that we weren’t able to do before. This craft has been around for 600 years, and we want it to be around for another 600.”