Ouchi lacquerware Ouchi nuri
Autumn flower patterns drawn with colored lacquer
Gold leaves shining through rich vermillion
Ouchi-nuri Lacquerware is produced in the area around Yamaguchi City, in Yamaguchi Prefecture. It was named “Ouchi-nuri” as it emerged under the Ouchi clan, who boasted significant influence and power in Yamaguchi Prefecture during the Muromachi Period.
A defining feature of Ouchi-nuri is the elegant patterns of autumn flowers, such as bush clovers and Japanese pampas grass, drawn with coloured lacquer on a deep, austere vermillion base and adorned with gold leaves in the shape of Ouchi-bishi, the Ouchi family crest. Furthermore, as Ouchi-nuri Lａｃｑｕｅｒｗａｒｅ s are coated with many layers of lacquer, they are durable and resistant to fading.
Apart from Ouchi-nuri bowls and trays, the Ouchi dolls (Ouchi-bina¬) are particularly famous and are popular as souvenirs. The Ouchi dolls were created based on the tale of Hiroyo OUCHI, the 9th head of the Ouchi clan, who is said to have invited many doll makers from Kyoto and placed dolls around his residence in order to comfort his homesick bride who was from Kyoto. As Ouchi dolls, which are defined by their round faces, almond-shaped eyes and puckered lips, are always in a pair of one male and one female dolls, they are popularly known as a symbol of matrimonial happiness.
Ouchi-nuri is said to have started in the late 14th century during Hiroyo OUCHI’s time, when the Ouchi clan, who admired Kyoto, invited lacquer craftsmen from Kyoto to produce lacquerware in Yamaguchi. The Ouchi clan, who took up residence in Yamaguchi, modelled the towns after Kyoto and promoted cultural development. As a result, a unique culture named the Ouchi Culture, which was a blend of Kyoto, Chinese and Korean cultures, arose in Yamaguchi. Lacquerware flourished under the Ouchi Culture, and grew to become one of the Ouchi clan’s important exports to China and Korea.
Unfortunately, due to the trade with China and Korea being discontinued following the destruction of the Ouchi clan, along with the Mori clan relocating their castle to Hagi during the Edo Period, the production of quality lacquerware eventually disappeared. However, the discovery of the “Ouchi-wan”, a set of luxurious lacquer bowls from the Ouchi era, among the Mori clan’s collection during the Meiji Period sparked the revival of Ouchi-nuri, using the Ouchi-wan as a reference. The term “Ouchi-nuri” also started being used during the Meiji Period. The very first Ouchi dolls were created at the Yamaguchi Prefectural Industrial Technology Institute during the Taisho Period, and they proceeded become an integral part of the Ouchi-nuri we see today.
General Production Process
- 1. Wood base
Felled trees are slowly dried naturally over a course of a few years, and pieces of wood which are well-dried and suitable for the intended work are selected. Wood from Japanese snowbell, Japanese zelkova and Japanese horse-chestnut trees are used for bowls, round trays and dolls, while wood from Japanese cypress, empress and Japanese big leaf magnolia trees are used for joinery such as food and writing boxes, which require parts to be joined together.
- 2. Base preparations
The completed wood base is checked for any scratches or insufficiently bonded joints. The surface has to be smooth in order for lacquer to be coated evenly. Any scratches must be smoothened by applying kokuso-urushi (a mixture of raw lacquer, sawdust and rice glue). Fragile parts of the bowl, such as the base and edges, are strengthened by pasting using washi and cloth using adhesive lacquer. The surface of the wood base is then evened out and base lacquer, which is a mixture of raw lacquer, polishing powder and earth powder, is applied using a brush or spatula and the piece is then dried. The dried base lacquer is then wet sanded using waterproof sandpaper and whetstones. Wet sanding is the process of polishing wet objects.
- 3. Undercoating
The polished base is undercoated with lacquer and dried. The dried undercoat is then wet sanded using charcoal (a special charcoal for lacquer polishing) and waterproof sandpaper.
- 4. Middle coating
A lacquer middle coat is applied over the polished undercoat and dried. The middle coat is then wet sanded using charcoal and waterproof sandpaper.
- 5. Overcoating
A lacquer overcoat is applied over the polished middle coat. The lacquer used for overcoating is filtered using special washi to remove dust and dirt before being carefully applied onto the wood base in a dust-free “overcoating room”.
The piece is then placed inside a muro (a drying cupboard), where the temperature and humidity is carefully regulated, and slowly dried for 12 to 24 hours. Lacquer reacts with the absorbed oxygen and moisture, which changes its state from liquid to solid.
- 6. Decoration
The piece is now decorated with the necessary designs. Common decorations include “Urushi-e”, where patterns are drawn using coloured lacquer, “Haku-e”, where gold and silver leaves are pasted to form patterns, and “Maki-e”, where gold and silver dust are sprinkled onto patterns drawn using lacquer.
As most of these processes are carried out by hand, each piece takes about 1 to 2 months to complete.
Where to Buy & More Information
The Yamaguchi Furusato Heritage Center