The history of Japanese lacquer has its origins in Ancient China. Lacquer cups, shields, tables, toilet boxes, and musical instruments have been found in Chinese tombs dating from the 5th Century B.C. Decorative techniques used at that time involved attachment of pieces of gold and silver foil, ivory, and mother-of-pearl shell, since lacquer is also a highly effective adhesive. The varied techniques of lacquer application later spread to most Southeast Asian countries along with Japan. However, it wasn’t until centuries later that interest was shown nationwide in lacquerware as a commodity, and the Japanese lacquer industry became increasingly active with support of its government and craft guilds. Carpenters throughout the country were producing lacquer bowls, trays, and tables. Beginning with such utilitarian lacquerware in cinnabar and black, cities such as Kyoto, Edo (Tokyo), and Kanazawa begun producing lavishly decorated lacquerware featuring Maki-e (gold dust), silver, and mother-of-pearl inlay. It is clear to all that Japan’s lacquerware enjoyed great popularity, similar to that of Chinese porcelain in Europe during the 17th and 18th Centuries.
Mingeiarts prides itself in its range of Japanese antique decorative and vintage lacquerware representative of the culture.
Japanese Lacquerware Types and Specific terms —
In their broad category of fine and decorative arts, lacquer has been used in paintings, prints, and on a wide variety of objects from hair combs, food containers, (called bento), to religious statues. Japanese lacquerware is referred to as Shikki, which lacquer ware in the most literal sense, while nurimono means “coated things”, and urushi-nuri means “lacquer coating.” The Japanese government has identified fourteen, (14), major lacquer centers, each with their own unique style and application of the lacquering process.
Hiramakie (low relief): the design is contained in one lacquer layer that stands up very slightly above the polished but undecorated surface.
Takamakie (high relief): the design is made with multiple lacquer layers, creating a sculptural effect.
Todigdashi makie: the design is covered with lacquer layers and the surface is polished completely smooth
Wajima Lacquer | Wajima-Nuri |輪島
Wajima Lacquer is one of the most ancient of the lacquer crafts of Japan, and is produced in the city of Wajima in Ishikawa prefecture. Lacquer of the highest quality is applied to a core in a process of 8 coatings, giving it a high durability. For centuries, Wajima Lacquer has been famous for its Chinkin-style colored and metallic decoration called Maki-e.
Aizu Lacquer | Aizu-Nuri | 会津塗
Aizu Lacquer is well known for the application of colored lacquer as well as metallic decorations, (mainly gold), known as Maki-e. It also developed a special technique called hana-nuri, a process of coating the object with an oil-based lacquer, which forms a fine gloss, and does not require polishing.
Kiso Lacquer | Kiso Shikki | 木曽漆
Kiso Lacquer originated in the village of Narakawa in the Nagano prefecture, and is the earliest form of Shunkei lacquering process. It is made using a special local clay that makes it possible to produce a simple and beautiful lacquer ware with a strength traditional lacquer could not achieve. It is a nice and durable lacquer ware, and is suitable for objects of everyday use.
Hida Shunkei Lacquer | Hida Shunkei| 飛騨春慶
Hida Shunkei Lacquer dates bak to the 1600’s and considered the most beautiful of the crafts of Takayama, a beautiful mountain town often called little Kyoto. This lacquerware is distinguished by the transparency and depth of the finish, often enhancing the grain of the wood. Objects such as trays, letterboxes, chopsticks, and flower containers have an elegance which appeals to the tastes of the discerning buyer. In warm honey, cherry, and burgundy lacquers, shunkei crafts are very popular.
Kishu Lacquer | Kishu Shikki |紀州漆器
Kishu Lacquer originated in the early 1300s in the Kuroe district of Kainan City in the Wakayama Prefecture, and is considered an everyday lacquer ware with long-term durability at a reasonable price. It is well known for its objects of red lacquer with black under coating, known as Negoro lacquer ware. While early examples of Negoro lacquering command high prices, most pieces of tableware, boxes, and trays are made to suit modern everyday life.
Murakami Carved Lacquer | Kurakami Kibori Tsuishu | 村上木彫堆朱
Murakami, a castle town in the far North of the Echigo district, is part of Niigata Prefecture, on the West coast of Japan. After the wood has been shaped, by a specialist woodworker, a carver employs small knives to depict traditional landscapes, flower-and-bird arrangements, or contemporary scenes into the surface. The lacquerer then takes over. Numerous layers of lacquer are applied, allowed to dry, and polished, prior to the final burnishing of the top coat with a special oily clay.
