Tokyo silverware

Tokyo silverware Tokyo ginki

Radiant, chic and deep articles
created with diligence and rigor


What is Tokyo silverware ?

Tokyo silverware (called Tokyo ginki in Japanese) is a form of metal handicraft produced mainly in different wards of Tokyo like Taito, Arakawa, and Bunkyo. It is a traditional craft that has been passed down from the Edo period (1603-1868), and even today there are artisans called tankinshi, choukanshi and shiageshi that use the same techniques. Silver is used as the main raw material, and there is a wide range of products including tableware, ornaments, ear picks, and personal accessories. Cutlery is also produced, such as baby spoons and pastry knives, as it is safe and long-lasting.
Notable features of Tokyo silverware are its elegant sheen specific to silver and chic appearance. Most of the steps involved in its production require diligent work and artisans make use of various techniques to produce unique pieces. Also, silver reacts with sulfide gas in the air to produce a sulfurization phenomenon where it gradually loses its luster. The different color tones that result from a finishing method known as furubi, which produces an antique-style feeling using this phenomenon, are another of the silverware's charms.
Tokyo silverware remains popular thanks to the refined style of the artisans' techniques and is used for an array of gifts and souvenirs, in addition to items for daily use.


Silverware in Japan has a long history, as the names of silver tableware and drinking vessels are written in the Engishiki which is a book about laws and customs from the 10th century. Silver in Japan was a precious resource and can be traced back to before there were numerous mines, like the Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine located in Shimane prefecture. Many high quality silver pieces remain among the treasures found in Horyuji Temple, Nara prefecture. The Horyuji treasures consist of over three hundred valuable objects, and can be dated to the 7th and 8th centuries.
During the Edo period, there were silverware artisans called shiroganeshi, and artisans of decorative products known as kinkoshi, who created a wide range of items. Silverware and silver tools are said to have been popular among merchants back then. Japan's silverware was exhibited at the International Exposition in Paris in 1867, interesting people from around the world in the techniques and unique ideas behind Japanese silverware. Then, with the introduction of European techniques, silver products with an even more diverse range of appearances started being produced. With an increased amount of foreign travel to Tokyo after WWII, there was higher demand by Americans for silverware as souvenirs. Then, new products were introduced and even today people are fascinated by Tokyo silverware.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Hammering In order to make the metal easier to treat, the ore is heated and softened. The surface area of the silver required for the craft is scribed with a compass. For rounded pieces, scissors are used to make them circular. The circular items are made into a plate-like shape by placing them across the hollow of the workbench and striking them with a wooden mallet. Pieces are shaped by hammering with a metal hammer and a tool known as a backing strip, then heated to soften the ore. The setting and hitting processes are repeated. Then a specific rock or tortoise shell pattern is attached to a metal hammer and driven into the piece.
  2. 2. Metal carving and inlaying Metal carving is a technique of carving patterns with a chisel. Designs are copied to traditional Japanese paper and attached to an incense burner. Then resin is poured into the incense burner in order to make it easier to strike with a chisel. Needle driving is done to sketch out the marks for when carving with a chisel. Various chisels are used to make the pattern stand out.
    Inlaying is a technique of cutting out the patterned parts of the ore to insert into other metals. A silver sheet of metal is softened and flattened on top of an anvil. Traditional Japanese paper is attached to the silver sheet, and the patterned parts of the ore are cut out. Other metals are applied to the cut-out parts, and then removed after the sheet is marked. The artisan's fingertips are used to carefully inlay the pattern into the ore. Borax is spread onto the inlayed part and silver pewter is applied. The raised pieces of silver pewter are cut off and smoothed with whetstone.
  3. 3. Patination There are two kinds of patination, boiling and gold.
    To prepare for boiling (niiro) patination, the inlaid incense burner is polished with charcoal, polishing sand, or baking soda until the gloss of the material has been forcefully scraped away. The piece is tended to using baking soda or ground horns, the oxidized film is removed using plum vinegar, and then the piece is soaked in grated white radish juice. Boiling patination is done by coloring the pieces with copper sulfate and green rust dissolved into water, and then washing with water.
    In preparation for gold (kinfurubi) patination, oiliness is removed from the product by using polishing sand or baking soda. After applying a mixture of rough emery, gold patination is done by coating the pieces with cotton soaked in a gold solution of auric chloride and ethanol and exposing them to sunlight. The darkened tone is maintained with ground horns or baking soda.

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