Kagawa lacquerware

Kagawa lacquerware Kagawa shikki

Vivid color variations and impressive techniques
Original crafts inspired by South Asian traditions


What is Kagawa lacquerware ?

Kagawa lacquer ware is produced in the area around Takamatsu City, Kagawa Prefecture. There is a wide range of products, such as cake boxes, trays, low tables and display cases, which are widely popular for use in various scenes of daily life.
The characteristic of Kagawa lacquer ware is the abundant variety of product types, which feature beautifully elegant multi-colored lacquers. This lacquer ware is resistant to breakages, and a mellow feel and beautiful glaze appear as the articles are used over a long period of time.
The typical technique was established as a result of Zokoku TAMAKAJI’s studies of lacquer ware imported from China and Thailand in the latter part of the Edo Period. Techniques such as kinma and zonsei have been handed down to modern times and continue to be used, having been produced from ancient lacquer ware techniques. The name kinma is said to derive from the actual name of a Thai plant, and this process involves filling line-engraved patterns with colored lacquer, one color at a time. The work is carried out repeatedly, and the surface is flatly polished once all patterns have been filled. Zonsei is a technique that was conveyed to Japan after moving across from Southeast Asia to China, and this process involves applying colored lacquer to lacquer surfaces that are red, black, yellow, or other colors, to line-engrave or draw with hairlines the outlines and main parts of pictures.


Kagawa lacquer ware was protected by the administration of the Edo Period, which contributed to its steady growth in terms of quality and production volume. In 1638, Yorishige MATSUDAIRA moved from Mito to Takamatsu, and promoted lacquer ware production and engraving. There was a major movement of skilled artisans and master craftsmen, including the famous Zokoku TAMAKAJI. In 1806, the Takamatsu-born Zokoku TAMAKAJI turned 20 and went to Kyoto to study. In Kyoto, he enjoyed exchanges with lacquer artists, engravers and painters, and carried out pioneering research into lacquering techniques imported from China. In 1869, until his death at the age of 64, he assisted with the production of lacquer ware in service to three generations of daimyo.
Another celebrated name is that of Taihei GOTO, who produced the lacquering technique known as gotonuri. Masters such as Isoi JOSHIN and Kodo OTOMARU, who are designated as holders of techniques that are important intangible cultural assets, also played great roles in the development of Kagawa lacquer ware.
In 1949, the designation of being an important lacquer work industrial park was received, and the annual amount of Kagawa lacquer ware production reached approximately 25 billion yen. More than 70 lacquer artists were awarded prizes at exhibitions, etc., and it is said that around 2,000 people worked in connection with lacquer ware.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Wood hardening This process is introduced on the basis of zokoku lacquering, which is the leading example of Kagawa lacquer ware techniques. Zokoku lacquering is a technique named after its inventor, Zokoku TAMAKAJI.
    Raw lacquer is coated onto a plain wood grain of hollowed-out Japanese horse-chestnut. A plain wood base is a wooden mold that has not yet been coated. Any coating left on the wood base at this stage will affect the solidity of the finished product. The careful coating of all surfaces is an important process because it forms the basis of all subsequent processes. After coating with raw lacquer, the pieces are dried for a day inside a container called muro. This is because the subsequent processes can only be carried out once the pieces have been thoroughly dried.
  2. 2. Wood base polishing The wood base is polished using a lathe to make the surface smooth. This process is carried out carefully to ensure that there are no rough parts or splinters on the wood base. Polishing the wood base improves adhesiveness in the coating process.
    Kokuu is a mixture of unrefined sap of lacquer trees with sawdust from Japanese zelkova trees, etc. This is applied in worm-eaten holes on the wood base and is used to coat parts of the wood base that are concave, and surfaces are smoothed out with paper to improve the adhesion of lacquer coated subsequently after drying.
  3. 3. Layered coating Layered coating is repeated several times using only the raw lacquer. The process of layered coating involves repeated polishing with water after coating. Water polishing must be carried out between coats. This process is essential in order to further strengthen the adhesion of coating. Since it takes approximately one day for lacquer to dry, 5 layers of coating, for example, would take at least 5 days to dry. After coating, the next process is commenced after the surface has been properly dried, and this is an important point when carrying out layered coating.
  4. 4. Overcoating Raw lacquer is used like an adhesive, and overcoating is carried out with Manchurian wild rice, which grows in the wild next to ponds and rivers. Manchurian wild rice is a type of orchard grass that naturally grows on riversides. The black fruit is ground into a black powder before use. In zokoku lacquering, the black powder of Manchurian wild rice is placed inside the wood base pattern to produce a black glaze. After overcoating, excess Manchurian wild rice powder is brushed off.
    Lacquer is a painting material that increases water resistance, and when mixed with substances such as glue, it becomes an all-purpose solvent that can be used as an adhesive. In order to produce glaze, lacquer is applied with a pad and excess lacquer is wiped off with a cloth.
  5. 5. Polishing In the case of tateurushi-nuri lacquering, charcoal is used to make the surface smooth and improve the adhesion of layered lacquer. Colored lacquer kneaded using freshly painted shuai lacuqer is coated with a paintbrush, dried, and then a glaze is produced. Goto-nuri lacquering has distinctive speckles, and after coating on top of the intermediate coating with shuai lacquer to which red has been added, speckles are drawn using one’s fingertips before the lacquer dries. Fingertips are used directly to stroke the pieces and produces speckles. The speckling technique produces different patterns depending on whether the fingers are used to strike the piece or to stroke it.
    Kagawa lacquer ware’s glaze is produced and its flavor becomes deeper the more it is used, because the lacquer coating process is repeated. Other techniques include kinma, zonsei and choshitsu.

Where to Buy & More Information

Kagawa Prefectural Shoko Shoreikan

Kagawa Prefectural Shoko Shoreikan

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