Wajima Lacquerware

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Designated a traditional craft by the government of Japan, Wajima lacquerware is produced in the area around Ishikawa Prefecture’s Wajima City.

Its glamorous, graceful and sophisticated products are widely known as a top-quality utility lacquerware. For its base-wood material, Wajima lacquerware uses cypress, Japanese zelkova, Japanese Judas or magnolia, and in some cases other trees of equivalent quality, all coated in premium lacquer. The products are characterized by beautiful techniques such as chinkin (gold-inlaid lacquer), where gold sheets are embedded into utensils then painted with lacquer, and maki-e, whereby materials such as gold and silver metal power, as well as other colored powders, are affixed to an object that is then lacquer painted.

The oldest extant example of Wajima lacquerware is the vermilion-lacquered gate of Shigezo Shrine in Wajima City, constructed around 1397. Records of Wajima lacquerware exist from the following periods, but it was only during the Edo Period (1603-1868) that zinoko, a powder made by crushing baked Wajima-area clay, was discovered, giving Wajima lacquer increased durability. As its quality was recognized, production increased exponentially. Then, during the Meiji Period (1868-1912), glamorous lacquer decorations came into vogue, and today’s Wajima lacquerware was born.

Craftspeople manufacture Wajima lacquerware by hand. The procedure is extremely complex, spanning as many as 124 individual processes altogether, and there are craftspeople who specialize at each step in the production. The process can largely be divided into three key steps, however: preparing the base wood, painting the base with lacquer, and decorating the lacquered form with chinkin and maki-e

Wajima lacquerware is characterized by its many unique manufacturing techniques, particularly in the undercoat glazing. There are many fascinating techniques, such as one that uses zinoko; the nuno kise (cloth-sticking) technique, whereby linen is applied with lacquer to the outside of the base wood and other vulnerable parts; and the chienbiki (base protection) technique, where a cypress bark spatula is used to glaze lacquer onto upper edges that are vulnerable to chipping. Through these specific materials and delicate manufacturing processes, Wajima lacquerware products are particularly durable.

Wajima lacquerware reveals layer upon layer of high-quality lacquer painted onto carefully selected natural wood, giving it a unique texture and hue. It’s something everyone should see at least once.

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