Designated a traditional craft of Iwate Prefecture, Hiraizumi’s Hidehira-nuri lacquerware has been widely manufactured in Japan. Its simple, refined aesthetic presents a reflection of the history and natural features of the region of its birth.
Its origin traces back to Fujiwara Hidehira, who controlled the Tohoku area during the Heian Period (794-1185), including Hiraizumi in Iwate Prefecture. When he created great Buddhist structures in Hiraizumi such as the Konjikido (Golden Hall) of Chusonji Temple, he ordered the craftsmen he had invited from Kyoto to also manufacture new types of lacquerware. In scriptures made in the Kansei years (1789-1801) of the Edo Period, this episode is mentioned as “Hiraizumi’s Hidehira-nuri,” and it is also mentioned that the craft was highly prized by tea ceremony masters. The name still holds to this day.
With their striking glamour, golden Hidehira bowls are said to be both the origin and symbol of Hiraizumi’s Hidehira-nuri. When Hidehira asked the craftsmen to make the new lacquerware, he specified that they should use locally produced gold and lacquer. The bowls were made by painting lacquer onto the base wood, decorating it with designs such as Genji-gumo (the Genji cloud), a popular wave-shaped cloud motif where clouds were represented with golden sheets, and kicho (lucky symbols) featuring paintings of lucky animals, and finally accented with gold sheets cut into rhombus shapes. This traditional decoration style used black, vermilion and gold as its fundamental colors, and the form still continues to this day.
Production of Hidehira-nuri can be divided into four steps. First, according to the intended use of the product, timber such as tochi (Japanese horse chestnut) and keyaki (Japanese zelkova) are carefully dried out—a process that can take anywhere from one to ten years—to form the base wood. Lacquer is then painted onto the base wood and polished to form a foundation. The third step, painting, involves layers of lacquer being painted onto the foundation. In the final step, gold sheets are applied to the object to complete the design.
Today, Hiraizumi’s Hirahide-nuri can take the form of tableware, traditional kokeshi Japanese dolls, smart phone cases and various other products. With its refined design, beautiful gloss of lacquer and glamorous golden sheets, Hirahide-nuri is a pleasure simply to gaze upon.
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