Higo Zogan (Inlays)

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Higo Zogan is made by engraving designs with great detail into an iron base, which is then inlaid with gold and/or silver.

It originated from the traditional motifs and techniques to decorate guns and swords for the Samurai class. In the 17th century, gun craftsman Matashichi Hayashi, who was working for the province ruling Hosokawa family, is said to have started this technique on a gun shaft. Lord Tadaoki Hosokawa (Sansai) loved the design, and had him made tobacco pipes and knifes decorated with inlays, which he sold in the city. Under Hosokawa’s sponsorship, many masterpieces were born in this way.

This method does not use any glaze, emphasizing the natural beauty of the iron and gold. The layers of gold and silver makes the piece thick and heavy, because the cloth that is used to inlay is hand cut. Although the inlay technique was a symbol of samurai warriors, the late 19th century saw the samurai era end, and the demand for goldsmiths subside as a result. However, the technique was passed on, and it began to be applied to other objects like accessories and ornaments. In 1963, an organization for preserving the Higo inlaying technique was established. Living National Treasure Tahei Yonemitsu, and Tsuneo Tanabe, a holder of Important Intangible Cultural Property, led the organization mainly by training successors for the craft. As a result, there are about a dozen Higo Inlay artists in Kumamoto today.

Higo Inlay men’s cuffs, necktie pins, hat pins, etc. are popular items, which seems to be a natural progression from the elite samurai warriors to modern business warriors. However, there are also beautiful sophisticated pieces for ladies. Housewares and fountains pens are also made with Higo Inlays. To take an unusual example, imagine that someone wants an electric guitar inlaid! This is entirely possible as well. You can also try to make accessories and key holders yourself in Kumamoto if you feel up to the challenge. If you happen to be a fan of samurai movies, Higo inlay piece may awaken your samurai spirit!

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