Kyo laquerware

Kyo laquerware Kyo shikki

Elegant, subtle and durable handicrafts
Tradition handed down from the Heian period


What is Kyo laquerware ?

Kyo Shikki is a form of lacquer ware produced in the Kyoto area. Since it advanced at the same time as the culture of tea ceremonies, Kyo Ware possesses the inner beauty known as wabi sabi.
The characteristic of Kyo Ware is its wood grain, which is thinner and has a more delicate air than the grains of other forms of lacquer ware. It is fair to say that this thinness further emphasizes its uniquely delicate nature. Traditional handicrafts produced as Kyo Ware are not limited just to dining ware such as chopsticks and multi-tiered food boxes. There are also tea utensils such as small tea caddies, hearth frames and shelves for the storage of tea utensils; congratulatory gift articles such as trays and books; and furniture items such as cabinets, display cases and flower vases.
Not only are these beautiful: they are also highly durable as there is no use of glue in the first coating. The high ratio of lacquer in the first coating produces solid, highly durable lacquer ware. However, the higher the ratio of the lacquer, the greater the cost and time it takes to manage the hardening of the lacquer.


Lacquer work was carried out in the Jomon Period, but it began to flourish in the Muromachi Period after being established as Kyo Ware in the year 794, Kyo Ware came to be widely used together with tea ceremony culture.
Maki-e (gold or silver lacquer) is one of the decorations of Kyo Ware and was produced during the Nara Period. This technique was handed down through the Heian Period, when techniques such as hiramaki-e, takamaki-e (embossed gilt lacquering) and togidashimaki-e (scraped maki-e) were produced. This is because during the Kamakura Period, temples and aristocrats started to employ maki-e artists. The design of maki-e also came to reflect the characteristics of each era. Kyo Ware in the Azuchi-Momoyama Period was elegant but at the same time featured magnificent designs that suited the tastes of samurai warriors. In the Edo Period, designs retained their gorgeous side but became more delicately balanced, rich with meaning. The designs of Koetsu HON-AMI were particularly novel, also influencing Korin OGATA. The technique established by Korin OGATA has been handed down to modern times as part of the Rimpa school.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Wood base production Wood base is the part that forms the base of Kyo Ware. Various wood bases are produced to fit the material: bowl (or turned article) wood bases for bowls, plate wood bases for boxes, and hot water bent wood bases for curved forms like mage-wappa lunchboxes. As for the wooden materials used in wood bases, these include cypress, cedar, zelkova, horse-chestnut and paulownia.
  2. 2. First lacquer coating The purpose of applying a first coating is to strengthen the pieces and give a beautiful finish. Thinning is prevented by thoroughly applying the first coating through six processes.
    First, in order to reinforce the seams of the wood grain, Kokuso is carried out to dig gaps and fill them with Kokuso liquid (a mixture of lacquer, rice glue, wood grain powder and cotton). Next, to strengthen the unglazed pottery and prevent the wood from absorbing moisture, wood base hardening is carried out by directly applying raw lacquer to the surface of the unglazed pottery, which increases the strength of the lacquer ware. In the fabric dressing process, when the raw lacquer has hardened and the wood base has solidified, the wood base is dressed with fabric.
    The purpose of attaching linen with lacquer paste is to prevent thinning, etc. and strengthen the unglazed pottery. Once the fabric dressing process has ended, the next job is to carry out soil application. This is the process of using a spatula to apply a mixture of polishing powder, soil powder, lacquer and water. Soil application moderates any unevenness or rough texture of material applied in the fabric dressing process and further strengthens the unglazed pottery. Once the lacquer ware mold has been prepared, kukurisabi is carried out. This involves drying by applying a mixture known as sabi (rust), which consists of polishing powder, lacquer and water. The final step is sabitsuke, together with repeated kukurisabi, after which the first lacquer coating is complete.
  3. 3. Polishing first coating of lacquer and application of intermediate coating Surfaces on which a first coat has been applied have a rough feeling. Polishing the first coating is the process of producing a smooth finish using water and grindstone. Following this, as the finishing rust hardens, raw lacquer is rubbed in. After drying for at least one day, lacquer in the same color is used to apply a first coating and intermediate coating, after which intermediate grinding is carried out to give a smooth finish with charcoal, in turn completing this process. Moreover, since time is required until lacquer dries, light coating prevents lacquer from dripping.
  4. 4. Final coating Foreign matters are removed from the lacquer used in the final coating using filter paper. The filter paper used for Kyo Wares is Yoshino paper. Various techniques are used according to different purposes: shinnuri when making the final coating with black lacquer; colored lacquering when using colored lacquer; and transparent lacquering for articles that leverage the beauty of the wood grain, etc.
  5. 5. Fushiage This process removes any dust that has become stuck to the surface. Quills of birds’ feathers are used to carefully remove the dust. Since dust cannot be removed once it has dried completely, this process is carried out when the brush marks have settled.
  6. 6. Roiro finishing This process produces the glossy surface that is characteristic of lacquer ware. Three processes are repeated as the surface is polished with charcoal, then with oil polishing powder, before lacquer is rubbed on with cotton, and finally the article is carefully polished by hand using canola oil and horn powder.
  7. 7. Decoration Decoration is the process of decorating lacquer ware. Broadly speaking, there are three techniques: maki-e (gold/silver lacquer), raden (mother-of-pearl), and aogai (limpet). Maki-e is a technique of finishing with gold or silver dust after drawing pictures with lacquer, hiramaki-e (flat gold/silver lacquer), takamaki-e (embossed gilt lacquer work), and togidashimaki-e (scraped gold/silver lacquer). Raden is a design technique where shells with beautiful luster, such as the turbo marmoratus, are stuck to a lacquered surface. The aogai technique is the same as the raden technique, except for the fact that it uses light shells.

Where to Buy & More Information

Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts

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