Kamakura Lacquer | Kamakura Bori | 鎌倉彫
Kamakura Lacquer is a work of industrial art with a seven-century old history, dating from the early 1300s. The style itself has it roots in the traditional art of Buddhist sculpture, and has been handed down to the present day artisans. Kamakura Bori has also created by a team of specialists much like Murakami lacquer ware. Continued efforts have been made to improve the designs and other aspects, with special importance being always attached to the preservation of this traditional art.
Yamanaka Lacquer | Yamanaka Shikki |山中漆器
Yamanaka lacquerware was developed in the town of Yamanaka in Ishikawa Prefecture, which is a peaceful hotsprings resolt. Most Yamanaka Lacquer are turned goods using various combinations of colored lacquers and undercoats to accentuate the patterns of the turning. Lacquering techniques that enhance the wood’s grain are applied. The result is a beautiful simple lacquer ware with a natural feeling that enhances the natural beauty of the wood.
Kagawa Lacquer | Kagawa Shikki | 香川漆器
Kagawa lacquer ware started at the end of the Edo period (1600-1868), by Tamakaji Zokoku, a famous lacquerer, who was born in what is now the City of takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture. With the development of new techniques that came into being by combining traditional Japanese techniques with skills such as “kinma” and “zonsei” which had been brought to Japan from Thailand and China Kagawa lacquerware rose to prominence in the 1830s. Kagawa lacquer pieces are made using cores of bamboo basketry on which lacquer of various colors are applied. Gold is sometimes used to emphasize the patterns. Kagawa lacquerware is still a thriving industry on Shikoku Island.
Tsugaru Lacquer | Tsugaru Nuri | 津軽塗
Layers of lacquer that create polychrome patterns are the signature of lacquer ware from the Tsugaru district in Hirosaki city in the Aomori prefecture. Several layers of different-colored lacquer are applied to a the surface of the wood using a perforated spatula or sprinkling techniques creating different patterns and textures. This final burnishing process produces beautiful polychrome effects, making Tsugaru lacqueware very collectable.
Odawara Lacquer | Odawara Shikki |小田原漆器
A small town in the Kanagawa Prefecture, Odawara, and it’s lacquerware ware, reflects the abundance of timber in the area. The special features of Odawara Lacquer ware are the craftsmanship of the turnery and the way in which the lacquer brings out the natural beauty of the wood’s grain. Located at the entrance of Hakone, Odaware lacquer consists mainly of utilitarian wares that have a direct appeal and convey a sense of warmth through the wood grain and light lacquer.
Kanazawa Lacquer | Kanazawa Shikki |金沢漆器
Kanazawa lacquer ware started when the prestigious maki-e artist, Igarashi Doho, of Kyoto was invited to Kanazawa by the third lord of Kaga Maeda Toshitsune, in the mid 1600s. Igarashi Doho had developed a unique combination of black lacquer coating with extensive use of godl and silver leaf, flecks, nuggets and even shaped bits of gold. The elegance of this type of lacquerware appealed to the aristocratic nature of the Samurai culture. The techniques have been passed down from the Edo Period, (1603-1868), until today. Kanazawa lacquer ware is further characterized by the individually created tea utensils and internal furnishings, and appreciated as artistic handicraft rather than mass-produced products.
Wakasa Lacquer | 若狭ラッカー
Wakasa lacquerware in Fukui Prefecture, has a 400 year history, and is known throughout the country, with the most famous being the Wakasa-nuri hashi, (lacquered chopsticks), of the city of Obama. Production here accounts for over 90% of lacquered chopsticks in Japan in which mother-of-pearl shell and gold/silver leaf are repeatedly coated with lacquer to highlight their beautiful patterns on the Hashi. Similar to the processes used in Isugaru lacquerware production, Wakasa-nuri lacquer pieces are beautiful to use and appreciated.
Ryukyu Lacquer | Ryukyuan Shikki |琉球
Ryukyu lacquerware is one of the chief artistic products of the Ryukyu Islands, Okinawa Prefecture, and represents a form and style of lacquerware which is distinct from that of the surrounding cultures. Though distinct in its own ways, it is strongly influenced by Chinese, Japanese, and Southeast Asia modes of lacquer appreciation. Ryukyuan lacquerware is distinguished by the use of inlaid seashells, bone, within a variety of native Ryukyuan artistic motifs, and a strong tendency towards the use of multiple lacquer colors, which is rather less common in the rest of Japan.
Please enjoy the attached video in an effort to gain a fuller perspective of the subject.
Our special thanks to: The Traditional Crafts of Japan | Japan Traditional Craft Center and Kaneko Osamu | Silo, Ltd.- Hayashibara Group | Japan Foundation