Niigata lacquerware Makes the most of Vivid red color


Niigata lacquerware is glossy red colored Japanese traditional craft

Niigata lacquerware is known as a treasure house of “Kawari-nuri,” and a number of lacquer painting techniques have been handed down from generation to generation. Among them, five techniques were designated as traditional crafts by the government in 2003. There are five techniques designated as traditional crafts by the Japanese government in 2003.


Hana-nuri, also called nuritate, is a technique in which the top coat of lacquer is applied without the processes of polishing, glazing, dozuri, and torii (polishing). Shu-ai lacquer mixed with vegetable oil is mainly used to produce a fluffy finish.

2. Ishime-nuri

Ishime-nuri is a technique using charcoal powder to express the rough surface of stone skin. This method is characterized by its resistance to scratches and is often used for the bottoms of trays and other items. This type of product with maki-e is called “Bandai-maki-e”.

3. Nishiki-nuri

Nishiki-nuri is a technique in which lacquer is applied by beating the lacquer with a tampo made of bundles of hemp twine and placing it in a mold, layering several colors of lacquer, sprinkling tin powder, and then grinding the lacquer flat after the lacquer is applied to the wood surface to create a pattern. This technique is similar to Tsugaru-nuri of Aomori.

4. Isogusa-nuri

The process is almost the same as Nishiki-nuri. It is characterized by a pattern of seaweed floating in the waves. Invented in the mid-Edo period by Uenomori Watanabe of Yahiko.

5. Bamboo Lacquer

A lacquering technique that gives the appearance of bamboo. Bamboo joints are formed by rusting lacquer mixed with polishing powder, and then sooted with Makomoko (straw mat) powder. Originally, it was used for lacquering sword sheaths in the Edo period (1603-1867), and was introduced to Niigata in the Meiji period (1868-1912).

(Source <Japanese Website>:

History of Niigata Lacquerware

It is said that Niigata lacquerware began in 1615-1624, when Shunkei Nuri* from Noshiro, Akita Prefecture was introduced and daily necessities such as trays and tables arrived. Later, in 1638, a “wandana (bowl store)” was established near the current Furumachi 7-bancho area, and a policy of protection was adopted for lacquered goods.

From 1764 to 1817, the maki-e technique was introduced by Watanabe Genzo, a feudal retainer of the Saneyama domain, and the katanuri technique by Hata Seibei of Aizu Wakamatsu. In 1819, at the end of the Edo period, Niigata became a center of lacquerware production. And the number of stores and craftsmen continued to increase, including lacquerware stores, lacquerware masters, bowl stores, maki-e (gold-relief lacquers), craftsmen and artisans. In 1886, an association was formed. After the bamboo lacquering technique was introduced, the association was authorized as the Niigata City Lacquerware Association in 1899.

Although the Manchurian Incident made it difficult to obtain lacquer, the number of union members increased in the early Showa period, and the lacquerware industry reached its peak of prosperity. Later, the lacquerware industry as a whole faced a major crisis due to the severance of trade between Japan and China. From the late Showa period, demand further declined due to changing lifestyles and a lack of successors, but Niigata Lacquerware is now taking on new challenges, such as the development of “sunset lacquering” as a new product of Niigata Lacquerware. In 2003, Niigata lacquerware was designated as a national traditional craft.

Manufacturing method & Process

1. Hardening the wood

  1. Raw lacquer is applied to the bare wood and allowed to fully penetrate. The waterproof effect is created by the penetration of the lacquer.
  2. If there are joints in the base, the joints are reinforced with nori Urushi, a paste of raw lacquer and rice glue, and a cloth is attached to the joints as necessary.
  3. If there are gaps or scratches in the base, “ramie” is embedded to prepare the surface of the base. Ramie” is a mixture of raw lacquer, glutinous rice, wheat flour, and wood shavings.

2. Rusting

  1. Diatomaceous earth is baked and refined into “jinoko,” or “tonoko,” which is the product of cutting a whetstone, is kneaded with water and mixed with raw lacquer to create a clay-like base called “sabi.
  2. The rust is then rubbed evenly over theentire surface using a spatula or similar tool.
  3. After the “rust” has dried and hardened, polish the surface with a wet whetstone or water-resistant paper to make it smooth.
  4. Repeat steps (2) and (3) several times to strengthen the base and stabilize the shape.

3. Bamboo joint attaching

  1. Rust is heaped on the surface of the substrate with a special spatula to create ridges that look like bamboo joints.
  2. Shave the groove of the bamboo joint with a chisel and shape it to look like a bamboo joint.
  3. The fine parts of the bamboo, such as the edabushi and nebushi, are also made by heaping up the rust.

4. Rust sharpening

After the rust has dried and hardened, the surface is polished with a wet whetstone or waterproof paper to make it smooth.

5. Middle Coating

Apply a middle coat of colored Urushi lacquer in the colors of green bamboo, sooty bamboo, and sesame bamboo, as needed. The entire surface is coated with colored lacquer using a brush, and the lacquer is placed in a drying chamber called a “drying bath. Since proper humidity and temperature are necessary for the lacquer to solidify, the humidity in the bath is kept at around 70% and the temperature at around 20°C. The lacquer is then dried there.

6. NAKANURIGI (polishing the middle coat)

After the middle coat has dried and hardened, the surface is polished with a wet whetstone or waterproof paper to make it smooth.

7. Top Coat

There are three colors of colored lacquer for the top coat: green bamboo, sooty bamboo, and sesame bamboo. The green bamboo and sesame bamboo colors are the same as the color for the middle coat, but the sooty bamboo color is slightly different from it.

The colored lacquer for the top coat is applied to the entire surface with a brush and then placed in a “drying bath” again to dry. For the sesame-bamboo color, charcoal powder is sprinkled on the surface before the top coat of colored lacquer dries, and then placed in a “drying bath”.

8. Sharpening

After the top coat has dried and hardened, the surface is polished with a wet whetstone or waterproof paper to make it smooth.

9. Pattern

A pattern is applied to the surface to make it look like bamboo. The bamboo stripe pattern may be applied after polishing with a stripe stick, or it may be applied without using a stripe stick, using a brush when applying the top coat.

Also, if necessary, other parts of the surface will be textured. The fine grain patterns on the cross section of a split bamboo or the cut end of a bamboo are expressed by placing sticky urushi lacquer on the surface with a brush or spatula. Spots near the teeth and joints are drawn with a maki-e brush.

10. Makomomaki 

  1. Apply transparent lacquer around the joints of the bamboo, blurring the area around the joints.
  2. While the lacquer is still fresh, sprinkle “Makomo” (dried rice plant powder) on the surface with a brush to create a sooty look. If you wish to use a sooty bamboo color, sprinkle “Makomo” over the entire surface.

After sprinkling, place the pieces in a “drying bath” to dry.

11. Makomo-oshi

The surface of the straw is polished with a brush of powdered charcoal and water. The polishing process removes excess “makomoko” and brings out the natural texture of the bamboo joints.

12. Suri-Urushi

Suri-urushi is rubbed over the entire surface and dried in a “drying bath. Suri-urushi is repeated several times to obtain a glossy finish.

Niigata lacquerware
Source: Frame inc.


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