Yamanaka lacquerware Photo:Ishikawa Prefecture Tourism League

Yamanaka lacquerware Yamanaka shikki

Natural beauty of the wood grain
and the beauty of tradition come alive


What is Yamanaka lacquerware ?

Yamanaka lacquerware is a type of lacquerware made in the Yamanaka hot spring district of the city of Kaga, Ishikawa Prefecture. It exemplifies the excellence of an original Yamanaka technique for grinding the wood, and generally the main objects produced are round utensils such as bowls and saucers. Many of the wood bases for tea ceremony utensils such as tea caddies are ground in Yamanaka. The special character of Yamanaka lacquerware lies in the beauty of the natural wood grain and elegant maki-e.

Yamanaka lacquerware comes in two forms: “mokusei shikki,” the natural wood that has been processed and painted with lacquer, and “kindai shikki,” modern lacquerware, which consists of a urethane coating on a plastic base. Yamanaka “mokusei shikki” is known for the variety of its “kashokubiki” and colorful “maki-e” technique, and these delicate and sophisticated skills are still being handed down today by experts. As practically the whole manufacturing process consists of slow but steady handwork, in some cases, a piece can take more than a year to reach completion.

On the other hand, “kindai shikki” has the attraction of coming in colors and shapes that cannot be achieved by wood alone, and thanks to the high degree of freedom in its expression, it is being used even in interior spaces as well. Being a type of plastic, it is durable and very easy to care for, so it is also even used as school lunch tableware.


Yamanaka lacquerware - History

Yamanaka lacquerware began in the Tensho era of the Azuchi-Momoyama period, when a group with a forest logging permit covering a large area moved there seeking good materials. It is said that a group of craftsmen, who had moved to a hamlet called Manago, upstream of Yamanaka hot springs in Kaga city, made a living by doing grinding using a wood lathe; their technique became established in the area around Yamanaka hot springs.
In the mid Edo period, along with the development of curative hot springs, bowls, trays, and local toys were made to be sold to people visiting the springs. The Bunka period saw the invention of a decorative technique consisting of making transverse cuts in the wooden base. In addition, in the first half of the 19th century, with the introduction of lacquering and Maki-e techniques from places such as Kyoto, Aizu, and Kanazawa, Yamanaka developed its own special technique.
Although World War II temporarily interrupted production, the traditional techniques of Yamanaka lacquerware are highly regarded and well-known throughout the country. It is a familiar and popular type of lacquerware, yet the beauty of its delicate ground-in decorations and gorgeous Maki-e has won recognition for its artistic value as well.
With the thirties of the Showa period, factories and manufacturing complexes were built in the town of Yamanaka and Kaga city, and plastics and science-based paints were brought in. This led to the mass manufacturing of low-priced products with varied designs and great functionality. The lacquerware has made significant progress since 1970 (Showa 45).

General Production Process

  1. 1. Wooden base Robust trees domestic to Japan, such as zelkova, Japanese horse-chestnut, cherry, and chestnut, are cut into round slices and made into wooden bases of various shapes both large and small, following a pattern. The type of grinding wooden bases by making lengthwise cuts is called “tatekidori.” It has the advantage of less warping and malformation, when compared with cutting across the grain to make the base, which is called “yokokidori.” After the wood has been cut following a pattern, it is dried and then it is shaved with a plane or knife while being turned, a process called “rokurobiki.”
    The wood specialists prefer their own hand-forged tools, and each one decorates the products with delicate designs showing a high degree of skill. There are many variations—fifty “kashokubiki” --in the designs for decorating the surface of the wooden base. A few of them are “itomesuji,” “rokurosuji,” and “birisuji.”
    The traditional method of making “kashokubiki” is a distinguishing feature of Yamanaka lacquerware, and in addition to beautifying the product, it has the practical value of preventing slipping.
  2. 2. Undercoating The following methods and others are employed: for example, “kijigatame,” which allows the lacquer to sink into the grain to prevent warping of the wooden base; “kokuso,” which fills cracks and holes in the wooden base; and “nunokise,” which consists of pasting linen onto the foot and rim as reinforcement. Following that, a process called “nuritogi” is repeated multiple times to increase the strength and smooth the surface. “Nuritogi” consists of applying a coating of “shitajiurushi,” which is a mixture of noriurushi (adhesive made from rice and natural tree lacquer) and jinoko, applied with a wooden spatula, after which the piece is polished.
    Finally, “sabiji,” lacquer kneaded with polishing powder, is applied over the whole piece with a wooden spatula; and after it dries, the piece is polished to make it smooth and glossy.
  3. 3. Uwanuri (top-coating) After the job of undercoating, a lacquer specialist begins the process of coating with black, vermilion, or other lacquers, using a brush. This is an important process that brings out the deep distinctive hue of the lacquer. The work of the lacquer specialist proceeds with “base coating,” “undercoating,” and “top-coating,” repeating the sequence of coating and polishing the lacquer over and over again.
    Since moisture is required for painted lacquer to harden, the work is influenced by the day-to-day weather; so the job calls for careful consideration. Intense concentration is needed so as not to let any powder or dust in the air stick to the lacquer. Lacquerware for daily use is finished with this top coating alone.
  4. 4. Maki-e After the top coating, “kashoku” may be applied in the form of pictures or patterns. “Kashoku” includes the process of ‘maki-e,” in which a pattern is painted on with lacquer and then sprinkled with gold or silver powder. The typical maki-e techniques employed in Yamanaka lacquerware are “togidashi-maki-e” and “taka-maki-e. “Togidashi-maki-e” is a technique in which a coating of lacquer is applied after the powder is sprinkled on, and then the picture is polished with charcoal until the gold or silver is revealed. The “takamaki-e” technique raises the picture and is said to have been cultivated by the nobility; these pieces are replete with a graceful elegance.

    There are, furthermore, other methods of decorating, such as “chinkin,” in which a design of gold lines is applied using gold leaf, and “raden,” applying thin flakes of shell cut to fit in the design.

Where to Buy & More Information

Yamanaka Shikki Dento Sangyo Kaikan

Yamanaka Shikki Dento Sangyo Kaikan Photo:Yamanaka Shikki Dento Sangyo Kaikan

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