Hidehira lacquerware

Hidehira lacquerware Hidehira nuri

A simple craft that brings out the beauty of lacquer
through the abundant use of gold


What is Hidehira lacquerware ?

Hidehira-nuri lacquerware is produced in the area around Hiraizumi-cho, in Iwate Prefecture.
A defining feature of Hidehira-nuri is the use of gold leaves produced in the area around Hiraizumi, which results in vivid patterns not usually seen in lacquerware. A common pattern is the Yushoku Hishimonyo which combines Heian Period-inspired Genji cloud designs and diamond motifs. Drawings of nature such as plants are also occasionally added. It gives off a dynamic yet delicate feel that is slightly different from maki-e.
Hidehira-nuri’s uniqueness does not just lie in its design. Its distinctive texture is produced by a subdued finish which brings out the true beauty of lacquer. As a result, the true, natural luster of lacquer surfaces, creating the unique and simple beauty of Hidehira-nuri.
The ability to maintain a simple texture in spite of its vivid colours is truly a distinctive characteristic of Hidehira-nuri.


Hidehira-nuri is deeply connected to FUJIWARA-no-Hidehira, a military commander from the Heian Period widely known as the “King of Michinoku”. Hidehira, who is thought to be born around the year 1122 before passing away in 1187, is said to have summoned craftsmen from Kyoto and proceeded to order them to create lacquerware using the abundant lacquer and gold found in the area around Hiraizumi. There has been much progress in excavation works to this day, and the remains of a workshop, which unfortunately cannot be dated, have also been found. Nevertheless, the theory that Hidehira-nuri, which is named after FUJIWARA-no-Hidehira, is deeply connected to FUJIWARA-no-Hidehira himself is likely to be true.
However, the Hidehira-nuri that we see today only began to take shape in the 16th century. It is unfortunately not what the lacquerware looked like during Hidehira’s time. Despite that, the production process, which involves each craftsman producing lacquerware by hand, has not changed to this day, and was recognised as having historic value and selected as one of the National Designated Crafts.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Tapping lacquer trees The production of Hidehira-nuri starts with the collection of lacquer essential for lacquerware. Lacquer is collected between June to October, as the quality of lacquer collected is especially higher in the summer months. Lacquer is a type of sap secreted by the trees in order to heal its wounds. That is why cuts are made on lacquer trees using a plane, and the secreted lacquer is collected using a spatula. The amount of lacquer that can be collected from each tree is around 150 to 200g. Patience is therefore required in lacquer tapping, as it takes a few days to collect that little amount of lacquer from each tree.
  2. 2. Bucking and cutting Japanese beech, zelkova and horse chestnut trees are used for Hidehira-nuri. Freshly-cut trees, however, contain too much moisture and are not ready to be used. It is important for the wood to be properly dried in order to prevent cracks from forming. As it is harder for larger pieces of wood to dry thoroughly, they are roughly cut in the shape of bowls for convenience. Depending on the condition of the wood, some take a year, or even up to ten years to dry before they are ready for the next stage of production. Cutting is carried out with factors such as the roundness, thickness and ease of use taken into consideration.
  3. 3. Wood turning At the “bucking” and “cutting’ stages, the wood base is only coarsely cut, leaving an uneven wood surface. “Wood turning” refers to the process of shaping and smoothing the wood base using a lathe. Sandpaper is then used to smooth the finer parts of the wood base, and the shaping is now complete. Turning the wood base on the lathe while it is being smoothed allows the surface of the wood to be polished evenly, resulting in a smoother surface.
  4. 4. Wood base hardening Once the wood turning is complete and the wood base has been shaped, raw lacquer is applied on the entire wood base. The reason raw lacquer is applied once the wood base is shaped is to prevent the wood from deforming by absorbing moisture. By applying raw lacquer on the surface, it acts as a coating to prevent the wood base from absorbing moisture. This way, damages such as expansion, contraction and cracks caused by moisture can be avoided. This extra step is important in the production of quality Hidehira-nuri lacquerware.
  5. 5. Cloth pasting and base coating Fragile sections are strengthened by pasting linen and cotton on them. This process is called “Nunokise”. The cloth is then amply coated over with rust powder and raw lacquer in order to hide it. Finally, rustproofing agents are applied to prevent the rust powder from rusting, and the base coat is complete.
  6. 6. Coating Coloring of the lacquerware is carried out by diving the coating process into three steps, namely, undercoating, intermediate coating and overcoating. After applying each coat, the lacquerware is carefully dried inside a lacquer drying box with high humidity. Special care is especially required for the overcoat as it is the final step of base coloring, and it must be free from any dust or dirt. This is why overcoating requires the most concentration out of all the processes.
  7. 7. Decoration Once the base color has been applied to the lacquerware, Hidehira-nuri’s distinctive cloud and diamond motif is drawn onto the surface. The most commonly used method is transferring patterns drawn on washi paper onto the lacquerware surface. Hidehira-nuri’s distinctive Heian cloud and diamond motif is even sometimes collectively referred to as Hidehira patterns.
  8. 8. Etsuke (painting) A specialist in lantern-painting called an Eshi paints a picture directly on the Hibukuro using a brush and without a sketch underneath.

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