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 lacquerware (called Hidehira-nuri in Japanese) is produced in the area around the town of Hiraizumi, in Iwate prefecture.
The defining feature of Hidehira lacquerware is the use of gold leaf produced in the area around Hiraizumi, which results in vivid patterns not usually seen in lacquerware. A common pattern is the yusoku design which combines Genji cloud designs and diamond motifs inspired from the Heian period (794-1185). Drawings of plants and other subjects from nature are also occasionally added. The lacquerware has a slightly different appearance from items made with maki-e (a lacquerware technique where gold powder is sprinkled on the surface).
Hidehira lacquerware is unique not only because of its designs, but also its subdued texture. As a result, the natural luster of lacquer instead of an artificial one can be seen, creating the simple beauty of this craft.


Hidehira lacquerware is strongly linked to Fujiwara no Hidehira (about 1122-1187), a military commander from the Heian period widely known as the "King of Michinoku*". Hidehira is said to have summoned craftsmen from Kyoto and ordered them to create lacquerware using the abundant lacquer and gold found in the area around Hiraizumi, Iwate prefecture. In the present day, much excavation work has been done in the area, and the remains of a workshop, which cannot be dated, have been found. At any rate, the theory that Hidehira lacquerware, named after Fujiwara no Hidehira, is connected to him is likely to be true.
The Hidehira lacquerware of today only began to emerge in the 16th century and is unfortunately not what the craft looked like during Hidehira's time. However, the production process, which involves each craftsman producing lacquerware by hand, has not changed to this day. Hidehira lacquerware was recognized as having historic value and selected as a National Designated Craft.

*Michinoku is an old nickname for the Tohoku region where Iwate prefecture is located.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Tapping lacquer trees The production of Hidehira lacquerware starts with the collection of lacquer. It is collected between June to October, as the quality of lacquer collected is higher in the summer months. Lacquer is a type of sap secreted by the trees in order to heal their wounds. That is why cuts are made on lacquer trees using a hand plane, and the excreted lacquer is collected with 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 a small amount of lacquer from each tree.
  2. 2. Drying and cutting Japanese beech, zelkova, and horse chestnut trees are used for Hidehira lacquerware. 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 cut to a rough bowl shape 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. Roundness, thickness, and ease of use are taken into consideration during cutting.
  3. 3. Wood turning During the previous stage, the wood base had been coarsely cut, leaving an uneven wood surface. Wood turning refers to the process of shaping and smoothing the wood base using a lathe. 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. Sandpaper is then used to smooth the finer parts of the wood base, and the shaping is now finished.
  4. 4. Hardening the wood base Once the wood turning is complete and the wood base has been shaped, raw lacquer is applied to the entirety of the wood base. The reason raw lacquer is applied right after the wood base has been 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 which would lead to expansion, contraction and cracks. This extra step is important in the production of quality Hidehira lacquerware.
  5. 5. Base coating Fragile sections are strengthened by pasting linen and cotton on them. The cloth is then coated with rust powder and raw lacquer in order to hide its visibility. 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 divided into 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 required for the overcoat as it is the final step of production so it must be free from any dust or dirt. This is why overcoating requires the most concentration out of all the steps.
  7. 7. Decoration Once the base color has been applied to the lacquerware, Hidehira lacquerware's distinctive cloud and diamond motif is drawn onto the surface. The most commonly used technique is transferring patterns drawn on washi paper onto the lacquerware surface. The cloud and diamond design is sometimes referred to as a Hidehira pattern.

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