Kishu lacquerware Photo:Wakayama Prefecture

Kishu lacquerware Kishu shikki

Lacquerware that evolves with time
A beauty useful in daily life


What is Kishu lacquerware ?

Kishu Lacquerware, also known as Kuroe-nuri, is produced around the Kuro-e region northwest of Kainan City, in Wakayama Prefecture . The characteristics of Kishu Lacquerware are its simplicity, durability, and practicality. Kishu Lacquerware articles have been popular as household goods since the Edo Period, and are also famous for their random patterning made by the vermillion surface wearing away to reveal the black undercoat. This effect is said to have originated from negoro-nuri, which was made by the monks of Negoro-dera Temple in Iwade City, Wakayama Prefecture. They produced articles such as dining tables, bowls, trays and small shrines which were used at the temple. As they were simple articles for daily use, their finish was a coating of vermillion lacquer over a black lacquer undercoat. Over time and with use, the vermillion lacquer surface would gradually wear away, revealing patches of the black lacquer undercoat; the surprising random nature of the process was considered part of the charm of negoro-nuri.
Kishu Lacquerware has adapted to changing times and the needs of contemporary life by producing different types of lacquerware in addition to the traditional negoro-nuri style, including lacquerware decorated with maki-e designs and mass-produced plastic-based articles.


Kishu Lacquerware is said to have started in the Muromachi Period when woodturners from the Kishu region began producing shibuji bowls. This, in addition to the practical negoro-nuri articles made by monks such as dining tables, bowls, trays and small shrines which are used at the temple, influenced and shaped Kishu Lacquerware. In 1585, due to Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI’s attack on Negoro-dera Temple, the monks who produced lacquerware escaped and settled in Kuro-e, stimulating the rise of lacquerware production around the region. Kishu Lacquerware greatly developed as household goods during the Edo Period under the protection of the Kishu Domain.
Subsequently, hard joinery such as dining tables were successfully produced in 1826, and articles decorated with maki-e designs started appearing around 1852 to 1860 (Ansei Period). Kishu Lacquerware lost the protection of the Kishu Domain following the Meiji Restoration, but gradually revived once full-scale trading with foreign countries started in 1870. Furthermore, chinkin decorative techniques were introduced in 1879, and maki-e artists were invited from Kyoto to improve existing maki-e techniques in 1898. Kawari-nuri techniques such as tendo-nuri, silk-nuri and kinko-nuri were invented during the Showa Period, thus continuing the development of the innovative Kishu Lacquerware.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Collection and production of lacquer (1) Cuts are made on lacquer trees using bladed tools, and the secreted lacquer sap is collected.
    (2) The collected lacquer is then dehydrated, and subsequently refined and filtered to improve its lustre and transparency.
  2. 2. Wood base production Wood bases are made by processing wood.
    Parts of the article are cut out from the wood and joined together. The completed wood base is then shaved.
  3. 3. Base preparation The lacquer coating process is divided into the “base preparation” and “coating” processes. In the “base preparation” process, scratches on the wood base are mended, the surface smoothened and fragile parts are strengthened by pasting cloth or washi.
  4. 4. Coating As the name suggests, the “coating” process that follows the base preparation process involves coating lacquer onto the wood base. The “coating” process is divided into three steps: “undercoating”, “intermediate coating” and “overcoating”. “Undercoating” is carried out to improve the effect of “overcoating”, and the “intermediate coating” is applied to make the overcoat appear more refined and elegant.
    (1) Once the “undercoat” is complete, the article is placed to dry inside a lacquer bath, a highly humid room specially designed to dry lacquer while avoiding dirt and dust. Once drying is complete, the article is polished to smoothen the surface and improve the adhesion of the intermediate lacquer coat.
    (2)The article is dried inside the lacquer bath again once the “intermediate coating” is complete. The article is once again polished after drying to smoothen the surface and improve the adhesion of the overcoat.
    (3) The lacquer coat applied in the “overcoating” process is slightly thicker than the intermediate coating.
    (4) Once the lacquer coating is complete, the article is turned over at fixed intervals to prevent the lacquer from flowing and pooling at the base.
  5. 5. Decorations Once the lacquer overcoat is sufficiently dried, the article is then decorated with patterns. Decorative techniques involve maki-e, chinkin, raden and silk screen printing.
    Maki-e: Illustrations are drawn using lacquer, and gold dust, silver dust, tin powder and dried coloured lacquer powder is sprinkled on the wet lacquer surface to complete the patterns.
    Chinkin: Patterns are engraved using a chinkin chisel. Raw lacquer is then rubbed into the grooves and gold leaves are pasted onto the raw lacquer.
    Raden: The lustrous inner linings of seashells are cut out and embedded into or pasted on the surface of the lacquerware. This technique was imported from China in the distant past.
    Silk screen: Instead of using the traditional hand-drawn maki-e method, designs are spray-painted onto the surface. This enables the mass production of lacquerware.

Where to Buy & More Information

Kishu-Shikki Dento Sangyo Kaikan

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