Echizen lacquerware

Echizen lacquerware Echizen shikki

Articles produced by groups of professional artisans
Beautiful coloring full of depth and serenity


What is Echizen lacquerware ?

Echizen Lacqueware is produced in the area around Sabae City in Fukui Prefecture. Lacquer is at the center of life in the Echizen District of Sabae City, which is known as a city of manufacturing.
The characteristic of Echizen Lacqueware is its composed luster and refined brilliance. The beautiful and deep color combinations touch the hearts of Japanese people, which is why this Lacqueware is often used at weddings and on celebratory occasions. As each process requires advanced techniques, these are handed down from father to son. The production of these handicrafts starts with a group of lacquering masters called nushiya who are craftsmen that mainly work on the coating process, and the handicrafts are completed by dividing the workload among various experienced craftsmen. A huge variety of items are produced, from items used in celebrations, cake boxes, lunch boxes, stacked boxes and tea utensils through to chopsticks and soup bowls for everyday use.
Along with the changing lifestyles of Japanese people and market needs, Echizen Lacqueware has developed diversified products and has created technology for mass production. Today, Echizen ware represents more than 80% of the Lacqueware for domestic food industry and business use, and new styles of cutting-edge Echizen Lacqueware are being released.


Echizen lacquerware - History

The history of Echizen Lacqueware goes back to the end of the Tumulus Period approximately 1,500 years ago. When the 26th generation Emperor Keitai, who was still the Imperial Prince, came to Kawada in the Echizen Domain, he ordered repair work on his broken crown to be carried out by a lacquering master in the village of Katayama, in modern-day Sabae Katamayacho. Subsequently, a black lacquered bowl was also presented to the Imperial Prince together with the crown repaired with lacquer by the lacquering master. Impressed with its shape and quality, the Imperial Prince is said to have promoted the village of Katayama as a Lacqueware-producing area.
During the time in which rice was paid as an annual tax, lacquer was also a recognized tax payment method in Echizen.
Lacquer tapping workers used a technique to make a scratch on a lacquer tree in order to gather the lacquer liquid, and half of the domestic Japanese lacquer tapping was carried out in Echizen at the peak time.
At the time of the construction of Nikkei Toshugu, there are records of the names of Echizen workers who worked as lacquer tappers. Lacquer tapping was also highly regarded by the Tokugawa Shogunate, and since Buddhist memorial services were highly popular, Echizen became the leading Lacqueware producing area of Japan. Gradually, maki-e (gold lacquer) and chinkin (gold inlaid Lacqueware) techniques were handed down, and solid and showy ornaments were added, and in the Meiji period various other products were produced, including small dining tables and flower vases.

General Production Process

Echizen lacquerware - General Production Process

  1. 1. Wood base production Each process of Echizen Lacqueware is detailed, and the nushiya is a labor-dividing organization bringing together artisans from producing areas to make Lacqueware.
    The first process in the production of Lacqueware is the choice of material. Wood base is the material that is used to paint the lacquer, so a solid tree, such as zelkova, horse-chestnut, cherry, or the bigleaf magnolia is chosen as the material, and the wood is collected and made into wood bases. In order to produce a wood base without any warping, it is important that the pulpwood used as the material is properly dried. Using a technique to finish with the correct measurements, the presence of a craftsman known as a woodturner is required.
    It is important to apply a first coat before sending the produced wood base for the coating process. The first coat is the work that produces the undercoating for the Lacqueware, so any scratches, holes or natural cracks in the wood base are to be filled in, and any brittle parts are to be reinforced. The condition of the coating of the Lacqueware and its solidity is affected by the quality of the first coat. Circular objects such as bowls are trimmed using a lathe, while angled objects are made by cutting and shaving a board.
    Alongside the increased use of dishwashers, materials such as metals, plastics, glass and fibers are being increasingly used in addition to wood. Plastic molding is carried out by heat processing using machinery, which has enabled reduced costs and more diverse shapes. With the recent development of 3D printers, traditional and new styles have been introduced.
  2. 2. Undercoating The coating process is split into undercoating and overcoating. The coating technique used is either hand coating or spray coating. A chemical reaction in the urushiol contained in the lacquer causes it to harden, which requires high humidity. As the work is affected by the weather, it is a delicate process that requires many years of experience. Undercoating is a process that affects the quality of the Lacqueware as coating and polishing is repeatedly carried out.
  3. 3. Overcoating In order to create a glossy polish, overcoating is an important technique that dries the lacquer while maintaining the temperature and humidity. Spray coating is carried out using a manual spray or an automatic spray gun. Traditional colors and modern colors can be used, and kawari-nuri and other new techniques have now been developed.
    The finished coated Lacqueware is dried over a period of a few days in a machine called a rotation bath which rotates at fixed times. This careful, highly attentive task ensures that dirt and dust do not attach to the Lacqueware.
  4. 4. Maki-e (gold/silver lacquer) There are various decoration techniques used in Echizen Lacqueware, but the most commonly used are mechanical printing and transcription techniques such as maki-e and chinkin. Maki-e refers to the process of soaking a maki-e brush in lacquer, drawing pictures or patterns with the brush, and then coloring by sprinkling gold or silver dust before repeatedly polishing and refining. The three main techniques, depending on whether or not sprinkling and polishing have been carried out, are tokidashi maki-e (gold/silver lacquer polished to finish), hiramaki-e (flat gold/silver lacquer), and takamaki-e (embossed gilt lacquer work).
  5. 5. Chinkin (gold inlaying) Gold inlaying is a process where patterns are etched into surfaces using a special knife, with gold or silver leaves and dust in addition to colorants applied to the etching and fixed in place with lacquer. The main techniques of gold inlaying are sen-bori (line engraving), ten-bori (point engraving), and katagiri-bori (sliced engraving).

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