The beauty, the culture and the fine production technique of crafts that the region and the artisans have created over the last 800 years

The origin of Kawatsura Sikki dates back 800 years to the Kamakura period. In those days the Kamakura government appointed the Onoderas as a liege lord of the Ogachi areas, where Inaniwa town in Yuzawa city are now, and they built a castle there.

The great patron of Kawatsura Sikki ware, the Onoderas family was conquered by the Mogamis in Keicho 5 (1600).
After Akita’s new domain lord Yoshinobu Satake assumed leadership, the merchants in the region got support from the lord and began to foster the industry of Kawatsura Sikki ware.
During the Manji years (1658~1661), Shiroemon Sato was a patron of Kawatsura Sikki ware.
In the Bunka/Bunsei period (1804~1830) a wealth merchant named Rihei Takahashi obtained authorization from the domain to import some specific materials from Kyoto and expanded the channels for sales of Kawatsura Sikki ware to the other areas. Under the policies to increase production by the domain, various household goods were produced from Kawatsura Sikki ware such as bowls, individual small dining tables, and tiered food boxes.

Monbei Sakurada was brought from the Aizu region during the Tempo years (1830~1844) as a master woodworking joiner, and the processing techniques of plates were improved tremendously.

Then, from the Aizu region in the Kaei 2 (1849), Tosai Tsunoda taught them the skill of gold-relief, then decoration techniques were also established.

By the Meiji period (1862~1912), Kawatsura-town was a solidified foundation for one of the lacquer ware production areas. Therefore, they invited instructors from the capital to improve their techniques and designs. Moreover, getting this good advice led to expansion of sales.
Kawatsura Sikki wares were shown at the Japan-British exhibition in Meiji 43 (1910), since then, it made inroads in export to overseas market. The introduction of the Suzuki Lathe for woodwork in the Taisho period (1912~1926) meant that the wood spindle techniques and productivity were very high.

As the base for the lacquer, a variety of woods are used, each for a different kind of lacquer ware; for example, beech and horse chestnut are used for round lacquer ware such as wan (dinner bowl) and hachi (big bowl), and trees are used for angular lacquer ware such as jubako (tiered boxes).

However, it is getting more and more difficult to obtain the broadleaf wood necessary for the production of Kawatsura Sikki.
What is produced by shaving wood with a turning lathe is called hikimono. In the first stage called kidori, wood is cut into appropriately sized blocks. In the second stage called arabiki, a block of wood is roughly shaven with a turning lathe. In the final stage called shiagebiki, the wood, once thoroughly dry, is given the finishing touches.

Because trees are alive even after they are cut, if the wood does not dry properly, it will warp. Also if the wood is cut without considering the grain, the quality of products can be poor; that is, the products can be fragile. Consequently, understanding the precise traits of wood is very important.

Although a variety of chemical and synthetic paint has been invented, the sap of the sumac tree is still one of the most superior natural paints. Lacquer ware has great heat-resistance, drug-resistance, and oil-resistance; also, the luster and beauty that lacquer gives to Kawatsura Shikki is unique. Chemical paint dries because a volatile substance, like thinner, evaporates, while the sap of the sumac tree dries after it has been lacquered because of the action of a natural enzyme of the sap sumac tree itself.

The coat of Kawatsura Sikki has been done through several processes. First, delicately shaved wood is coated with kakishibu and namaurushi, and then it is polished. The wood is coated and polished over and over. The reiteration of coating and polishing is a stage called jinuri (primary coating), which makes Kawatsura Sikki durable.

After jinuri, through some coating processes such as nakanuri (secondary coating) and honnuri (finishing coating), the wood has been sophisticatedly coated. Honnuri is finished with the last step called hananuri (also called nuritate); the wood is lacquered evenly without lines as a result of painting with a brush, which requires a great deal of technical skill and experience.

Chinkin is one of the decorating techniques, and it gives added elegance and grace to Kawatsuta Sikki. Birds and flowering plants are often drawn onto Kawatsura Sikki by chinkin.

Through the process chinkin, the surface of coated wood is slightly planed off, making dots, lines and patterns, and then powdered gold leaf is put onto grooves. Sometimes, instead of powdered gold leaf, a powdered mixture of blue or vermilion pigment and lacquer is used.

