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The characteristics and history of Echizen lacquerware and the Wakasa-nuri style


Wajima-nuri lacquerware is widely known in Japan. But, in addition to Wajima-nuri, there are many other kinds of lacquerware produced in Japan. For instance, Aizu lacquerware, Yamanaka lacquerware, Kishū lacquerware, and Echizen lacquerware are known as Japan’s big four production regions of lacquerware.


“Echizen lacquerware” was developed in the Echizen region of Fukui Prefecture. There is also another lacquerware production region in Fukui Prefecture; it produces the “Wakasa-nuri” style lacquerware in Obama City of Fukui Prefecture.


What is Echizen lacquerware?
The history of Echizen lacquerware began in an ancient time in the 6th century. When the 26th emperor of Japan was an imperial prince, an artisan from this area restored his crown by using lacquer. The prince was astonished by the restored crown and began promoting the production of lacquerware. It is said that this was how Echizen lacquerware began.


They say that Echizen lacquerware is the oldest among the lacquerware production regions of Japan.


The fact that lacquerware making expanded in Echizen is also associated with the characteristics of this land. In this region, high-quality lacquer is collected. Thus, the techniques of “urushi-kaki”, those who collect the sap by cutting the lacquer tree to bleed, have developed. The sap from the lacquer tree becomes the source of lacquer.


When the lacquer collection was at its highest in the city of Echizen, half of all of the lacquer liquid collectors in Japan were in this town.


Also, at the end of the Edo Period (From 1603 to 1868), people in Echizen started to adopt decorative techniques performed in other regions. For example, they adopted “makie”, which draws a picture with powdered gold, from artisans in Kyoto. They also brought in “chinkin”, which rubs gold into the grooves, from Wajima.


By adopting these techniques, the elegance of Echizen lacquerware through decorations began to evolve.


Today, they have started developing a method to maintain its hardness while skipping traditional processes of lacquerware making. Furthermore, the technology to support mass production with the use of synthetic resin has also been progressing.


Due to these efforts, Echizen lacquerware achieves about 80% of the market share among the lacquerware used in the food-service industry such as hotels and restaurants. Echizen lacquerware includes a wide range of products from luxury lacquerware made with traditional techniques to affordable lacquerware made from synthetic resin.


What is Wakasa-nuri?
Similar to Echizen lacquerware, Wakasa-nuri style lacquerware is also known as lacquerware developed in Fukui Prefecture. Chopsticks are famous among Wakasa-nuri style lacquerware.


Compared with other lacquerware, decorations of Wakasa-nuri look more gorgeous. Wakasa-nuri was developed during the Edo Period, but simplicity and frugality were emphasized during this period. Because of this, Wakasa-nuri style lacquerware was used among rich merchants or samurai families and there was little use of this type of lacquerware among ordinary people.


Because of this, there are very few everyday items of Wakasa-nuri style such as bowls.


Wakasa-nuri style lacquerware has three well-known techniques: “rankaku pattern”, which uses egg shells; “kaigara pattern”, which uses seashells; and “okoshi pattern”, which uses rice husks or pine needles. These are all signature techniques of Wakasa-nuri.


By adding these decorative techniques, beautiful patterns are highlighted, which are unique to Wakasa-nuri style lacquerware. Among Wakasa-nuri products, lacquer-coated chopsticks account for more than 80% of the market share in Japan.

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