Takaoka lacquerware Takaoka shikki
A mysterious pattern that depicts the beautiful ocean depths
Takaoka Lacquerware is produced in the area around Takaoka City, in Toyama Prefecture. A defining feature of Takaoka Lacquerware is the wide range of styles that can be enjoyed, represented by the “aogai-nuri”, “yusuke-nuri” and “chokoku-nuri” techniques.
“Aogai-nuri” is a technique that uses pieces of “aogai”, which are thinly-shaved slivers of the shiny parts of seashells, to create triangular and diamond patterns that are then combined to express flowers, birds and natural landscapes. Decorative techniques that use seashells are collectively known as “raden”. While seashells of approximately 0.3mm thickness are generally used, seashells of approximately 0.1mm are also used for Takaoka Lacquerware. Using thinner seashells allows the colour of the base lacquer to show through, giving the seashells a blue glow. This technique is unique to Takaoka Lacquerware.
“Yusuke-nuri” is a technique created during the late Edo Period after much research by Yusuke ISHII, who deeply admired Chinese lacquerware from the Ming Dynasty. It is a comprehensive technique involving Chinese-style designs of flowers, birds, natural landscapes and people being drawn using rust lacquer, decorated with aogai, haku-e (gold leaf decorations) and stones and subsequently coated.
“Chokoku-nuri” involves coating wood carvings with red or black lacquer, and carving designs of plants, animals, peonies, peacocks and wave crests onto raimon (lightning fretwork) or hexagonal patterns, which creates a stereoscopic effect and gives it a unique luster.
There are also kawari-nuri articles using various materials such as plastic and glass.
Takaoka Lacquerware is said to have started around 1609 in the early Edo period, when Toshinaga MAEDA, the first lord of the Kaga Domain, built the Takaoka Castle and ordered the production of weapons and daily goods such as dressers and trays. Takaoka Castle was unfortunately abandoned merely five years later, but Takaoka subsequently transitioned to become a commercial and industrial town. Tsuishu and tsuikoku techniques, which involve engraving designs on a thick base made by coating numerous layers of red or black lacquer, were introduced from China, and that created the foundations for the techniques that are being used to this day, namely, chokoku-nuri, raden and sabi-e.
“Chokoku-nuri” was invented based on techniques used by Tanpo TSUJI, who was active during the Middle Edo Period between 1764 and 1772. Tanpo TSUJI’s works are also used in the Takaoka Mikuruma-yama wheeled floats that are paraded during the Takaoka Mikuruma-yama Festival. “Chokoku-nuri” became popular in the early 19th century due to the emergence of master craftsmen such as Koemon ITAYA. In 1850 of the late Edo Period, Yusuke ISHII invented “yusuke-nuri” after studying Chinese lacquerware from the Ming Dynasty, which grew in popularity during the Meiji Period.
Recently, “kawari-nuri”, which involves coating lacquer on various materials, have been garnering attention particularly from the interior design industry.
General Production Process
- 1. Wood from Japanese zelkova, Japanese horse chestnut and katsura trees are used for Takaoka lacquerware.
The wood is thoroughly dried, and cut to produce the wood base of the desired article.
Takaoka Lacquerware is mainly produced from the four types of wood bases listed below:
● Kuri (carved) wood base: Produced by shaving and carving wood using a chisel.
● Turned wood base: Produced by shaving wood that is turned on a lathe.
● Curved wood base: Produced by pasting thin wooden boards together to form ring-shaped bases.
● Joined wood base: Produced by joining several wooden boards.
- 2. Base preparation (1) Undercoating
Scratches on the wood base are repaired, the surface is smoothened and fragile parts are strengthened by pasting cloth on the affected parts. The pasting of cloth on fragile parts is known as the “nunokise” technique. Filling powder is then evenly applied to hide the cloth.
- 3. Base preparation (2) Intermediate coating
Lacquer is applied over the filling powder, and the surface is polished and smoothened once the lacquer is dry. Base preparations are complete at this point.
- 4. Aogai process (1) Designing
Shells of abalones, great green turbans, pearl oysters and box mussels are used in “aogai”. The “aogai” process and its effects are considered when designing the lacquerware. This process is important as it requires creativity, good observation and expression.
- 5. Aogai process (2) Cutting shells
The shells are then cut based on the design. Straight parts are cut using blades, smaller parts are pierced using wood carving knives and chisels, while curved lines such as birds and animals are cut out using needles. Great skill is especially needed for the process of cutting shells using needles, which is called “harinuki”.
- 6. Aogai process (3) Aogai application
The designs are transferred to the wood base, and adhesive lacquer is thinly applied to parts which the aogai decorations are to be pasted. The cut aogai decorations are then pasted on the lacquered parts.
- 7. Aogai process (4) Kebori (Hairline engraving)
Once the lacquer has fully dried after pasting the aogai decorations, an extremely fine needle is used to draw details such as human faces and flower cores. The aogai process is complete at this point.
- 8. Overcoating process (1) Konaka-nuri (Minor intermediate coating)
Lacquer is coated on the entire wood base, including the aogai decorations. Once the lacquer has dried, the lacquer coated on the aogai decorations are peeled using a chisel.
- 9. Overcoating process (2) Overcoating
An overcoat is applied over the entire wood base. Once the lacquer has dried, the entire article is polished using polishing Shizuoka charcoal, followed by roiro charcoal. Finally, a mixture of polishing powder (powder that is produced when cutting whetstones) and rapeseed oil is used to polish the entire article.
- 10. Overcoating process (3) Suri-urushi (Rubbed lacquer)
Raw lacquer is very thinly rubbed into the surface. Once the lacquer has dried, the surface is polished by hand using a mixture of rapeseed oil and horn powder (polishing powder produced by powdering baked deer horns) to produce luster. After 3 to 4 cycles of the raw lacquer application, drying and polishing process, the article is finally complete.
Where to Buy & More Information
Takaoka Design Crafts Center