Chinkin is special to Kawatsura Sikki; the technique involves carving the coated wood by pulling a plane forward. The most precise technique is called kebori, and it is unique to Kawatsura Sikki.

Makie (lacquer painting) of Kawatsura Sikki was influenced by Rihe Takahashi, one of three great men in the history of Inakawa-machi. Makie of Kawatsura Sikki started when he brought gold leaf, and paintbrushes from Kyoto to Inakawa-machi during 1830 in the Edo period. Subsequentiy, in 1848, Tousai Tunoda, a great lacquer painter in Aizu (an area famous for lacquer ware) was invited to Inakawa-machi, and he initiated Gohe Kato into new makie techniques; morimakie (raised lacquer work), takamakie (finer raised lacquer work), and kinmakie(gold lacquer). In the Meiji period, a delegation went to Aizu, and a new technique, hiragoku-maruhun, was adopted.

In the Taisho period, people’s interest in makie rose, and some people went to school to learn makie as Rihe Kutuzawa entered the Department of Design at Tokyo Arts School; consequently the techniques of makie improved a great deal.

“Maki” in makie means “sowing” in Japanese. Makie painters first make a preliminary sketch of patterns; trace the patterns with hiragakiurushi; “sow” gold or silver powder, and finally dress lacquer ware with a fibre of a leaf. The gold or silver powder “sown” onto the lacquer ware eventually becomes art, from which the name of makie derived.

Depictions of the Working Process of Wan-shi (professional bowl makers)
This depiction was drawn by Goroemon Sato, who was a Kiji-shi (a professional wooden base creator), around 1827 ~ 1832. The Wan-shi whom specialized in Kawatsura lacquer bowl making, was entirely run by one family. The late phase of Edo period, there were some specialists that made the wooden base of the bowls, who visited the families of the Wan-shi and sawed the logs to the bowl’s shape.

Illustration (1) The logging operation in the mountains of Minase

Two men are hewing down trees to make bowls behind the mountains and sawing branches off.
When we said the behind mountains, it pointed the mountains of Minase out.

Illustration (2) Throwing the logs into the river

The chopped logs from the mountains of Minase are thrown into a river.

Illustration (3) Scraping out lacquer

The field work of scraping the lacquer out.

Illustration (4) Oo-kiribiki or Tama-giri

Splitting and sawing the logs to make a beginning shape.

Illustration (5) Three processes of making wooden basis of bowls

On the observers’
Right) Work of Sugikiri, cutting the four corners of the wood.
Center) Whittling away the excess wood to create a bowl shape.
Left) Whittling the inside of the bowl shaped wood.

Illustration (6) The Wooden base of the bowls

They are carving the bowls. This style of wood-turning bowl carving is one of the oldest around.

Illustration (7) Arakezuri

Remove scars or marks on the bowls after the wood turning.

Illustration (8) Hatake working with four people

Two people on the observers’
Right) These two are removing rough edges from the bowls with planes.
The third man from the right) This man is adjusting the height of the bowls, which is known as Fuchikiri.
Left) This work is called Kurokuri or Kokusome. He is repairing the chipped bowls with a mixing lacquer, parings, and rice.

Illustration (9) Kokuso-barai

The excess is trimmed from the process of Illustration 8.

Illustration (10) Kaki-toki
A mixed liquid containing astringent persimmon and carbon dust are put on the bowls.

Illustration (11) Tawara-rubbing

After the work of illustration (10), this man polishes the bowls with tied straw.

Illustration (12) Base Coat

Fresh lacquer is put directly on the bowls with a basement brush of horse-tail.

Illustration (13) Karatoki

After the base coating, the inside of the bowls are polished by the grindstone. This and the following illustration (14) are known as “Karatoki”.

Illustration (14) Working the wood turning
The outside of the bowls are polished by wood turning attached to the grindstone.

Illustration (15) Making the lacquer

This man is making the face coating lacquer.

Illustration (16) Extracting the lacquer

This work is the percolation of lacquer to take off dust. They are straining the lacquer through very thin Japanese papers which are stacked up to 15 papers or more.

Illustration (17) Final Applicator

This is an illustration of putting on the final coat.

Illustration (18) Gold or silver lacquer

This is an illustration of the putting gold lacquer on the bowls.

Illustration (19) Corner of Wan-shi’s house; selling the bowls

This is an illustration of somebody coming to buy some products.

by:Akita Prefectural Government
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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