Edo Makie Lacquers

A lacquer tradition dating back to the Edo period

By Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

By: Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University in collaboration with Kyoto Women's University

Purple Hedge Maki-e Inkstone Box, Important Cultural Property (江戸時代(17世紀)) by Koma Kyui (? – 1681)Original Source: Tokyo National Museum

Official lacquer artists to the shogunate (goyō makie-shi)

At the beginning of the Edo period (1615-1868), Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu established Japan's new government center in Edo (Tokyo). This new metropolis soon became a magnet for lacquer artisans, who began flocking there in search of opportunities to ply their trade. The best among them were selected for employment, many in Edo Castle, making furnishings and other items. The Tokugawa clan, and many other daimyo families, began ordering makie lacquerware, often luxury items that symbolized their power and wealth. One notable example is the set of “Hatsune Furnishings” created in 1639 for the wedding of Chiyohime, a daughter of third Tokugawa shogun Iemitsu (1604–1651). This assemblage is now now a National Treasure in the collection of the Tokugawa Art Museum.

Maki-e Jug with Flower Relief (安永~天明年間) by Koma KoryuOriginal Source: Tokyo National Museum

During the reign of third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu, many prominent Edo makie artists, including Koma Kyūi (died 1681) and others from the Yamada school, were employed as official lacquer artisans (goyō makie-shi) crafting items like inro (seal cases) and sword mountings. During the Bunka and Bunsei Periods (1804–30), under the reign of eleventh shogun Tokugawa Ienari, makie was frequently used to decorate furniture and other household articles for the brides and daughters of the Tokugawa shogun's family and others with blood ties to the shogunate. As a consequence, Edo makie enjoyed unprecedented prosperity during this period.

Maki-e Comb with Lily Relief, Edo maki-e (江戸時代(19世紀)) by Hara Yoyusai (1768-1845)Original Source: Tokyo National Museum

Artistic lineage in the mid- to late Edo period (18th–19th c.)Edo makie

Hara Yōyūsai (born in 1768) was an expert lacquer artisan known for executing makie works using under-drawings by well-known Rinpa school painter Sakai Hōitsu (1761–1828).

Maki-e sutra box, Edo maki-e (明治時代) by Ogawa Shomin (1847–91)Original Source: Tokyo National Museum

From the end of Edo Period to
the Meiji Period

Following the Meiji Restoration in 1868, many of the official painters who had enjoyed the patronage and protection of the Tokugawa shogunate or other daimyo families were forced to change or give up their businesses. Fortunately, new Meiji government policies aimed at encouraging industry also encouraged the production of lacquerware, particularly since these had proved to be so popular in markets abroad. Urushi lacquer crafting was added to the curriculum of the Tokyo School of Fine Arts (now Tokyo University of the Arts) in 1887, with classes initially run by teacher Ogawa Shōmin (1847–91).

Maki-e Box with Peony and Butterfly Pattern (1886) by Kawanobe Iccho (1830–1910)Original Source: Tokyo National Museum

Kawanobe Itchō (also spelled Icchō 1830–1910) was born in Tokyo and studied traditional makie techniques passed down from the Edo period.

Candy Box with Heron Pattern (1868/1891) by Shibata Zeshin (1807-1891)Original Source: Tokyo National Museum

Shibata Zeshin (1807–1891) also learned makie and painting from a young age, coming to create makie and lacquer painted artworks with his own distinct techniques of lacquering. He was appointed as an Imperial Household Artist in 1890 and trained many apprentices.

Makie Frame of Enoshima (1893) by Ikeda Taishin (1825-1903)Original Source: Tokyo National Museum

Ikeda Taishin (1825–1903) apprenticed to Shibata Zeshin at the age of 11. Under Zeshin, he learned makie and painting for 25 years before striking out on his own. Like Zeshin, he put efforts into training pupils, and he became an Imperial Household Artist in 1896.

Maki-e Inkstone Case with Cherry Blossoms by Akatsuka Jitoku (1871-1936)Original Source: Mitamura Arisumi

Taishō and Shōwa period makie lacquer artsts

Akatsuka Jitoku (1871–1936) was a central figure in lacquerwork circles in Japan from the Taishō period (1912–1926). He was active in exhibiting works at exhibitions in Japan and abroad, successively holding important posts in art circles. He is known for his modern works incorporating traditional elements.

Daffodils Using Togidashi Maki-e (Polished Maki-e) Technique by Mitamura Jiho (1886-1979)Original Source: Mitamura Arisumi

Edo makie comes into the present: Mitamura Jihō, Shūhō, and Arisumi, and the future

Mitamura Jihō (1886–1979) inherited the Akatsuka style from Akatsuka Jitoku, and he produced many works based on Japanese painting. 

"Streetlights in Nihonbashi”, Sunken Gold Maki-e, by Mitamura ShuhoOriginal Source: Mitamura Arisumi

Shūhō (1914–1982) made use of what he learned in oil painting while studying under his father, Jihō, to create his own original artistic oeuvre. Arisumi (born 1949) is the tenth generational head of the Akatsuka style of Edo makie, inheriting the teachings of his father and grandfather. He has taught younger artists in a capacity as professor at Tokyo University of the Arts and member of Nitten (recipient of the first Nitten prize in 2014 after the art exhibition was reformed).

Mitamura Arisumi creating his worksArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

In the past, makie traditions were usually named after the regions in which they were developed, such as Edo makie, Kyoto makie, and Kaga makie. But today, those names do not necessarily represent where the lacquer artists live and work. The tenth generational head of the Akatsuka style of Edo makie, Mitamura Arisumi, set up a new workshop in the town of Ogawa, Saitama prefecture, in 2013.

Tools of maki-eArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

The Mitamura family brushes and tubes used to sprinkle metal powder have been passed down through the ages, and they move freely in the hands of Mitamura Arisumi like they are parts of his body. It is almost as if the brushes are joined with his body. Tubes for metal powder are said to have once been made of swan feathers. But such traditional tools can no longer be obtained. It is becoming difficult in Japanese crafts today to obtain the tools, much less the materials, used. This is due to the aging of craftsmen who make them and to reduced availability of necessary materials. The tools passed down by the Mitamura family have become the heritage of Japan’s lacquer-producing  culture in the same way historical art works are.

Credits: Story

Information & images are provided by Mitamura Arisumi, Tokyo National Museum

Text written by Itani Yoshie, Tokyo University of the Arts

English translation by Itani Yoshie & Kawakubo Translation Office

Edited by Melissa M. Rinne, Kyoto National Museum

Exhibition created by Watanabe Masako, 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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