Shibayama Inlay (Shibayama Zōgan) is a lacquer art form distinguished by high relief carved inlays made from shell, coral, tortoiseshell, and ivory. Many gorgeous Shibayama crafts were exported during the Meiji period (1868–1912).

Origins and Description of Shibayama
The lacquer inlay art form known as Shibayama is named after the Shibayama area of present-day Chiba prefecture. Shibayama inlay was the brainchild of Ōnoki Senzō, an Edo haberdasher who lived during the An’ei era (1772–1781). His style of ivory inlaying became so popular that he named works done with the inlay technique after his hometown of Shibayama and later also adopted this name as his surname. Shibayama lacquers typically showcase gorgeously inlaid mother of pearl from shells—such as pearl oyster shells, turban shells, and abalone shells—sometimes using cut ivory, tortoiseshell or coral pieces depicting flora and fauna motifs, which are then lacquered. Shibayama differs from other inlaid lacquer arts in that  the intricately carved inlay pieces instead being embedded flush into the ground material, protrude in high-relief above the surface to create an applique-like design. It is this that distinguishes Shibayama from other lacquer art forms. In fact, the word Shibayama can also be used to refer specifically to these relief inlay pieces.
Flourishing Japonisme
Shibayama began with the delicate aesthetics of the era under the rule of the eleventh Edo shogun, Tokugawa Ienari (1773–1841), becoming popular household items patronized by shoguns, feudal daimyo lords, and wealthy merchants. Shibayama was dubbed the “oriental mosaic art” amidst the many Japanese arts and crafts introduced at the Paris World Exposition in 1867, attracting the attention of those who visited the exposition. Shibayama crafts became popular souvenirs among Westerners who visited Japan after the Meiji Restoration (1868), when Japan opened trade to the outside world.
Shibayama and Exhibitions
The name Shibayama was first adopted by the founder of the tradition, Ōnoki Senzō, later Shibayama Senzō, and his descendants, as well as by worthy disciples. Works by such masters as Shibayama Muneichi and Shibayama Muneaki attracted great attention at international expositions and exhibitions. Owing to these master craftsmen, the name Shibayama became widely known internationally.
Yokohama: Port for Japanese Export Crafts during the Meiji Period
The Tokugawa Shogunate opened Yokohama Port in 1859 after being pressured by the United States. In order to enrich and strengthen the nation, the new Meiji government exported its countries crafts, as well as silk and tea, in a bid to gain foreign trade money. Within the international scene, Japanese could boast craft traditions created with sophisticated techniques and exemplifying the distinctive  aesthetics of Japanese culture.
Yokohama as the New Production Site for Shibayama
Shibayama lacquers were first produced in Edo (present-day Tokyo). During the Meiji period (1615–1868), brokers began allotting jobs and contracted designs. As export demand increased, these brokers then established export commission houses at Yokohama Port, leading to the gathering of artisans in the area. Thus began the development of Yokohama’s Shibayama lacquer ware with unique Yokohama-style Shibayama inlaying that catered to the tastes and interests of Western markets.
Yokohama Shibayama Lacquer Ware (1)
Shibayama inlaid items made during the Edo period were mainly delicate small objects, whereas Yokohama Shibayama lacquer usually featured furnishings with large inlays. For this example, carved bone was used to create the long-tailed rooster.
Yokohama Shibayama Lacquer Ware (2)
Made as a souvenir item, this piece shows inlays of figures that are clearly Japanese. In the era in which this was produced, artisans worked within a system of division of labor, so there were artisans who specialized only in the carving of faces.
Yokohama Shibayama Lacquer Ware (3): Special Techniques
A number of new technical innovations and styles developed with the shift of Shibayama production to Yokohama. Among them was a preference for large decorative designs that were perfect for lacquered folding screens and other furnishings.
Miyazaki Teruo: Master of Shibayama
