Hida-shunkei lacquerware Photo:Gifu Prefecture

Hida-shunkei lacquerware Hida shunkei

Simplicity of the wood grain
Austere and clear beauty


What is Hida-shunkei lacquerware ?

Hida Shunkei Lacquerware is produced around Takayama City in Gifu Prefecture. The name “Hida Shunkei” is said to come from the fact that the articles produced initially had similar coloring to famous “Hishunkei tea containers”.
The characteristic of Hida Shunkei Lacquerware is the interwoven harmony between the simple beauty of its natural wood grain and the characteristically clear, deep color tone of clear lacquer. It can also be said that Hida Shunkei Lacquerware pursues practical beauty, as its color and lustre become more pronounced through use. Hida Shunkei Lacquerware items include daily necessities such as trays, flower vases, stacked boxes and tea utensils, and the beauty of practical use can be savored.
The clear lacquer that produces Hida Shunkei Lacquerware’s impressively clear, deep color is a secret guarded by lacquering masters who each have their own unique formulas. Therefore, the color tone varies in subtle ways according to the lacquering master. Hida Shunkei Lacquerware can further be enjoyed by checking the name of the lacquering master when looking at and using vessels.


Hida-shunkei lacquerware - History Photo:Gifu Prefecture

At the beginning of the 17th Century, the master carpenter Kizaemon TAKAHASHI was deeply impressed by the beauty of the wood grain of sawara cypress trees, and produced a tray using this wood, which he then presented to Sowa, the older brother of Shigeyori KANAMORI, the lord of the Takayama Domain. Hida Shunkei Lacquerware is said to have begun when Sowa, who was very pleased with this tray, asked the lacquering master San-emon NARITA to coat it with lacquer. The coloring of this tray was similar to the “Hishunkei tea container” masterpiece of Kagemasa KATO, a potter from the Kamakura Period, so it was called “Shunkei-nuri” and was presented to the shogun family.
Thereafter, Hida Shunkei Lacquerware with its natural wood grain was first mainly used for tea utensils, after which many articles for daily use such as stacked boxes and trays came to be produced. In the Meiji and Taisho Periods, the lacquerware industry was promoted mainly by wholesalers, who exhibited its wares at World Fairs overseas, and as a result Hida Shunkei Lacquerware became very popular.
Although there was a decline during World War II due to the difficulty in obtaining lacquer, it was widely used for presents in the postwar period of rapid economic growth, and in recent years demand has been increasing for Hida Shunkei Lacquerware as tourist souvenirs.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Wood The woods used in Hida Shunkei Lacquerware include hinoki cypress, sawara cypress, and Japanese horse chestnut. Wood that has been naturally and thoroughly dried over the course of 5 to 6 years is made into wood bases by a woodturner. After naturally drying by piling up out in the open, the pieces are processed into portable sheets at a sawmill.
  2. 2. Natural drying The sheets are piled up, dried and are further adequately dried inside a storehouse.
  3. 3. Sawing and timber conversion Sheets are cut to suit the shapes of products.
  4. 4. Wood base production Depending on the type of product, the following specialized woodturners will produce the wood base:
    The wood grain is made into hegime and parts are produced together to form rectangular objects (stacked boxes and trays). Nikawa glue (an adhesive produced by heating water together with raw materials such as animal skin and bones) is used to join boards together.
    Boards that have been softened by steaming are curved to produce round articles (lunchboxes, tea canisters and inkstone cases). Forms are produced using a wooden roller known as a koro, and both ends are attached with nikawa glue, which are then reinforced by binding with hill cherry barks.
    Wood is placed on a lathe and planed with a sharp blade while rotating to produce round forms (round trays, cake boxes and saucers).
  5. 5. Filling The finished wood grain is delivered to a lacquering specialist.
    After polishing the unpainted wood, polishing powder (fine-grained clay) is mixed with water and coated, and is then wiped off with a cloth. This ensures that the lacquer coating is even and that colors stay when coloring. Filling is said to be the most important of all processes because it evens out the surface of the unpainted wood.
  6. 6. Coloring Color is applied with yellow or red dyes.
  7. 7. Undercoating Gojiru is applied several times to produce a thin membrane that prevents lacquer from suddenly permeating the wood base. Gojiru is a squeezed juice of soybeans that are soaked in water, mashed in a mortar and filtered.
  8. 8. Finishing and polishing The surface of the wood base is brushed with sandpaper.
  9. 9. Lacquering After applying a mixture of raw lacquer and egoma oil to the wood base, this is wiped off with a cloth and the wood base is soaked with lacquer. The lacquer hardens and becomes transparent as this process is repeated many times over, and the surface appearance of the wood grain changes.
  10. 10. Overcoating The wood base is finished with a clear lacquer overcoat. Overcoating is applied with great care, as it can be ruined by dirt and dust. The lacquer used for overcoating is produced by lacquering masters using secret recipes, each having their own ways of purifying the raw lacquer. Also, since lacquer hardens and dries at a fixed level of humidity and temperature, different lacquers are used depending on the humidity and temperature of the day and the season.
  11. 11. Drying Articles are placed in a drying room known as a furo, which is like a large closet, and are dried under the appropriate levels of humidity and temperature.

Where to Buy & More Information

Kamioka Hida Shunkei Center

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