Tsugaru lacquerware

Tsugaru lacquerware Tsugaru nuri

Layers of bright colors and modern black lacquer
make a powerful and elegant lacquerware


What is Tsugaru lacquerware ?

Tsugaru lacquerware is produced around the city of Hirosaki in the Aomori prefecture. Lacquerware has been produced in this region since the middle of the Edo period (1603-1868), but it is said that the name of Tsugaru lacquerware appeared from the time of their exhibit at the World Exposition in Vienna in 1873. Today, it is used as a general term for traditional lacquerware produced in the Tsugaru region.
The characteristics of Tsugaru lacquerware are its practicality, high durability and its highly refined appearance. The unique togidashi kawari nuri technique brings beautiful multi-layered patterns of colored lacquer to the surface. Lacquer is coated dozens of times onto a base made using Tsugaru cypress. This process is carried out repeatedly for two months to produce strong, thick and beautiful lacquerware.
Diverse coating techniques were developed in the Edo period, including techniques that are still used today, such as kara nuri for the typical one, nanako nuri for creating fine patterns as its characteristic, monsha nuri for creating stylish impression using charcoal and black lacquer, and nishiki nuri for creating fine complexed patterns which requires advanced skill.


Tsugaru lacquerware started to be produced in the middle of the Edo period (1603-1868), when Nobumasa TSUGARU (1646-1710) who was the fourth feudal lord was ruling the Hirosaki Domain. In 1642, the administrative system of alternate attendance called (sankin kotai) was established. Then the cultures of Kyoto and Edo (ancient name of Tokyo) were transmitted to the provinces and local industry protection was being carried out in each place and many handicrafts were produced. Lacquer masters were even invited to the Hirosaki Domain, and before long, the lacquering master Genbe IKEDA created unique lacquerware. At first, this was used to decorate the scabbards of short swords used by samurai, but after a while various furnishings came to be produced utilizing the method of Tsugaru lacquerware.
According to the “Tsugaru Information Chronicle” written by traders of those days, the Tang lacquer coating technique (kara nuri) had already been established by 1758, and various articles such as Tsugaru lacquerware document boxes, stacked boxes and short sword scabbards were being produced. Tsugaru lacquerware furnishings used as gifts to the Imperial Court, the nobility and the shogunate, and its methods were cordially protected and developed by the Domain.
Going into the Meiji period (1868-1912), the Aomori Prefecture exhibited lacquerware produced in the Tsugaru region as “Tsugaru lacquerware” at the World Exposition held in Vienna in 1873. This led to the name “Tsugaru lacquerware” becoming widely known, and thereafter Tsugaru Llcquerware developed as an example of leading Aomori Prefecture handicrafts.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Wood collection In the first process, wood is dried thoroughly after lumbering, and is then cut into sizes and planed. The hard, cracked, knots and core of the wood are roughly cut off. Cypress is used for producing furniture such as trays and low tables that are made by jointing boards and magnolia is used for sawn items such as bowls cut on a potter"s wheel.
  2. 2. Fabric dressing The main undercoating technique used for Tsugaru lacquerware is called katashitaji (solid undercoating).
    To begin with, wood polishing is carried out to prepare the surface for rubbing Japanese lacquer (urushi) directly into the surface to make it waterproof.
    Next, in order to protect the wood from damages or warped, fabric is pasted with starch lacquer produced by mixing rice starch with urushi.
    The fabric is wrapped around the surface of the wood so that woods stick strongly together.
  3. 3. Clay application Lacquer is first applied with the roughest base lacquer and is gradually shifted to fine lacquer. Yamashina polishing powder, a mixture of raw and starch lacquer, is used for clay lacquer.
    After coating evenly with a spatula and drying it adequately, the surface is polished on a whetstone.
    Then, finer polishing powder is applied and polished in the same manner to be rust-proof. The characteristic of undercoating until this step is that it is done without any water. An intermediate coat of lacquer is applied to finish parts that will not have any patterns, such as the back of stacked boxes.
  4. 4. Preparation On top of the undercoat, a speckled pattern is drawn by preparatory lacquer, which is a mixture of sugurome lacquer, pigments and albumen. Patterns are applied to all the surfaces using a small spatula, and the lacquer is thoroughly dried to the core over approximately 5 days.
  5. 5. Coating After the preparatory lacquer is dried, colored lacquer is applied on top with a paintbrush. In order to make the patterns stand out, coating is carried out with colored lacquer that have a strong contrast, such as yellow and black.
  6. 6. Coloring A pattern is drawn with color lacquers scattered in a checkered pattern, and brilliance is produced by coloring in accompaniment with the color tone of the kara nuri. The colored lacquer that is mainly used is a mixture of red and green colored lacquers known as ryosaishiki. The coloring produces the unique pattern of kara nuri. A calm color tone is achieved by further applying clear, dark reddish-brown lacquer over the patterns.
  7. 7. Color adjustment A thin lacquer coat is applied over the entire article, and tin powder is sprinkled above.
    After polishing a kara-nuri pattern, the coating lacquer of tsuma nuri borders the boundaries between the ground color and patterns, which emphasizes the patterns.
  8. 8. Overcoating Depending on the colors used for finishing, such as red lacquer or sugurome lacquer, the names vary for each as red finishing, black finishing and wax finishing.
    Overcoating is applied thickly with a paintbrush.
  9. 9. Polishing To begin with, rough polishing is performed to remove any unevenness.
    In order to adequately dry the planed surfaces, the pieces are then placed inside a lacquer bath which maintains the appropriate humidity and temperature to dry.
    Then, the patterns are curved even more. Lacquer is stroked into dented parts, and polishing is performed by repeating the coating process many times over.
  10. 10. Detailed polishing After the polishing process, articles are repeatedly polished again with oil polishing powder which is made by mixing canola oil and polishing powder, and the polished marks are further refined.
    Once the polishing is finished, the pieces are completely wiped off to ensure that no oil content remains.
  11. 11. Wax coating (wax color polishing) Finally, the pieces are finished polishing with wax-colored lacquer.
    Charcoal coated with wax-colored lacquer is used to repeatedly polish and wipe off little by little to produce a glossy look.

Where to Buy & More Information

Tsugaru Densyo Kogeikan

Tsugaru Densyo Kogeikan

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