Shibayama artisans who relocated to Yokohama mass produced items for export under the division of labor. During the peak before WWII there were about 500 active Shibayama artisans. Production took a devastating turn as a result of the Great Kantō Earthquake and the air raids during the Pacific War. When production resumed after WWII, a young artisan named Miyazaki Teruo (born 1936), who had been born into a Shibayama inlaid lacquer producing family, sensed the danger of this sophisticated art form devolving into a means to make cheap tourist souvenirs. Miyazaki took it upon himself to acquire the skills necessary to execute every step in the production of Shibayama in an attempt to bring back the delicate art of the Meiji period. Today, as the only Shibayama master in Japan, his works are highly valued by collectors in and outside of the country.
Works by Miyazaki Teruo (1)
Though it looks like a box, this work is actually a tiny box-shaped netsuke—a toggle used to secure the cords of dangling purses, pipe cases, and inro (seal cases) to a obi sash at the waist. This example, designed by Master Miyazaki Teruo, uses expertly inlaid mother-of-pearl to create a design of hydrangeas.
Works by Miyazaki Teruo (2)
This work too, though it may look large in the photo, is in fact another tiny box-type netsuke, this one with an intricate design of autumn grasses and flowers created in materials of various colors.  The plaited bamboo basket used to arrange and display the plants is executed in dyed ivory.
Works by Miyazaki Teruo (3)
Miyazaki created this inkstone case (suzuri bako) on the theme of the famous 12th century court dancer Shizuka Gozen. The motifs are fantastically depicted: the suikan (a robe worn by court nobles) was made from white pearl oyster shell, the red long hakama (dividing skirt) is carved from red-dyed ivory, while the sword is executed in tortoiseshell. The artist paid special attention to the depiction of the face and form of the figure.
Kyoto Seishū Netsuke Art Museum
One place to see works by Miyazaki Teruo and other historical works of Shibayama inlay is at the Kyoto Seishū Netsuke Art Museum. This museum, which opened in autumn of 2007, is housed in a restored, historical mansion, which is in fact the only remaining samurai estate in Kyoto. The museum's thematic exhibitions are created out of the extensive collection of Kinoshita Muneaki, comprising over 4000 works.
Shibayama Inlay Techniques (1): Carving of the Inlay Pieces
Shell or another material is cut to the size of the desired inlay. Next, a design sketch on paper is pasted over the surface, and the shell is cut out around its outline. Finally, the contouring details of the design are carved and their edges smoothed and polished. This technique is called Shibayama, because it is what most distinguishes Shibayama inlay from other lacquer art forms.
Shibayama Inlay Technique (2): Carving the Depressions
The prepared inlay pieces are temporarily attached to the surface of the material into which they are to be inserted, and then a needle is used to punch out the outline before the pieces are removed again. Next, the outlined shapes are carved out to create custom-sized depressions. The next step is to inlay the pieces into the depressions.
Shibayama Tools
Various types of chisels and knives for carving appliques and depressions are required for Shibayama inlaying. The artisan also needs to be experienced in sharpening these tools.
The Future of Shibayama
Master Miyazaki Teruo is said to be the last master of Shibayama to have inherited the techniques of the Edo and Meiji periods. However, independent artists who have studied under him, such as Gushima Naoko and Matsumoto Kaori continue to create and study the art. Meanwhile, Master Miyazaki also gives lectures at the Yokohama Shibayama Society, contributing to the dissemination of and education about Yokohama’s traditional craft techniques.
By: Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University in collaboration with Kyoto Women's University
Credits: Story

Information provided by:
Miyazaki Teruo, Gushima Naoko, Kaneko Teruhiko, Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum, Kyoto Seishu Netsuke Art Museum, Tobacco & Salt Museum, Hitotoki,Wedge, Yokohama Shibayama Shikki Kenkyukai

Photo by:
Minamoto Tadayuki

Movie by:
Takayama Kengo, A-PROJECTS

Text written by:
Tanaka Atsuko

English Translation by:
Eddy Y. L. Chang

Edited by:
Melissa M. Rinne, Kyoto National Museum

Exhibition created by:
Senda Yukari & Kobayashi Yuka, Kyoto Women's University Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Directed by:
Maezaki Shinya, Kyoto Women's University

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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