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The characteristics and history of Aizu lacquerware


Aizu lacquerware is known as lacquerware developed in the Aizu region of Fukushima Prefecture. Aizu lacquerware has evolved after the lord of that time promoted lacquerware making as the main industry of the region during the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (From 1573 to 1603).


It is said that the lord of that time gathered lacquerware artisans to his land from other regions and created the basis of Aizu lacquerware production. These lacquerware techniques have been passed down to present day. Today, the production districts of Aizu lacquerware are considered as one of the major lacquerware production districts in Japan.


What is Aizu lacquerware?
Wood materials, which will be coated with lacquer, are needed in lacquerware making. A desired shape is created by scraping wood. Then, by repeatedly applying lacquer to the wood, it becomes lacquerware, a final product.


Lacquerware is not limited to ones only coated with lacquer. More beautiful lacquerware is created by adding decorations to this. Adding decorations to lacquerware is called “kashoku” in technical terms.


Many decorative techniques are used for Aizu lacquerware. It uses not only the decorative techniques that are widely used such as “makie”, which draws a picture with powdered gold, and “raden” which adheres rainbow colored shells, but also many other different kinds of techniques.


For example, there is a technique called “hana-urushi”, which mixes the oil content to lacquer. The hana-urushi technique is used in order to create a luster. There is also a technique that creates lacquerware using this hana-urushi technique without polishing after the coating, which is called “hana-nuri”. The hana-nuri technique is a signature technique of Aizu lacquerware.


Other than the hana-nuri technique mentioned above, there are also many other different kinds of decorative techniques in Aizu lacquerware as follows:


• “Tetsusabi-nuri”, which draws a picture with iron rust
• “Kinmushikui-nuri”, which creates patterns by scattering rice husks over black lacquer
• “Aizue”, which is a distinctive urushie method of Aizu lacquerware


The Aizu region is the production area that flourished by consistently performing the cultivation of lacquer, processing of base wood materials, and applying decorations after the lacquer coatings including the decorative techniques just mentioned.


Midway through the Edo Period (From 1603 to 1868), Aizu lacquerware grew so much that they were exported overseas with the permission of the government. During this period, the lacquerware was exported from Nagasaki to China and the Netherlands.


But, when the Edo Period transitioned into the new era, the Boshin War occurred between forces of the ruling government and the new government. Aizu lacquerware suffered catastrophic damages from this war. However, it made a comeback with the support of the newly-established government.


With these tides of the times, the Aizu region has been growing as one of the leading lacquerware production areas in Japan today. In addition to these traditional techniques, they are also developing new techniques such as “urushi nendo”, where lacquerware is shaped into a desired shape from clay-like soil as well as lacquerware that can be safely used in a microwave oven or refrigerator.


Aizu lacquerware attracts us by combining traditional and new techniques and adding many different kinds of decorations.

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