Naruko lacquerware Photo:Miyagi Prefecture Tourism Division

Naruko lacquerware Naruko shikki

Artisanal technique boasting a 350-year history
Beautiful grain rises to the surface with every use

Description

What is Naruko lacquerware ?

Naruko Lacquerware is a form of lacquerware produced around the area of Osaki City in Miayazaki Prefecture. Lacquerware refers to handicrafts produced by coating wooden bowls and other items with lacquer. Lacquerware was produced in various places around Japan, but it also developed in a unique way in the hot spring village of Naruko.
The characteristic of Naruko Lacquerware is its range of proprietary coating techniques. One standout example is the technique known as kijiro coating, which makes optimum use of the wood grain. In lacquerware produced with kijiro coating, using transparent amber lacquer, the beauty of the wood grain rises to the surface the more the article is used.
Also, the dragon pattern coating invented in 1951 is beautifully applied with marble patterning using a unique ink marbling process, and while its history is short this has become established as a leading example of Naruko Lacquerware. There are various other coating methods too, including wipe lacquering in which transparent lacquer is printed on, and benitame lacquering, with its beautiful red luster.
Aside from its obviously beautiful appearance, as Naruko Lacquerware has thick wood bases coated many times over with lacquer, they are strong enough to withstand use for many years.

History

Naruko Lacquerware is thought to have started around 350 years ago, between the years of 1624 and 1643 during the Edo Period. Danjo Toshichika DATE , the third-generation Lord of the Iwadeyama Domain at that time, moved to Kyoto to study under lacquering master Uhei MURATA and maki-e master Sanzo KIKUTA . It is said that Naruko Lacquerware was produced thereafter, when, having studied the techniques of Kyo Ware, they returned to Naruko and used their know-how to contribute to the development of lacquerware production. In the latter part of the Edo Period, there was a boom in the popularity of bathing in hot springs among the common people, and the spa town of Naruko started to receive many visitors arriving for its baths, from which Naruko Lacquerware was able to acquire a stable market.
Going into the Meiji Period, the two-person lathes that had been the mainstream were replaced with single-person kick lathes, and there came to be an abundant variety of products. Later, in the Showa Period, Naruko Lacquerware evolved in a unique way with the times (as seen when Goichi SAWAGUCHI, a lacquering researcher from Naruko, proposed “dragon pattern lacquering”), and even today there are several lacquerware artisans who continue to innovate while protecting the traditions of Naruko Lacquerware.

General Production Process

Naruko lacquerware - General Production Process Photo:Miyagi Prefecture Tourism Division

  1. 1. Rusting First, wood that has been adequately dried is sawn into squares of appropriate sizes. Next, the pieces are coarsely ground into rough shapes before being dried again, and are then finely cast in accordance with the shape of the desired vessel. Round vessels such as soup bowls are called “turned articles”, and various turned articles can be produced by cutting the wood base while turning wood on a lathe, and using large and small planes of various shapes. Wood base production is carried out by woodturners, who are professional specialists, instead of the lacquer craftsmen.

    Next, the wood base is finely smoothed, reinforced and hardened before producing the first coating. Adhesive containing kokuso (raw lacquer) is applied over small scratches and joints on the surface of the wood base, and the articles are then dried prior to being shaped by polishing. Raw lacquer is applied to the whole wood base, and by soaking and then drying, its strength is enhanced and the first coating becomes easy to apply.

    Fine holes on the surface of the wood base are then filled by applying a “rust foundation” produced by kneading together polishing powder, lacquer and water, and rusting is carried out to flatten the surface and increase its strength. Articles are dried for one day after being coated from start to finish, and rusting is then repeated many times over from the top.
  2. 2. Rust polishing Articles that have been adequately rusted and dried are next polished with water. In the process known as “rust polishing”, small protuberances on the surface of the vessel are planed until they become flat, and the surface is prepared so that lacquer becomes easy to apply. Thereafter, the articles are coated and dried many times over, and are polished repeatedly to harden the foundation of the lacquerware. This kind of steady foundation production is directly connected to the strength of the finished product, and although not visible, it is also deeply linked to the quality and price of the lacquerware.
  3. 3. Intermediate coating After the first coat has been completed, it is finally time to apply the lacquer. In the process known as intermediate coating, a special lacquer for intermediate coating is used in a color that is suitable for the overcoating.
  4. 4. Intermediate polishing The lacquer that was applied as intermediate coating is dried evenly while rotating in a special rotating bathtub. After drying, the surface is polished and flattened in the same manner as the rust polishing process. By repeating the intermediate coating and intermediate polishing processes several times over, the beauty and transparency of the lacquer are brought to the fore.
  5. 5. Overcoating The final process to be carried out is overcoating, which determines the beauty of the lacquerware. The workflow is the same as that of intermediate coating, but when the lacquer used in overcoating has a high level of purity, a fine quality lacquer is used and the lacquer is applied in a special room so that dirt and dust will not enter. Even here, various techniques are used, including “flower coating” in which a finish with mirror-like brilliance is achieved without brushing the surface, and “black lacquer coating” in which black lacquer is used.
    After lacquering has been finished, decoration is carried out as necessary. While Naruko Lacquerware is beautiful enough even without decoration, the application of maki-e (gold/silver lacquer) or patterns will add gorgeous color and produce pieces of rare beauty that shine in a different way to undecorated Naruko Lacquerware.

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