Kanazawa lacquerware | Full of Inherited sophisticated craftmanship


Kanazawa lacquerware showing elaborate craftmanship

Kanazawa lacquerware is very beautiful, but it has some rather interesting characteristics. This lacquerware is characterized by its beautiful and elegant “makie” design, but at the same time, it has a very samurai-like character. For this reason, Kanazawa lacquerware is often described as “a high level fusion of aristocratic and samurai culture.

Kanazawa lacquerware can have aristocratic delicacy and quality, while at the same time possessing the opulent beauty of maki-e lacquerware. These characteristics set Kanazawa lacquerware apart from other lacquerware and make it very distinctive. Even today, there is an extremely strong tendency to emphasize “maki-e” (in fact, it is said that maki-e is almost exclusively used today), and maki-e is highly valued in this culture.

Kanazawa Lacquer never stop improving

However, there is now a strong tendency to nurture mokijishi (people who make bowls from wood). The Kaga maki-e technic, also used in Kanazawa lacquerware, has a very good reputation. Today, the maki-e technique is called “Kaga maki-e” in particular and is sometimes used in Kutani ware, etc. This Kanazawa maki-e is derived from the Kodaiji maki-e (maki-e technique and culture that is representative of the Momoyama culture). Perhaps because of these characteristics, Kanazawa lacquerware is often praised as “Kanazawa lacquerware of maki-e” in particular.

Kanazawa lacquerware is often used for tea ceremony utensils. However, it has also been used for other items such as furnishings. The graceful beauty of maki-e has always captured the hearts of people, both now and in the past. Gold leaf is sometimes used to create maki-e. As many people know, Ishikawa Prefecture is famous for gold leaf. It is a beautiful powder made by pounding and stretching gold, and is also used in Kutani ware and other tableware.

kanazawa ware
Source: Mapple travel guide

History of Kanazawa lacquerware

Kanazawa lacquerware, known as Kaga maki-e, was first produced around 1630 when Maeda Toshitsune, the third lord of the Kaga domain, devoted himself to the promotion of arts and crafts and invited Igarashi Dousho, a master of Kodaiji maki-e, a representative of the Momoyama culture, to teach the technique at his work shop.

Since then, the Igarashi family has served successive feudal lords and passed down the techniques to the next generation. Shimizu Kyubei, who is said to have been a student of Dousho, and Shiihara Ichitayu, a master craftsman of in-favor maki-e, were invited from Edo to establish the foundation of Kaga maki-e. Kanazawa lacquerware, which inherited the traditions from the dynastic culture and was fostered by the clan, is unique in that it combines the elegant aristocratic culture with the warrior culture.

Kanazawa has inherited a strong Kyoto culture. Even today, glimpses of it can be seen in Kaga cuisine and other dishes, but in the case of Kanazawa lacquerware Kanazawashiwakki has characteristics that cannot generally be described as being Kyoto-style.

Incorporate various culture

During the Edo period, Kanazawa lacquerware was also influenced by culture from Edo, or the Kanto region. The influence of Edo culture can be seen in the Kanazawa lacquerware seen today. Kanazawa lacquerware originated in the voice of Maeda Toshitsune and Shitsune, the third lord of the Kaga domain. He invited many master craftsmen to Kaga from Edo and Kyoto, the most advanced cultural centers of the time.

Two maki-e makers who were among them are credited with providing the foundation for the techniques of Kanazawa lacquerware that have been used ever since. One of these master craftsmen was Igarashi Doho, and the other was Shimizu Kyubei Shizukuhei. Doho Igarashi was a craftsman from Kyoto and Kyubei Shimizu was a craftsman from Edo. The influence of craftsmen from the two cities, Edo and Kyoto, was very great, but as time went by, the beauty and techniques unique to Kanazawa lacquerware also became possible.

Source: Kanazawa Traditional Arts & Crafts

Manufacturing Methods

1. Woodworking

The first step in the process of lacquering lacquerware is called “shiji,” or groundwork. Whether or not this is done carefully will greatly affect the finished product. Before the groundwork is applied to the wood, the first step is to check for scratches or dents. If any are found, the surface of the vessel is prepared using techniques such as sashimono, hewn, bent, and gouged.

2.Hardening the wood and making ramie

The process of soaking the surface of the wood with refined lacquer to smooth out irregularities is called “Kijigase” (hardening the wood). This process creates the foundation for the base. Next, a mixture of lacquer, fiber scraps, and wood powder called “koku-so” is embedded in the joints of the boards.

3. Sumi Solder

A special spatula is used to apply solder made from a mixture of tonoko and glue to the area to be lacquered. If too much solder is applied, it may cause cracks or fill in the carved areas. On the other hand, if it is too thin, the grain of the wood will be visible, requiring skilled workmanship.

4. Cloth covering

After the wood is coated with solder paste, a piece of cloth or Japanese paper is placed on top of it.

5. Grounding and sharpening

The entire surface of the vessel is sharpened with a whetstone and coated with jitsuke (ground lacquer). The process is repeated two or three times, after which the surface is dried and coated with lacquer.

6. Rusting and polishing

Rust-preventive lacquer is evenly applied to the surface, and then the lacquer is polished with water. This process is repeated 2 to 3 times.

7. Middle Coating

There are two types of lacquer painting processes: middle and top coats. The middle coating is applied first to ensure a beautiful finish for the top coat. The middle coat of black lacquer is applied smoothly with a special brush. After the lacquer has been applied, the lacquer is placed in a lacquer bath at 23-25℃ with a humidity of 80% and allowed to dry for 1 to 2 days.

8. Kouchugi (small and medium polishing)

After drying, water polishing is done using “Shizuoka charcoal”, which is burnt oil paulownia. The reason for sharpening again after painting is not only to flatten the surface, but also to improve the adhesion of the top coat of lacquer.

9. Top Coat

Before the top-coating process, which determines the quality of the work, the area is cleaned and dust is removed  before the coating process begins. First, water lacquer is applied, followed by nuritate lacquer. Due to the nature of the top coat lacquer, it is easily affected by temperatures and temperatures, so it is important to adjust the viscosity of the lacquer finely on a daily basis. The lacquer is then left to dry in a lacquer bath for one or two days.

10. Lacquer coating and polishing

After drying, roiro urushi is coated with roiro urushi that has been strained through Yoshino paper, and then polished with water using roiro charcoal.

11. Scrubbing of the body

Tonoko (polishing powder) is dipped in a cotton ball and the polished surface is further polished to produce a fine lacquered surface.

12. Ro-iro polishing

After soaking a cotton pad in oil called “seed oil” for polishing, lightly rub the polished surface. Finish polishing by applying KAKKO (horn powder) or TITANIUM to fingers or palms.

13. Decoration

Maki-e is applied to the beautifully polished vessel to complete the work.

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