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Lacquerware decorations with the “raden” technique


When adding decorations to lacquerware, the makie technique, which uses powdered gold or silver, is well known. In addition to lacquerware that uses gold or silver, there is also lacquerware that uses a technique to add decorations using shells.


Some shellfish emit beautiful rays like a rainbow such as the turban shell. The technique to adhere tiny crushed pieces of such shells onto the surface of lacquerware, like a mosaic, is called “raden”.



The “raden” technique
Other than the turban shell, the raden technique also uses abalone and pearl oyster. First, the nacreous layer where there is an iridescent luster inside the shell is cut out. This is then adhered to the coated layer of lacquer.


It is said that the raden technique was imported from China during the Nara Period (From 710 to 794). As time passed, the raden technique has improved and has earned a key place in lacquerware decoration, almost as important as the makie technique. Some raden lacquerware were created just so they could be exported to Europe.


Mainly, there are three types of raden technique such as “umekomi (burying) type”, “oshikomi (pressing in) type”, and “horikomi (inlaying) type”.


• Umekomi (burying) type
Naturally, shells have some thickness. Thus, if they are adhered as they are, the applied shells will stick out. In order to avoid this, lacquer is applied multiple times.


The technique to bury shells by coating lacquer over them until the thickness of the shells is not apparent is called “umekomi (burying) type”. At the end of the process, it is polished to bring out the sheen.


• Oshikomi (pressing in) type
There is a technique to bury shells by pushing them down. With this technique, first a clay-like lacquer is applied, which is thicker than the shells. Then, it is competed by simply pressing the shells into this thick clay-like lacquer.


Then, it is polished until the lacquer and shells become flat and at the same level. The technique to make raden in this way is called “oshikomi (pressing in) type”.


• Horikomi (inlaying) type
The first two types of raden use the technique to align shells with the flat surface by applying lacquer. There is also a method to attach a shell by carving the shape of the shell in advance onto the lacquer coated lacquerware and then inlaying the shell into this spot. This is called “horikomi (inlaying) type”.


After adhering the shell, lacquer is applied and then polished, which makes the lacquer and shell flat and at the same level.


Raden lacquerware
Raden is adding decoration of brighter colored shells on top of shiny lacquerware. Makie, which is decorated with powdered gold or silver, is beautiful, but many people are also attracted to raden that has an iridescent luster.


Raden generally uses the turban shell, which is a shellfish mainly found in the sea around Ryūkyū (Okinawa Prefecture). But, the size of the turban shell that can be used for raden is limited, so it is expensive. Because of this, people started using abalone, which can be found anywhere in Japan.


Since then, a variety of shells have started to be used for raden.


However, it is difficult to express a white color with natural shells. In such a situation, an egg is used. Crushing the quail egg into small pieces and adhering them onto the lacquerware can enhance the lacquerware as a beautiful decoration in the same way as a shell.


If you look at Konjiki-dō (Golden Hall) within Chūsonji Temple, which is registered as a World Heritage Site, you can see that many raden are used in addition to makie. If you look at the cultural heritage sites with this kind of knowledge, you should be able to better enjoy them.

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