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The characteristics and history of Wajima-nuri style and Yamanaka lacquerware

 

The most famous lacquerware in Japan is “Wajima-nuri”. Most Japanese people know the word, “Wajima-nuri”, even those who are not familiar with lacquerware.

 

Wajima-nuri is lacquerware made in Wajima City, Ishikawa Prefecture. Ishikawa Prefecture is famous as a production region of lacquerware. Yamanaka lacquerware is also well known in this region in addition to Wajima-nuri.

 

 

What is Wajima-nuri?
Lacquerware has been produced in Wajima, Ishikawa, since olden days. Jūzō Shrine in this city is known to have the oldest example of the Wajima-nuri style that exists today. This shrine has a door that was coated with vermillion lacquer in the year 1397.

 

The soil in this land is something that supports the Wajima-nuri style lacquerware. In Wajima City, there is a mountain called “Jinokoyama” where soil that is perfect for this style of lacquerware is obtained.

 

In the lacquerware making, the process called shitaji (undercoats) is necessary. Performing shitaji creates a hard and durable lacquerware. Lacquer is applied onto the shitaji undercoats, so one can consider shitaji as “the base of lacquer layers”.

 

A mixture of powder called “jinoko” and lacquer is used for the shitaji undercoats. “The soil from Jinokoyama” mentioned earlier is used for this jinoko powder. The soil from Jinokoyama in Wajima City is called “Wajima jinoko”.

 

Wajima jinoko is known as high-quality soil for the shitaji undercoats. Due to this type of soil, it became possible to produce durable lacquerware, which is difficult to create in other locations.

 

Wajima-nuri has been noted for its durability with the use of this special soil, but it is also known for its elegance.

 

Sometimes, decorations are added to lacquerware after being coated with lacquer. In the case of Wajima-nuri, “chinkin”, which rubs gold into the grooves, and “makie”, which draws a picture with powdered gold or silver, are well known. In addition to the fact that it is strong, the beauty of decorations is also a signature of Wajima-nuri style lacquerware.

 

It is said that the Wajima-nuri technique was established during the Edo Period (From 1603 to 1868). Some techniques such as chinkin and makie were consolidated during this period.

 

What is Yamanaka lacquerware?
Ishikawa Prefecture is famous for lacquerware production, and there are production areas for three different types of lacquerware. One is Wajima-nuri mentioned earlier, another is Yamanaka lacquerware, and finally there is Kanazawa lacquerware.

 

There are several processes in lacquerware making. First, wood is scraped and used as its base material for the lacquer coating. This scraped wood is called “kiji”, which is made by scraping the wood on a wheel. The production districts of Yamanaka lacquerware are amongst the best in both quality and quantity of the kiji production.

 

Wajima-nuri has a special characteristic in the “coating process of lacquer” with the use of Wajima jinoko. On the other hand, Yamanaka lacquerware has a special characteristic, which is not seen in other lacquerware styles, in the “scraping process of the wood” before lacquer is applied.

 

Artisans who make “kiji”, the base material before lacquer is applied, is called “kijishi (woodworker)”. The techniques of kijishi of Yamanaka lacquerware are so excellently skilled that they are designated as people with important intangible cultural heritage (Living National Treasure).

 

Furthermore, Yamanaka lacquerware has pursued lacquerware making not only with traditional wood materials but also with artificial materials such as synthetic resin (plastic) from early on. As a result, they lead the nation in the production volume of lacquerware.

 

Because the quality of kiji made by artisans of Yamanaka lacquerware are so skilled sometimes the kiji is supplied to other production areas such as the Wajima-nuri areas. First, Yamanaka lacquerware artisans, who are known for kiji making, will scrap wood and then Wajima-nuri artisans, who are excellent in coating techniques, will finish the piece of work. As a result, a better quality lacquerware is produced.


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