Kanazawa lacquerware Photo:Ishikawa Prefecture Tourism League

Kanazawa lacquerware Kanazawa shikki

Delicate, wonderful, Kyoto-style gold and silver lacquer
The elegance of the aristocracy mixed with the strength of samurai warriors


What is Kanazawa lacquerware ?

Kanazawa lacqueware is produced in the area around Kanazawa City, in Ishikawa Prefecture. It was produced as a traditional handicraft to the taste of Japan’s feudal lords, under the protection of the Kaga Domain, which was a large domain described as Hyakumangoku, or having the ability to produce a million koku of rice.
The characteristics of Kanazawa lacqueware are unparalleled levels of quality, balanced with magnificence. Free use is made of the advanced technique known as maki-e (gold/silver lacquer), creating luxurious and brilliant beauty. Lacqueware is said to have originally been handed down from China, but the maki-e technique is the first to have been produced in Japan. Kanazawa laqcuer ware’s maki-e in particular has brought together all of the maki-e techniques handed down to today, including hiramaki-e (flat gold/silver lacquer), tokidashi maki-e (gold/silver lacquer polished to finish), takamaki-e (embossed gilt lacquer work), and shishiaitokidashi maki-e.
The reason for the diverse development of maki-e in Kanazawa is said to be that lacquer was used abundantly in the coating of armor during the Hansei Period. Kanazawa’s lacquer work is subdivided into four areas: maki-e masters, scabbard masters, utsubo masters, and lacquering masters. This shows that emphasis was placed on both the strength and appearance of the important small tools used by samurai warriors. It is thought that once peace had been achieved, the symbolic samurai decoration was extended from armor to articles used in daily life, and lacquering techniques also developed accordingly.


Kanazawa lacquerware - History

Around the year 1630, in order to avert the view of the Tokugawa shogunate, which was scared of the power of the Kaga Domain, assets were invested in fine arts and industrial arts to produce peaceful policy. Toshitsune MAEDA, the third-generation lord of the Kaga Domain, actively invited skilled artisans from all parts of Japan to work as teachers. Among these, the skills of Douho IGARASHI, a leading master of maki-e during the Momoyama Period, led to the beginning of Kaga maki-e. Thereafter, the Igarashi school guided pupils under successive generations of feudal lords, pouring its energy into the training of young persons, and thus laying the foundations for Kaga culture.
Many famous artisans were produced from the Edo Period through to the Meiji and Taisho Periods, and lacquering technology also advanced throughout this period. Many advanced lacquering techniques blossomed, such as shanome-nuri, and were established as techniques unique to Kanazawa lacqueware. There are few products still existing from the time from the end of the Edo Period through until the Meiji Restoration, due to a decline in handicrafts reputedly caused by economic failure of the Domain. However, the art of Kanazawa lacqueware, which has been handed down over 250 years, was seen in a new light thanks to the economic revitalization that took place after the Second World War.

General Production Process

Kanazawa lacquerware - General Production Process Photo:Kanazawa city

  1. 1. Wood base production The first process with an article to be lacquered is the process known as undercoating. The finishing of the article will be significantly affected by the degree of care taken in this process. Before applying the undercoating to the wood, checks are first carried out to confirm that there are no cracks or dents. If cracks or dents are found, the surfaces of the vessel are prepared using the techniques such as those of sashimono (cabinetwork), hikimono (turned items), magemono (circular boxes) and kurimono (hollowed-out items).
  2. 2. Wood base hardening/kokuso In order to smoothen the rough parts of the wood, “wood hardening” is carried out, whereby the wood is soaked in purified wood lacquer. Wood hardening produces a foundation for the first coating. Next, a mixture of textile scraps and wood powder is blended with a lacquer known as kokuso, and this is embedded into the board joints.
  3. 3. Sumihanda Pewter, formed by mixing polishing powder and glue, is applied to lacquer-coated parts using a spatula. Excessive application can cause cracks to occur or lead to the burying of engraved parts. On the other hand, if it is applied too thinly, the wood grain may become visible, so skill is required in its application.
  4. 4. Cloth covering Once the wood base has been coated with pewter, cloth or Japanese paper is applied on top.
  5. 5. Base application and polishing All surfaces of the vessel are polished using grindstone, and lacquer base is applied. Thereafter, the process of drying and lacquering is repeated 2 to 3 times.
  6. 6. Rusting/polishing Lacquer is spread evenly to prevent rust, and water polishing is carried out. This work is repeated 2 to 3 times.
  7. 7. Intermediate coating In the lacquering process, there are two types of lacquering: the intermediate coating, and the overcoating. The intermediate coating is first carried out to ensure that the overcoating has a beautiful finish. Black intermediate lacquer is applied smoothly with a special paint brush. Once it has been applied, the article is placed inside a lacquer bath at a temperature of 23℃ to 25℃ and with a humidity level of approximately 80%, and is then dried for 1 to 2 days.
  8. 8. Small/medium polishing After drying, water polishing is carried out using a substance made from Shizuoka charcoal, which is produced by burning the Japanese tung oil tree. The reason for polishing again once this has been applied is not only to make the surface flat, but it is also important in terms of boosting the adhesiveness of the overcoating lacquer.
  9. 9. Overcoating Prior to the overcoating process, which determines the finishing touches, the area around the article is cleaned to remove dust, and then the coating work begins. Firstly, water lacquer is applied, and this is followed by varnish. The properties of the overcoating lacquer are susceptible to being affected by temperature and atmospheric temperature, so it is important to carefully regulate the viscosity of the lacquer on the same day. Thereafter, also when drying in a lacquer bath for 1 to 2 days, the room temperature is regulated in line with the humidity level and temperature on that day.
  10. 10. Polish coating/polishing After drying, polishing lacquer filtered with Yoshino paper (thin, translucent paper) is applied, and water polishing is carried out using charcoal for polishing.
  11. 11. Trunk scrubbing Polishing powder is applied to absorbent cotton, and the polished surfaces are further polished to produce a finely coated skin.
  12. 12. Polish refinement Absorbent cotton is soaked with canola oil, which is used for polishing, and the coated surfaces are lightly scrubbed. For the finishing, horn meal or titanium, etc. is applied using the fingertips or the palm of the hand.
  13. 13. Decoration When maki-e is applied to the beautifully polished vessel, the article is complete.

Where to Buy & More Information

Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Traditional Arts and Crafts

Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Traditional Arts and Crafts Photo:Ishikawa Prefecture Tourism League

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