Wakasa lacquerware

Wakasa lacquerware Wakasa nuri

High quality lacquerware
Reflects each artisan's individuality


What is Wakasa lacquerware ?

Wakasa-nuri Lacquerware is produced in the area around Obama City, Fukui Prefecture. It is said to have originated in the early Edo Period when a craftsman serving the Obama Domain, which controlled the region near Wakasa Bay, created a design depicting the beautiful depths of the sea. Wakasa Bay is a ria coast made up of numerous small bays, and is a picturesque area which boasts a number of scenic spots such as the Amanohashidate, one of the Three Most Scenic Spots of Japan, and Kehi no Matsubara, one of the Three Most Scenic Pine Groves of Japan.
Defining features of Wakasa-nuri includes the use of eggshells, seashells and pine needles to create patterns, and coating them over with lacquer using the togidashi technique. That gives Wakasa-nuri its unique appearance and presence which sets it apart from other lacquerware, and the articles are prized as works of art. They are also popular as articles for daily use due to their durability against heat and water, so much so that Wakasa-nuri chopsticks account for more than 80% of the lacquer chopsticks produced domestically. Another appealing feature of Wakasa-nuri lies in the fact that the entire production process is carried out by a single craftsman, and the individuality of each craftsman can therefore be clearly seen on each article.


Wakasa lacquerware - History

Wakasa-nuri Lacquerware is said to have started in the early Edo Period around 1596 to 1615 (Keicho era), when Sanjuro MATSUURA, a lacquer craftsman working for the Obama Domain, designed and produced a lacquerware pattern based on the seabed of Wakasa Bay, using Chinese lacquerware as a reference. The improved version of this original prototype was called Kikujin-nuri, from which his disciples invented the isokusa-nuri technique. The techniques that are being passed down to this day were completed around 1658 to 1660 (Manji era). The lord of the Obama Domain then gave it the name Wakasa-nuri, protecting and actively promoting the production of Wakasa-nuri Lacquerware as a side job among lower class samurai, also known as the ashigaru.
Due to the active promotion by the successive generation of lords, the production of Wakasa-nuri Lacquerware grew to become a core industry that supported the Domain’s economy, and numerous outstanding craftsmen emerged, giving birth to various beautiful designs. The middle to late Edo Period is said to have been the golden age of Wakasa-nur Lacquerware. It remained popular as a local specialty of the region even after the Meiji Period. Craftsmen today are also looking at ways to create new designs that will suit the current trends.

General Production Process

Wakasa lacquerware - General Production Process

  1. 1. Cloth pasting There are over 60 steps in the Wakasa-nuri production process, which can be broadly divided into a few general steps. The process, excluding the wood base making which takes place first, will not be divided among several craftsmen. They will all be carried out by one person. Sturdy wood from trees such as Japanese zelkova, Japanese horse chestnut, magnolia, chestnut, cherry and Japanese cherry birch are used. When choosing the wood, it is important to ascertain that it will be free from any warping. After drying the selected wood for the appropriate amount of time, it is then cut to the exact shape and size of the desired article.
    Cloth and washi are pasted onto joints and cracks on the wood base to strengthen them and to cover up any holes. This process is called nunohari (cloth pasting), and it must be carried out carefully in order to prevent the wood from cracking or warping.
  2. 2. Undercoating The next process is “undercoating”. Filtered raw lacquer, clay powder (made by powdering baked clay) and glue are mixed well and applied evenly over the entire surface of the wood base with a brush. Rust lacquer, a mixture of polishing powder (made by powdering small pebbles) and raw lacquer, is then neatly applied over it using a spatula. While the undercoat will not be visible once the article is completed, it is still an important factor that will greatly influence the beauty of the final product.
  3. 3. Intermediate coating “Rust polishing” is carried out once the undercoat is complete. Rust polishing refers to the process of polishing and sanding the wood base using a whetstone and water once the rust lacquer has completely dried. An intermediate coat of lacquer is applied after this to prevent the decorative lacquer to be used in the next step from being absorbed by the polishing powder.
  4. 4. Creating patterns Patterns are created by sprinkling various natural materials such as eggshells, seashells, mother-of-pearl and rice husks on top of the intermediate coating. The patterns must be created before the lacquer dries, but the patterns will not turn out well if the lacquer dries too quickly either. As the rate of drying is the most ideal in winter, patterns are created between December and March.
  5. 5. Ainuri (Mixed coating) Coating and polishing are done numerous times once the patterns are complete. “Ainuri” refers to coating 2 or more different colours of coloured lacquer on top of one another, which will create unique luster and colours.
  6. 6. Hakuoki (Gold leaf placement) “Hakuoki” refers to placing gold leaves over the ainuri coating. This adds an elegant and beautiful glow to the patterns.
  7. 7. Nurikomi (Heavy coating) “Nurikomi” refers to the technique coating the article with many layers of lacquer and then polishing them to gradually bring the patterns to the surface.
  8. 8. Stone polishing The article is polished in sequence, starting by using the roughest whetstone (such as rough whetstones) and progressively changing to finer ones (such as medium whetstones, followed by finishing whetstones), until the patterns are clearly visible. “Stone polishing” is a process unique to Wakasa-nuri lacquerware; no other lacquerware employs this technique.
  9. 9. Charcoal polishing “Glossy lacquer” and “touch up lacquer” is coated once the stone polishing is complete. The article is then polished and smoothened using rough and medium charcoal made from magnolia first, followed by soft charcoal made from ehretia acuminata and crape myrtle.
  10. 10. Polishing “Oil polishing powder”, a mixture of polishing powder and rapeseed oil, is applied onto a piece of cloth, which is then used to rub and polish the surface of the article. Next, floss silk soaked in raw lacquer is used to polish the surface further. The final step involves applying rapeseed oil and abrasive bengala (red iron oxide) on fingers and polishing in circular motions, and the lacquerware is finally complete.

Where to Buy & More Information

Fukui Ceramics Center

See more Lacquerware

See items made in Fukui