Niigata lacquerware Niigata shikki
A treasure trove of various coating techniques
that were born from cultural exchange
What is Niigata lacquerware ?
Niigata Lacquerware is a form of lacquerware produced in the area around Niigata City, Niigata Prefecture. The characteristics of Niigata Lacquerware are its various coating techniques (such as hana-nuri, ishime-nuri, nishiki-nuri, isokusa-nuri and take-nuri) and the great diversity of styles that can be enjoyed.
Hana-nuri is a technique whose charms are simple beauty and luster, as there are no patterns applied. Ishime-nuri expresses the rough feeling inherent in stone, with the coating providing a hard surface that is resistant to scratching. Nishiki-nuri involves repeated coating of colored lacquer with a wad of hemp cord, after which characteristic irregular speckles in the various layers of lacquer are made to appear by polishing the surface. Like nishiki-nuri, isokusa-nuri also involves repeated coating of colored lacquer, but a pattern that looks like seaweed swaying between waves is expressed by using a board-shaped wad to apply the lacquer with a rotating motion. Take-nuri, where bamboo nodes and soot-stained impressions are expressed by lacquer, is the typical technique used in Niigata Lacquerware.
Various forms of lacquerware can be enjoyed, along with other traditional lacquering techniques including kinma-nuri, seido-nuri, aokai-nuri, roiro-nuri and shitan-nuri. There are also various new lacquer productions, such as yuhi-nuri.
Niigata City has long been a center of trade, and is a place where cultures from various places arrive by sea or by land, with lacquerware technology one such form of imported culture. The history of Niigata Lacquerware is said to originate from the years 1615 to 1624 (the Genna Era) at the beginning of the Edo Period, when Akita’s shunkei-nuri lacquering was taught. At that time, production was centered on items for daily use such as trays and small dining tables.
In 1638, an exclusive sales region for lacquerware known as Wandana was established, and the production of lacquerware was protected. The maki-e technique was conveyed in the years 1764 to 1771 (the Meiwa Era), and coating techniques unique to Niigata such as isokusa-nuri and kinma-nuri were created at the beginning of the 19th Century. Since Niigata was a port of call for cargo ships sailing the Sea of Japan at that time, the market expanded to various other parts of Japan, including Edo (now Tokyo) and Osaka, and by the end of the Edo Period Niigata had become Japan’s leading area of lacquerware production. The bamboo coating technique was then taught in the middle of the Meiji Period, and this became the technique most widely associated with Niigata Lacquerware.
The various forms of coating that are a characteristic of Niigata Lacquerware are a result of absorbing technologies from various regions and the great efforts of the people of Niigata who developed them.
General Production Process
- 1. Wood hardening
Raw lacquer is applied to the material so that it adequately soaks in and produces a waterproof effect.
For materials with joints, the joints are reinforced as necessary by attaching cloth with noriurushi, which is a kneaded mixture of raw lacquer and rice paste.
If there are cracks or scratches on the material, the surface of the material is conditioned by embedding kokuso. Kokuso is a kneaded mixture of raw lacquer, cooked rice paste, wheat flour and wood chips.
- 2. Rusting
（1）Water is used to knead jinoko powder, which is baked and purified diatomaceous soil, and polishing powder that is produced when cutting whetstone, and this is mixed with raw lacquer to produce a clay undercoating known as “rust".
（2）A spatula or similar implement is used to evenly rub the rust across the material as a whole.
（3）After the rust dries and hardens, the surface is wet sanded with wet whetstone or water-resistant paper to make it smooth. Wet sanding refers to polishing in a soaked state.
（4）In order to strengthen the material and stabilize its shape, steps ② and ③ are repeated several times over.
- 3. Bamboo composition
（1）Rust is applied to the surface of the material using a special spatula, producing protuberances that resemble bamboo nodes.
（2）The parts that become bamboo node gaps are cut with a chisel to prepare a shape that resembles bamboo nodes.
（3）Detailed parts such as bamboo branches and roots are also produced by applying rust.
- 4. Rust polishing
After the rust dries and hardens, the surface is wet sanded with wet whetstone or water-resistant paper to make it smooth.
- 5. Intermediate coating
Colored lacquer for an intermediate coating of green bamboo, soot-colored bamboo or sesame bamboo is used as necessary. All surfaces are coated with colored lacquer using a paintbrush, and the pieces are placed inside a cellar for drying lacquer known as a “drying bath" to dry. Appropriate temperature and humidity are required for lacquer to solidify, so the humidity level of the drying bath is maintained at around 70% and the temperature at around 20℃.
- 6. Polishing of intermediate coating
After the intermediate coating dries and hardens, the surface is wet sanded with wet whetstone or water-resistant paper to make it smooth.
- 7. Overcoating
There are also three colors of colored lacquer used for overcoating, namely, green bamboo, soot-colored bamboo, and sesame bamboo. Green bamboo and sesame bamboo are the same as the colored lacquers used for intermediate coating, but the soot-colored bamboo lacquer has a slightly different mixture from that of the colored lacquer used for intermediate coating.
The colored lacquer for overcoating is applied to all surfaces with a paintbrush, and the pieces are again placed in the drying bath to dry. As for the sesame bamboo color, charcoal powder is sieved and sprinkled before the overcoated colored lacquer dries, and the pieces are then placed in the drying bath.
- 8. Polishing
After the overcoating dries and hardens, the surface is wet sanded with wet whetstone or water-resistant paper to make it smooth.
- 9. Patterning
A textured pattern is applied to make the piece look like bamboo.
A pattern of bamboo splints is applied using a splint-pulling rod after wet sanding, or by means of a paintbrush when applying the overcoating (without using a splint-pulling rod).
The textures of other parts are also produced as necessary. Detailed grain patterns of a cross-section of cut bamboo or the cut ends of bamboo are expressed by applying viscous lacquer with a paintbrush or spatula. Speckles around the case or splint are drawn with a maki-e brush.
- 10. Makomo sprinkling
（1）Transparent lacquer is applied so that the area around the bamboo splint parts is shaded.
（2）While still half-dried, makomo (dried powder of a Poaceae plant) is sprinkled with a paintbrush to produce a soot-stained impression. Makomo is sprinkled when applying a soot-colored bamboo color.
（3）After applying makomo, the pieces are again placed in a drying bath to dry.
- 11. Makomo-otoshi
A mixture of fine powdered charcoal for polishing and water is applied to a paintbrush, and the makomo-sprinkled surface is wet sanded. Polishing removes any excess makomo and produces the natural texture of bamboo nodes.
- 12. Lacquer rubbing
Raw lacquer is rubbed onto the entire surface and is dried in a drying bathtub. A glossy finish is achieved by performing lacquer rubbing several times over.
- 13. Completion
Where to Buy & More Information
Nigata Shikki Dogyo Kumiai
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