Kawatsura Lacquerware is a simple-craft that making it beautiful


About Kawatsura Lacquerware

Kawatsura lacquerware was born in Yuzawa City, Akita Prefecture. It is the The Japanese traditional craft focusing on the beauty of Simplicity. Today, it is used daily in bowls and stacked boxes. The main manufacturing processes are, in order, wood preparation, base coating, lacquering, and decorating. The “ji-nuri” process, in which raw lacquer is repeatedly applied, is used to produce strong vessels.

Not many of you may be able to identify Akita Prefecture when hearing the word “Akita”. For Japanese people, Akita is famous as a region with many beautiful women, known as “Akita Bijin” (Akita Beauties), but unfortunately, for foreign countries, Akita is not as well known as Kyoto or Tokyo.

 Akita is now actively involved in IT-based rice production and other advanced initiatives, and we look forward to the future of this region. Akita is also a region that produces very beautiful traditional crafts. We would like to introduce you to one of the most beautiful crafts of “simplicity,” which is uniquely Japanese, and a simple yet traditional bucket that makes the most of the flavor of wood.

Kawatsura lacquerware

Main features of Kawatsura Lacquerware

The process is characterized by the repeated “ji-nuri” and “naka-nuri,” followed by “hana-nuri,” or “flower lacquering,” which is called “nuridashi,” and then the finishing and drying process. Because it is durable, easy to use, and inexpensive, this practical lacquerware is appreciated for everyday use. Beech and horse chestnut are the main raw materials used for bowls. For stacked boxes and other items, the wood of the magnolia tree is used. The most representative methods of lacquerware making include jizumi-tsuki, kaki-ken, and ji-nuri, the application of raw lacquer on a solid base. This robustness is one of the characteristics of Kawatsura lacquerware. A similar typle of lacquerware is Odawara lacquerware.

The second characteristic is “hana-nuri,” or “flower lacquering,” in which the top coat is also called nuri-yashiki (freshly painted). This is a critical moment to ensure that the lacquer is applied evenly and smoothly without dust, and requires the most advanced techniques.

The third is the chinkin technique (sinking gold). Chinkin technique is newer than maki-e and is said to have been developed in the Meiji period (1868-1912). In Wajima, a chinkin-kanna like a chisel is generally used to push out the surface like a carving knife, but in this area, a chinkin-kanna was developed that pulls the surface toward the front, so to speak, in a reverse motion. This technique allows for shallow engraving, and the chinkin technique is more delicate and has a more three-dimensional effect.

Kawatsura Lacquerware
Source: Akita Kawatsura

History of Kawatsura Lacquerware

During the Edo Period, 800 years ago, Kawatsura Village, which was mainly agricultural, was snowed in half the year, and the village was so impoverished that it could not make a living without some additional income. At that time, Onodera Shigemichi, a vassal of Minamoto no Yoritomo, went into battle to defeat the Taira clan, and took great credit for his victory. The Onodera clan settled in Inaniwa, and his younger brother, Michinori, moved his residence to Kawatsure, where he taught farmers to lacquer armor as an inside job. Lacquer was easily procured through the arrangement of the clan, and above all, the area was blessed with favorable conditions, including abundant nature.

Located in the foothills of the Ouu Mountains and taking advantage of the magnificent Minase River, beech logs from the Kurikoma Mountains were used to make the wood. The lacquer was self-sufficient, with craftsmen of the time going to the abundant forests to scratch the lacquer themselves.

The transformation of the Kawatsura form

Lacquer painting, which had begun as an art of making armory tools, eventually led to the production of bowls for daily use in the late Edo period (1603-1868). By this time, merchants began to appear and drawings of the bowl-making process were made, finally solidifying the industry’s foundation. During this period, the industry faced several crises, especially the Tenp-famine and the postwar depression, which nearly wiped out the industry, but the industry continued to grow steadily and steadily.

In 1956, Inagawa Town was formed through the merger of Inaniwa, Kawatsura, and two other villages, and in 2005, Yuzawa City was formed through the merger of municipalities. 

The mainstream of Kawatsura Lacquerware is bowls, which account for more than 60% of the company’s products, but the company has now developed a wide range of items. While preserving tradition, the company is taking on the challenge of making products that respond to the times, and is gradually expanding its sales channels, especially in the Kanto region, and the quality of Kawatsura lacquerware is spreading throughout Japan.

kawatsura lacquerware
Source: JR East

Manufacturing process

1. Logs

Beech and horse chestnut are used for round items such as bowls, while hohonoki, sugi, and hiba are used for square items such as stacked boxes and curved items such as round trays. Kawatsura Lacquer Ware is born from the rich forest resources at the foot of the Oou Mountains, but only trees over 200 years old are used for the raw wood, and the mountains are thoroughly maintained so that the trees do not die out.

2. Wood cutting

The logs are cut into round slices. Then, avoiding knots and damaged parts, the logs are cut into approximate sizes according to the intended use, and shaped into blocks.

3. Rough grinding

This is the process of shaving a block of wood into the shape of a vessel. The wood is mounted on a potter’s wheel, hollowed out on the inside, and roughly ground on the outside. The wood is then boiled to remove the wood astringent. This process also serves to prevent warping of the wood and to protect it from insects.

4. Drying

To prevent further distortion of the wood, the wood is left to smoke dry in a circulating smoke chamber for one month. The moisture content inside the wood is reduced to about 10%.

5. Finishing and Grinding

This is the final process for the wood. After the wood has dried and the dimensions have stabilized, it is mounted on the wheel again, and the planer is moved to grind the surface to a smooth and beautiful finish. The bottom of the bowl is further shaved to complete the bowl shape.

6. Jizumi-tsuki, Kaki-Togi

This is the process of undercoating, which is a characteristic of Kawatsura Lacquerware. A mixture of persimmon tannin and charcoal powder is applied with a brush made of straw, and when dry, it is polished. Next, persimmon tannin is applied, and after it dries, it is polished in the same manner.

7. Ground Coating

Raw lacquer is applied with a brush made from a horse’s tail, called a komaage, as if rubbing it in. This process is repeated five to six times to prevent moisture from penetrating the wood and to ensure that the lacquerware is strong and free from distortion. This is the final step of the basecoat process.

8. Ji-nuri, Naka-nuri, Kami-nuri, Hana-nuri

The painting process begins. After priming, we proceed to the middle and top coats, gradually adjusting the color of the lacquer to approach the color of the finished product. The process of painting and polishing is repeated six or seven times, each time requiring the lacquer to dry thoroughly before applying more coats. This process requires an accurate grasp of the properties of the lacquer, which changes delicately according to temperature and humidity.

 9. Finishing

The finishing process is called “nuridate” or “hana-nuri” (flower lacquering). After the lacquer is applied, it is left to dry without being polished. This process requires a high level of skill to apply the lacquer so as to avoid unevenness and brush marks, and also requires the utmost care because dust cannot be applied.

After that, depending on the purpose, the lacquerware is decorated with “chinkin” or “maki-e” to make it more gorgeous. Kawatsura lacquerware is completed by the hands of several craftsmen, with each process consisting of a division of labor. Because of the large number of processes, it takes about one year to complete a piece of lacquerware.


Among the many types of Japanese lacquerware, Kawarena lacquerware is relatively inexpensive. The table, bowls, and stacked boxes are familiar to people, and in the Kawatsura area, where the lacquerware industry was thriving, they were used in daily life at an affordable price. Even today, they are relatively inexpensive, so they are a popular craft for Japanese people who seek high-quality tableware.


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