Timeless Beauty

A Maritime Trading Hub
Wajima Lacquers have been made since the sixteenth century in the small town of Wajima, on the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture. The oldest surviving example of Wajima ware is a pair of red lacquered doors on the main shrine of Jūzō Gongen Shrine, said to date from 1524. The port of Wajima, formerly known as “Oya no Minato” (Parents’ Harbor), long thrived as a base for sea transportation. From ancient times, there was interchange with China and the Korean Peninsula; through these, lacquer techniques that originated in China were introduced to the region. The Wajima area has abundant forests with trees essential to producing lacquer ware, including the lacquer tree (Rhus vernicifera), zelkova, and asunaro (Noto hiba). It also has a climate suitable for hardening urushi, a natural form of lacquer.Some 120 separate processes are involved in the making of Wajima Nuri (lacquer), all done by hand. They are divided into ten different categories, each of which is undertaken by a different set of specialists. The urushiya (lacquerer) plays the role of producer, overseeing the entire production and handling orders, sales, and delivery of the finished product. Techniques involved in each process are passed from generation to generation. Rigorous specialization raises the level of expertise and ensures preservation of techniques. Specialists are uncompromising in their pursuit of excellence every step of the way. They take pride in their work and lavish pains on it so they can hand over the piece to the next worker with full confidence. Only items created through this painstaking, hands-on process are deserving of the label Wajimanuri.
Assuring Quality
Some 120 separate processes are involved in the making of Wajimanuri, all done by hand. They are divided into ten different categories, each of which is undertaken by a different set of specialists. The urushiya (lacquerer) plays the role of producer, overseeing the entire production and handling orders, sales, and delivery of the finished product. Techniques involved in each process are passed from generation to generation. Rigorous specialization raises the level of expertise and ensures preservation of techniques. Specialists are uncompromising in their pursuit of excellence every step of the way. They take pride in their work and lavish pains on it so they can hand over the piece to the next worker with full confidence. Only items created through this painstaking, hands-on process are deserving of the label Wajimanuri.
Durability of Wajima Lacquers
A key characteristic of Wajima lacquer wares is the durability of their base coat. This comes about by heating diatomaceous earth, a kind of soil known locally as ji no ko (“powder of the earth”), and crushing it into a fine powder, then mixing it with the natural lacquer known as urushi. Another reason for the special durability of Wajima lacquers is the practice of applying cloth (nunokise) to fragile spots to strengthen them. This technique leads to lacquer objects of profound and lasting beauty.
Color and Luster
Urushi is used for different purposes depending on its color and quality. Combining urushi of different qualities with various techniques produces lacquers with a marvelous diversity of expression. Furthermore, by mixing different pigments into the lacquer, an array of colors can be created. In Japan, the color of black lacquer is held to be the richest and most beautiful shade of black, as exemplified by the word shikkoku (literally, “lacquer black”), meaning jet black or raven black. Many shades of red can also be produced depending on the pigment used. There are white and green lacquers as well.
Black Lacquer
Long ago, black lacquer was made by adding black pigment made from soot. However, from around the mid-seventeenth century, it was discovered that urushi could be blackened by adding in iron powder. Urushiol, a major component of urushi, reacts chemically to the iron so that the lacquer turns a deep, glossy black color, giving rise to the evocative color word shikkoku (literally, “lacquer black”). The beauty and peculiar durability of black lacquer are the product of centuries of repeated experimentation.
A Town of Lacquer Studios
Walking the streets of Wajima, one encounters myriad forms of Wajima lacquer. The wares are produced through a complete division of labor for each step, from preparing the wood, applying coats of lacquer, sanding and polishing, to applying gold inlay (chinkin), sprinkled gold powder (makie) or other decoration. The studios where this happens are the homes of craftspeople in charge of each step of the process. Lacquer-making is embedded in their lives. In a sense, the entire town of Wajima functions as one big lacquer studio.
Incised gold inlay decoration (chinkin)
Sprinkled metallic powder decoration (makie)
Wajimanuri Kaikan, the Wajima Lacquer Hall
If you would like to see and handle Wajima wares yourself, by all means come to the town of Wajima. You will be greeted not only by countless Wajima lacquers and the studios that produce them, but also by succulent seafood from the Sea of Japan, rich seasonal flavors, and a charming town with a bustling morning market.
By: Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University in collaboration with Kyoto Women's University
Credits: Story

Information provided by Wajimashikki shoukougyou kyoudou kumiai

Movie by:Takayama Kengo, A-PROJECTS

English Translation by Professor Juliet Winters Carpenter, Doshisha Women's College of Liberal Arts

Edited by Melissa M. Rinne, Kyoto National Museum

Exhibition created by Yamamoto Masako(Research Fellow of Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS)) and Suzuyama Masako, Kyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Supported by Wakamiya Takashi

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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