2. Takuichi Ogawa  Kenichi Mikawa

n the hilly backstreets of seaside Onomichi, Hiroshima prefecture, among the small buildings stacked as if on a staircase, there is a private gallery known mostly only to locals, called Furimuki Yakata, or ‘Look Back Hall.’ The countless artworks that have accumulated here through the years are almost all the creations of the founder and owner, Ogawa Takuichi.

Ogawa was born in 1921. He enjoyed painting as a child, but instead of pursuing art, enlisted for the war at the age of 21, where he served in the air force as a clerk in what was then Manchuria.

Once repatriated, he joined a company in a textile town, and later opened his own factory in Onomichi, where he made futon and other bedding. An avid hiker, his mountain walks inspired him to launch the Onomichi Health Exercise Association, to promote his self-devised fitness routines. One day in his workshop he took up some paint on a trowel, to brighten a ‘lonely looking’ cloth-covered wall, and he was soon painting seriously. After retiring from his job at 60, he was encouraged to enter the Onomichi Art Association, where he studied for three years before joining its circle of professional painters. He stayed for decades; finally leaving the institute at the age of 90. By then, he says, “I thought I had had enough.” He continued to work on his own.

I met Ogawa when he was aged 93, still full of energy despite a little deafness and a limp from a motorcycle crash a few years previously. He boasted to me that he still had 20 healthy teeth, which he said had “chewed many things,” and for which he had even received a prize.

He played down his talents, insisting his art was no more than a retirement hobby. He laughed about the oil paintings he made on slabs of stone given to him by a mason’s, which he left outside and on which the paint had disintegrated. He was equally dismissive of his porcelain art, and the dozens of chinaware pieces on display. “Most people who come to see them seem to take one home,” he said nonchalantly, adding that since Furimuki Yakata was never locked, “Anyone can come in, anytime.”

Talking about his museum, he grew so animated I was almost worried for his health. The plate on display at MORA, featuring veteran cross-dressing celebrity and enka blues singer Kenichi Mikawa, is one example of his porcelain art. Ogawa’s disregard for convention and passion for his gallery made him seem invincible, and I was surprised when I learned he had passed away at age 99 on 7 November 2020, just shy of his century.