Wajima lacquerware Photo:Ishikawa Prefecture Tourism League

Wajima lacquerware Wajima nuri

More than 100 production steps are needed
to create a luminous and durable lacquerware masterpiece


What is Wajima lacquerware ?

Wajima lacquerware is made in the city of Wajima, Ishikawa prefecture. The characteristic of Wajima lacquerware is not only its splendid finish but also the high quality powder used for its production called jinoko (powdered diatomaceous soil), which can be found only in Wajima. This lacquerware high durability is ensured by jinoko as an undercoat.
Wajima lacquerware uses decoration techniques such as filling curved areas with gold or using gold or silver dust to create well-known designs called maki e.These appealing and graceful gold and silver designs attract many people.
It is a durable product although it is light and delicate as it goes through over a hundred stages to finish a piece. Therefore it is not only an appealing and enduring product with durableness but it is also restorable if the lacquerware is damaged.


Wajima lacquerware - History

Wajima lacquerware is said to have either first been delivered by a priest of Negoroji (a complex of Buddhist temples located in the city of Iwade, Wakayama prefecture ) during the Muromachi period (1336-1573) or delivered by a priest of Negoroji who ran away from a battle fire sat by Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI (1537-1598) during the Sengoku period (1467-1603). However, nobody knows the true origin of Wajima lacquerware, even to this day. The common point of all the different theories is that it is related to Nego lacquerware which was used as a daily lacquerware. One more possible theory is that daily lacquerware developed itself and then transformed into the current form of Wajima lacquerware.
It was around 1630 in the early Edo period (1603-1868) that a form close to the present Wajima lacquerware was established. Moreover, the production process became remarkably similar to the current one between 1716 to 1736.
Nowadays, Wajima lacquerware is considered to be an elegant and slightly upmarket product but it actually had a different reputation before the Showa period (1926-1989). It was commonly used as a household lacquerware because it is durable, worthy, and useful. It was also used for ceremonies during the Showa period. However, due to changes made to the style of ceremonies and its registration as a traditional craftwork in 1975 by the Japanese Government, it has become more artistic.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Wooden base This process starts from structuring an original shape of lacquerware. Mainly Japanese zelkova or cherry birch wood is used as material of the lacquerware and they are left to season for 2 to 3 years until they dry before working on it. The well dried timber is roughly carved into shape after inspecting the condition or characteristic of the timber.
    Wajima lacquerware does not involve shaping with plane straight after the rough shaping. Roughly shaped lacquerware gets smoke dried and then it is left to season for a few months to a year instead.
    Finally it gets trimmed with planes or a potter's wheel after it is well seasoned. The trimming steps start from rough carving, outer carving, inner carving, to base finishing, that take steps from larger parts to fine detailed parts.
  2. 2. Undercoating The next process is to apply the undercoats. Wajima lacquerware uses materials including jinoko to make a special undercoat.
    Applying undercoats on only planed and trimmed wooden base is not durable enough so the undercoat is applied after the carving called kirebori is done. Kirebori is to carve the crannies of the wood to prevent the piece from cracking. More delicate and breakable parts are reinforced by a technique called kisemono kezuri which is worked by pasting cloth. The artisans are paying particular attention to the cranny and fragile parts while applying layers of undercoats to build up the durable surface.
    After completing the reinforcement of the undercoats layer by layer, a mixture of raw lacquer and polishing powders is applied to the entire piece, which is then left to dry before shaping with a whetstone.
    Once the final shape is completed, the piece is ready for polishing on a potter's wheel with water and a tiny whetstone; this process helps to prepare the surface to place the finish lacquer coatings.
  3. 3. Finish coatings The lacquer is produced with a milky sap taken from many shallow parallel cuts on lacquer tree which is collected using a special tool called urushi zutsu. The sap can be collected only from June to October and the lacquer can be collected in limited amount of about 200g per tree. Therefore, lacquer is sometimes collected from hundreds of trees in a day.
    Then, the collected sap is first passed through a fine filter to remove bark residues and other invisible contaminants before removing any remaining impurities in a centrifugal separator to obtain the raw lacquer. Wajima lacquerware would not use raw lacquer as raw lacquer can be damaged easily and color fade away. Instead, raw lacquer gets heated up and stirred or go through any other steps until it turns into a form called yanashi. Processing the raw lacquer to yanashi makes long lasting lacquer even after hundreds of years.
    The final coatings are applied in a special room at an optimum temperature and humidity to keep dust down since it has to avoid any dusts or air floating while working on the coatings.
    Although a piece looks simple, it requires a lot of attention and high craftsmanship so it is a painstaking work. If a piece is designed as a plain one, this is the last process.
  4. 4. Decoration The polishing method called roiro is made after the finish coats. Lacquerware is carefully polished with fine abrasive to make the glace and mirror like surface with no scratches or blemishes.
    The two main techniques used to decorate Wajima lacquerware are chinkin, a form of carving filled with gold or silver, and maki e, the application of gold or silver powders onto a design.
    The stunning designs of Wajima lacquerware are created in absolute simplicity with splendid design techniques.

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Wajima Museum of Lacquer Art Photo:Ishikawa Prefecture Tourism League

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