Yamaguchi Prefecture’s Ouchi culture originated with the warlord Ouchi Hiroyo (1325-1380), who left an indelible mark on the prefecture’s history and culture.
Endeavoring to imitate the city planning of Kyoto, a variety of craftsmen and people of distinction were invited from the city to Yamaguchi, where the combination of Kyoto skills and ideas with local traditions birthed a new and unique culture. Of the numerous arts and crafts created at the time, one that has been handed down to this day is the representative craft of Ouchi culture: Ouchi lacquerware.
Highly ornate, Ouchi lacquerware is strongly influenced by Kyoto ideals. Though many forms of lacquerware build on a black foundation, Ouchi lacquerware is characterized by the distinctive Ouchi vermillion. It features unique decoration methods such as the incorporation of gold sheets in the diamond shape of the Ouchi family crest—designed after a water chestnut—or autumn flower patterns known as akikusa-monyo, featuring late-season flowering plants fluttering in the autumn breeze, painted using colored lacquer.
More than anything, Ouchi lacquerware was valued for the durability provided by its unfading lacquer. Combining utility with aesthetic grace, it was highly regarded both inside and outside of the country, and became a key trade product with countries such as China and Korea—as did maki-e, designs made through the application of gold and silver powder (as well as other colored powders) to utensils painted with lacquer.
While there are various Ouchi lacquerware products such as trays and chopsticks, the one that is especially representative of the technique is the Ouchi doll. As the story goes, Ouchi Hiroyo had a beautiful wife from Kyoto, but she became homesick and felt increasingly lonely day by day. It’s said that Hiroyo then invited doll makers from Kyoto and had them manufacture dolls to give her comfort, forming the origin of the Ouchi doll. Even to this day, Ouchi dolls are widely loved as a symbol of matrimonial happiness.
Ouchi lacquerware offers beautiful and durable products ranging from everyday utensils to artistic crafts. Now a government-designated traditional craft, it represents a perfect souvenir from Yamaguchi.
The Yamaguchi Furusato Heritage Center
12 Shimotatekoji Yamaguchi City Yamaguchi Prefecture
2-1 Sodayucho Yamaguchi City Yamaguchi Prefecture