Kawatsura lacquerware Kawatsura shikki
The wisdom of life produced by Tohoku’s abundant forest resources
Durable lacquerware for everyday use produced by careful undercoating
What is Kawatsura lacquerware ?
Kawatsura lacquerware is produced in Kawatsura-cho, Yuzawa City in the southern part of Akita Prefecture. Articles for everyday use such as bowls and trays have been produced here for a long time, and are popularly used as everyday lacquerware.
The characteristic of Kawatsura lacquerware is its excellent durability despite being reasonably priced. The key to this is can be seen in the process of undercoating. Among the production processes of lacquerware, undercoating is important for making the uncoated wood strong. This involves repeating processes of charcoal application, in which a mixture of persimmon juice and charcoal powder is applied before drying and polishing, followed by persimmon juice polishing, where persimmon juice is applied and polished, and undercoating in which raw lacquer is applied. The repetition of this work is what gives Kawatsura lacquerware its durability. Also, the low production cost of persimmon juice and charcoal powder means that this durable lacquerware can be sold at a moderate price. The hananuri (flower coating) technique is used to finish the articles. The warmth of Kawatsura lacquerware is said to result from hananuri, an advanced finishing technique that produces a smooth surface by leaving the coating applied after drying, without polishing.
Today, bowls comprise around 60% of production, but there is nation-wide distribution of many articles that are adapted to modern life while retaining tradition, from small items to furniture.
The history of Kawatsura lacquerware begins in the Kamakura Period, around 800 years ago. It is said to have begun at that time when Michinori, the younger brother of Shigemichi ONODERA, who became lord of this area from Minamoto no Yoritomo, used the abundant forest resources and lacquer trees to let peasants lacquer weapons as a side business. This side business started in the village of Kawatsura, which spent much of the year in snow, because of the difficult life and poverty that existed there when agriculture had been their only occupation.
Thereafter, around the middle of the 17th Century, lacquerware production began in earnest as a local industry. At that time, there was a record of 26 houses around the village of Kawatsura running bowl production businesses. In the second half of the Edo Period, articles for daily use such as bowls, trays and stacked boxes came to be widely produced, under the protection of the Domain, and decorations such as chinkin (gold-inlaid lacquerware) and maki-e (gold/silver lacquer) started to be applied. The market even reached other countries, and the basis of industry also became even more expansive.
Steady growth was also achieved during the postwar slump, and in 1976, Kawatsura lacquerware was designated as a traditional craft, having been highly praised for its excellent durability and practicality. Even today, products are manufactured in a wide range of fields while maintaining the same excellent techniques and traditions.
General Production Process
- 1. Wood
Wood such as beech and Japanese horse chestnut are used for round articles such as bowls, with magnolia, Japanese cedar and cypress used for square articles such as stacked boxed and curved articles like round trays. Kawatsura lacquerware was produced by the abundant forest resources at the base of the Ou mountain range, but the trees that provide wood are at least 200 years old, and thorough mountain maintenance and management are carried out in order to prevent trees from being wiped out.
- 2. Wood collection
Wood is cut into round slices. Thereafter, the wood is cut to an approximate size suited to the purpose while avoiding knots and damaged parts, and are turned into block shapes.
- 3. Rough sawing
This process involves cutting the collected block-shaped wood into the form of a vessel. Wood is mounted on a lathe, the inside is gouged out, and the outside is roughly sawn. Thereafter, it is boiled up to remove tannin from the wood. This also serves to prevent the wood from bending and provides protection from insects.
- 4. Drying
In order to further protect the wood from being warped, the articles are placed inside a circulation of smoke for a period of one month to smoke and dry. This is carried out so that moisture inside the uncoated wood becomes around 10%.
- 5. Sawn finishing
This is the final wood base process. Uncoated wood that has been dried, and are of stable size, is again mounted on a lathe and its surface is sawn by moving a plane to produce a smooth, beautiful finish. The base of the bowl is sawn further to complete the bowl shape.
- 6. Charcoal application, wood chip grinding
Next is the process of undercoating, which is a characteristic of Kawatsura lacquerware. A mixture of persimmon juice and charcoal powder is smeared onto the article as the artisan draws with a straw brush, and this is then polished after drying. Next, a coating of persimmon juice is applied and polished after drying in the same way.
- 7. Undercoating
A paintbrush called a komage , produced from the tail of a horse, is used to smear the raw lacquer so that it becomes rubbed in. By repeating persimmon juice polishing and this undercoating 5 to 6 times, moisture is prevented from permeating the wood grain, and articles can be finished as durable lacquerware without bending. This is the final undercoating process.
- 8. Undercoating, intermediate coating, final coating, and hananuri
Next is the coating process. After undercoating, progress is gradually made from intermediate coating to final coating while adjusting the tinge of the lacquer in order to reach the finishing color. The coating and polishing process is repeated 6 to 7 times, but on each occasion it is necessary to thoroughly dry the lacquer before applying the next layer. This process requires precise perception of subtle changes to lacquer caused by temperature or humidity.
Finishing adopts a technique known as nuritate or hananuri. This method involves drying after lacquer has been applied, without polishing. Advanced technique is required so that uneven coating and brushstrokes do not appear, and scrupulous care is required in order to prevent dust from sticking to the articles.
Thereafter, depending on the purpose, decoration is applied by means of chinkin (gold inlay) or maki-e (gold or silver lacquering) in order to give a more brilliant finish to the lacquerware.
Kawatsura lacquerware is completed by splitting the jobs for each process, and the lacquerware is completed by the hands of many artisans. Due to the many processes involved, it takes approximately one year to finish each article.
Where to Buy & More Information
Yuzawa Kawatsura Lacquerware Traditional Crafts Center
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