Toru Oba (@toruobasculptor) grew up in the countryside of Northern Japan. He was the youngest in the family and his father died when he was only 10 years old. While going to high-school in Tokyo he knew he had to do something with his life. He got up and moved to Europe when he was around 22/23 years old, backpacking all over Scotland, England, Holland, Germany, Belgium just working odd jobs and having fun making just enough to drink beer and wine. 😀
After hitch-hiking in Geneva, Switzerland Tor met his wife, Chad and they settled in the south of France for a while. It was there that he started learning his craft leading up to becoming a full time stone mason. In 1972 they had their first daughter, Sachi and decided to move back to the States to be closer to his wife’s family in Connecticut.
Some friends of theirs (who they met in Europe) were moving to West VA to build a geometric dome, so they followed to help out with the project but it ultimately didn’t work out. Toru then found work continuing to do stone masonry around the area and said he had never felt so welcomed by the people there. After they had their second daughter, Genevieve they moved to Yogaville where they had some friends. At first Toru couldn’t find work around there so he continued commuting back and forth to WV, to make ends meet.
After a while he kept coming to Charlottesville to find work, which took some time. He credits local stone mason, Elizabeth Nisos for asking him to work alongside her for a few projects including some of the homes for Dave Matthews Band members Stefan Lessard, and the late LeRoi Moore. Working on LeRoi’s house was the best job he had ever had, he said, giving Toru free rein on how to design it including many of his own sculptures.
Not too long ago Toru went back to Japan to build a few sculptures for his junior high-school which brought it all back around for him. He had never worked with his hands in Japan and says he used to even make fun of people who did manual labor stating that it meant you were poor, but now he takes great pride in what he does. “One thing about this country (USA), as long as you have something good, you can make it. In Japan, you have to go to school, grinding, and do the work to make it count.”
77 years young. Husband, father, grandfather, and proud to be Asian. “People hated me because of what I do, but not many can do what I do… I don’t cater to anyone.”