Tsugaru lacquerware

Tsugaru lacquerware Tsugaru nuri

Vivid colors of layered lacquer and modern black
Powerful lacquerware combining durability with elegance


What is Tsugaru lacquerware ?

Tsugaru Lacquerware is produced around Hirosaki City in Aomori Prefecture. Lacquerware has been produced in this region since the middle of the Edo Period, but it is said that the articles described as Tsugaru Lacquerware appeared at 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 strength and excellent practicality contrasting with a 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, and this process is carried out repeatedly over the course of around two months to produce strong, thick and beautiful lacquerware. Diverse techniques were developed in the Edo Period, including techniques that are still used today, such as kara-nuri coating, which is typical of Tsugaru Lacquerware; nanako-nuri coating, with its characteristic fine patterns; monsha-nuri coating, with a stylish impression using charcoal and black lacquer; and nishiki-nuri coating, which requires advanced skill.


Tsugaru Lacquerware started to be produced in the middle of the Edo Period, during the era of Nobumasa TSUGARU (1646-1710), who was the fourth generation lord of the Hirosaki Domain. In 1642, the system of alternate-year daimyo residence was established, and when the cultures of Kyoto and Edo (Tokyo) were transmitted to the provinces, local industry protection was being carried out in each place and many handicrafts were produced. Lacquering 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 the samurai, but after a while various furnishings came to be produced using Tsugaru Lacquerware. According to the “Tsugaru Information Chronicle” written by traders of those days, the kara-nuri technique 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 were used as gifts to be presented to the Imperial Court, the nobility and the Shogunate, and developed as they were cordially protected by the Domain. Going into the Meiji Period, 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 Lacquerware grew as a leading example of Aomori Prefecture handicrafts.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Wood collection In wood collection, the first process, wood is dried thoroughly after lumbering, and is then cut up into materials and shaved. When cutting up, the hard parts, cracked parts, knots and core of the wood are roughly cut off. Cypress is used in joinery that involves the joining of boards such as trays and low tables, and magnolia is used for sawn items such as bowls cut on lathes.

  2. 2. Fabric dressing The main undercoating production technique used in Tsugaru Lacquerware is katashitaji (solid undercoating). To begin with, wood polishing is carried out to prepare the surface and form of the wood, and lacquer is directly rubbed into the polished wood as a whole in order to make it waterproof. Next, in order to protect the wood from being broken or warped, fabric is pasted with starch lacquer produced by mixing rice starch with lacquer. The fabric is wrapped around the surface of the wood so that it sticks closely to the wood.
  3. 3. Clay application Lacquering is first applied with the roughest base lacquer and is gradually shifted to fine lacquer. For the clay lacquer, a mixture of Yamashina polishing powder, raw lacquer and starch lacquer is used. After coating evenly with a spatula and drying adequately, the surface is polished. Thereafter, the finer shavings are rust-proofed, and polished in the same manner. In the undercoating process up to this stage, polishing is carried out in a characteristic manner without applying water. An intermediate coat of lacquer is applied to finish parts that are not patterned, such as the backs of stacked boxes.
  4. 4. Preparation On top of the undercoating, a speckled pattern of preparatory lacquer (combining sugurome lacquer with pigments and albumen) is applied. Patterns are applied to all sides using a small spatula, and the lacquer is thoroughly dried to the core over approximately 5 days.
  5. 5. Coating After the preparatory lacquer has dried, colored lacquer is applied on top with a paintbrush. In order to make the patterns stand out, coating is carried out with colored lacquers that have a strong contrast, such as yellow and black.
  6. 6. Coloring A pattern is drawn with color lacquers scattered in a checkered state, 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 known as ryosaishiki (double-color mix). The unique pattern of kara-nuri is produced by coloring. A calm color tone is achieved by further applying clear, dark reddish-brown lacquer over the patterns.
  7. 7. Tsuma-nuri coating Sugurome lacquer is thinly coated over the entire article , and tin powder is sprinkled from above. Hereafter, when polishing a kara-nuri pattern, tsuma-nuri coating lacquer borders the boundaries between the ground color and patterns so that the pattern stands out.
  8. 8. Overcoating Depending on the colors used for finishing, such as red lacquer or sugurome lacquer, the names vary between 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 unevenness. In order to adequately dry the cut surfaces, the pieces are then placed inside a lacquer bath which maintains the appropriate humidity and temperature to dry, after which the patterns are shaved further. Lacquer is stroked into dented parts, and polishing is performed by repeating the coating process many times over.
  10. 10. Body printing Articles are repeatedly polished with oil polishing powder into which polishing powder is mixed with canola oil, and the polished marks are further refined. Once polishing has been 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 with wax-colored lacquer for polishing. Charcoal coated with wax-colored lacquer is used to repeatedly polish and wipe off, little by little, to produce gloss and complete the articles.

Where to Buy & More Information

Tsugaru Densyo Kogeikan

Tsugaru Densyo Kogeikan

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