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Lacquerware decorations with the “makie” technique


Lacquerware is well known as an item unified in color such as black or vermillion. But, more artistic lacquerware with decoration are also available.


Among these decorations, the most well-known technique in lacquerware is “makie”. Please think of makie as a method to draw a picture on lacquerware with powdered gold or silver. The use of gold or silver can dress up the lacquerware beautifully.


*Makie multi-tiered food box made in the Edo Period (From 1603 to 1868)


The “makie” technique
Makie is the technique to add decorations to lacquerware by scattering powdered gold, etc. But, Makie has a couple of different types. The value of lacquerware can vary according to which technique was used.


The makie technique is mainly divided into three types including “togidashi makie” (buffed makie), “hira makie” (flat makie), and “taka makie” (raised makie).


• Togidashi makie (Buffed makie)
The Nara Period (From 710 to 794) is when makie was first performed in Japan. Togidashi makie is the makie technique that was performed around this period.


In the makie technique, lacquer is applied where the powdered gold or silver is desired to be attached. Then, the powdered gold or silver is scattered over the lacquer before the lacquer dries. When the excess powders are wiped off after the lacquer properly hardens, gold or silver decorations should be left behind along the areas that were coated with lacquer.


However, during the Nara period, powdered gold was coarse, thus much of the luster did not come out even though the powders were scattered over the areas coated with lacquer. Those powders also had another drawback in that it did not adhere to the lacquerware tightly.


Thus, people started to perform a step to “apply a thin layer of lacquer after scattering powders and then shave the surface with charcoal until the gold or silver appeared”. This is called togidashi makie. By performing this process, the luster of the gold or silver is brought out and better adheres to the lacquerware compared to the case where powders were simply scattered.


Back in those days, it was called “makkinru” instead of togidashi makie. As this togidashi makie technique evolved, other makie techniques had started to emerge.


• Hira makie (Flat makie)
In early times, powdered gold was coarse and the shape was not uniform in size, but a method to achieve uniformity in size was developed by sifting. When it became possible to make fine powdered gold, then the technique to “scatter powdered gold on a coated layer of lacquer, then dry and polish” started to be performed. This technique is called “hira makie”.


With the togidashi makie technique, it was needed to coat lacquer over the powdered gold and then polish it. With the hira makie technique, it is polished without the step to “coat lacquer over the powdered gold”.


As the manufacturing technique of powdered gold or silver progressed, steps to perform makie had become much simpler.


• Taka makie (Raised makie)
With the hira makie technique, powdered gold is placed thin and flat. On the other hand, as one of the makie techniques, the taka makie technique was developed, which is to raise the area where the powdered gold would be scattered.


When lacquer is applied over and over again, the coated section will be raised. There is also a method to raise the coated section by using a mixture of charcoal powder and lacquer. Either way, scattering powdered gold over the raised section can create steric lacquerware.


Makie mainly includes the three types that were explained above. There are also other techniques which combine more than one makie technique such as “shishiai makie”, which is the combination of togidashi makie and taka makie.

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