Traditional Culture of Japan - Portal site of traditional crafts and culture

Lacquerware becomes more accessible to the masses


In the history of Japan, the Edo Period (From 1603 to 1868) was a time when one regime stably continued its reign over a long period of time. Thus, this is when all kinds of traditional culture were developed all over Japan.


For example, lacquerware started to become widely used among ordinary people in the second half of the Edo Period. Prior to that time, lacquerware was only used as a luxury item among people of rank. But, in addition to the wealthy class, ordinary people also started using lacquerware.


Using lacquerware made from inexpensive materials

In the case of ceramics, there remains can be found even if they were buried under ground for many years. But, in the case of lacquerware that is created by applying lacquer to wood, if buried under ground, the wood portion will decay into the soil.


The lacquer will remain in its original condition even under the ground, but it is hard to distinguish as it will be mixed with the soil when dug out. Therefore, it is difficult to prove the fact that lacquer was widely used.


Furthermore, products that use lacquer are still expensive today. This is probably unchanged even from of hundreds of years ago. Therefore, although lacquerware became popular among ordinary people, it is unlikely that they explosively started using expensive lacquerware.


People mainly used lacquerware that used a substitute ingredient such as persimmon tannin for the shitaji undercoats instead of lacquer. The shitaji undercoats made from persimmon tannin do not have the same level of hardness as one that is undercoated from lacquer, but they can also keep a certain level of hardness.


It is difficult to handle lacquer. For example, its drying process is complex, and it can trigger a rash when touched. However, it is not difficult to handle persimmon tannin, thus it became popular as a product, which is affordable to make and easy to handle.


Today, there are expensive lacquerware that only uses lacquer as well as inexpensive lacquerware that is made by using persimmon tannin undercoats or synthetic resin. The idea to distribute lacquerware to ordinary people by making cheaper products with lacquer substitutes has been exercised since olden days.


Mass production of lacquerware without the use of lacquer was already being conducted in the Middle Ages around the 7th century. Then, during the Edo Period, lacquerware also became widely popular among ordinary people.


Lacquerware developing in various regions
In the Middle Ages, production of lacquerware started throughout Japan. When the stable Edo Period began, each domain started protecting and promoting lacquerware manufacturing of their local area.


In this way, different lacquerware started to be created in each region of Japan. For example, some regions create special lacquerware by using materials that are only available in their areas. Many regions where lacquerware making was active during this period still remain as an area active in lacquerware production.


Also, it is considered that this is the period when production regions of lacquerware had a breakthrough. This implies that the stability of the times was a critical factor for the growth of traditional culture.


This era is also when many famous lacquerware artists appeared and the value of lacquer further increased as a work of art. Through these significant cultural developments, the lacquer culture has been passed down to today’s society.

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