Wajima nuri | The best-known traditional Lacquer with glossy decoration


Wajima-nuri is One of the most well-known tradtional Japanese crafts

Wajima-nuri is a type of lacquerware produced in Wajima City, Ishikawa Prefecture. This famous Japanese traditional craft is known throughout Japan as a durable, beautiful, robust and elegant lacquerware. Wajima City in Ishikawa Prefecture is a small city with a population of less than 30,000 located at the tip of the Noto Peninsula, but it has become famous throughout Japan for its Wajima-nuri lacquerware. Wajima-nuri has been developed by many traders, craftsmen, and customers, in addition to the fact that the city has been a key point of the Sea of Japan Shipping Route since ancient times and has a wide variety of lacquer ware materials such as zelkova and lacquer.

Wajima-nuri is considered the pinnacle of lacquerware, and many Japanese people have probably heard of the name “Wajima-nuri” even if they have never seen the actual product. It is highly regarded as Japan’s representative lacquerware, characterized by its robust lacquering and graceful decorations. In particular, Wajima lacquerware has earned a reputation for its solid lacquerware, which is made through a careful manual process of applying a base coat of jinoko (a type of diatomaceous earth), a specialty of Wajima, and then applying the lacquer over a total of 75 to 124 times, or more than 20 processes.

Features of Wajima-nuri

Typical characteristics of “Wajima-nuri” are as follows. Wajima-nuri is called “robust and elegant lacquerware” because of the following characteristics.

  • All of the raw materials used for Wajima-nuri, such as lacquer and chi, are natural.

  • The base of Wajima-nuri is made of Wajima jinoko, a specialty of Wajima.

  • The lacquer is applied over the surface of the piece to maintain its strength.

  •  The lacquer is applied over and over again.

  • More than 100 processes are carefully done by hand, and traditional techniques are performed by several specialists.

  •  Skilled techniques of decoration such as “maki-e”, “chinkin”, and “variegated lacquer”.

  • Elegant, smooth, and unique texture
  • Repair is possible because of the cloth-finish on a solid base.
  • The lacquerware has antibacterial effect against Escherichia coli and other bacteria.

Wajima-nuri is made from natural materials and is an environmentally friendly, non-polluting paint.

Source: Wajima Nuritaro

History of Wajima-nuri

There are various theories about the origin of Wajima-nuri, including that it was introduced from the continent about 1,000 years ago, that it was popularized by Negoro monks who came to Wajima in the early 15th century, and that the Goroku bowls from nearby Yanagida Village were the original model.

In 1582, when the Lord of the Kaga Clan made a tour of Noto, the characteristic ground powder of Wajima-nuri was already used. Chinkin, Wajima’s unique decoration technique, was completed in the 18th century, and makie was brought from Aizu in the early 19th century. During the Bunka-Bunsei period (1804-1829) of the late Edo period, the quality of Wajima-nuri became widely recognized. The production of Wajima lacquerware increased dramatically as a result of the increase in demand nationwide due to the development of the general economy. From the end of the Meiji period (1868-1911) to the Taisho period (1912-1925), in addition to traditional furniture production, demand for commercial use in ryotei (Japanese-style restaurants) and ryokan (Japanese-style inns) was developed and the variety of products became abundant. Wajima-nuri has remained as the finest art lacquerware, decorated with gorgeous chinkin and maki-e in addition to the traditional solid lacquer coating.

Source: Ishikawa Federation of Small Business Associations

Manufacturing Method & Process for Wajima nuri

1. Wooden Base

The process of making the base of a bowl is to make a prototype of the bowl before applying lacquer or other lacquer. Wajima-nuri mainly uses zelkova and mizume cherry trees, which are cut down and left to die down to the trunk for 2 to 3 years before being used. Once the trees are dead, they are cut out and roughly shaped by rough cutting. Wajima-nuri is not immediately sharpened after the rough shaving. The sawdust is burned to smoke dry the wood, and then it is left to dry naturally for several months to a year. Once the sawdust has dried thoroughly, we proceed to the shaping process. The wood is then ground roughly, then ground on the outside, then ground on the inside, and finally ground on the bottom, gradually shaping the wood to the finest detail using specialized tools such as a planer and a lathe.

2. Groundwork

The next step is to make the base. Wajima-nuri has a unique process of making the base using ground powders. The first step is carving. When the wood is in a carved state, it is easy to break from the cracks, but by carving a few cracks and reinforcing the wood by applying a primer, a stronger lacquer ware is created. For areas that are easily damaged, such as bowls, the piece is reinforced by applying a cloth, which is called “Kisemono shaving. By carefully painting over the base coat, focusing on cracks and other vulnerable areas, a sturdy lacquer ware unique to Wajima lacquerware is created. After reinforcing the easily damaged areas, the entire surface is coated with a base coat of raw urushi lacquer mixed with abrasive powder.

After the entire surface is coated with the basecoat and allowed to dry, the lacquer ware is prepared using a whetstone or similar tool. Once the lacquer ware is in good shape, the ji-nenugi process begins. Ji-geri is a process using water, and is performed to ensure that the next coat of lacquer is applied properly.

3. Coating

Kami-nuri is the process of applying lacquer evenly over the base coat. The lacquer to be used is prepared in parallel with the preparation of the wood and the base coat. First, the lacquer trunks are slightly scratched and collected in a container called a lacquer cylinder. Lacquer can be collected from June to October. Since only about 200 grams of lacquer can be collected from each tree, we sometimes collect lacquer from hundreds of trees a day. The collected lacquer is then subjected to filtration. This is because it contains not only lacquer but also invisible foreign matter such as tree bark.

The impurities are then removed in a centrifuge to make raw lacquer. Wajima-nuri does not use raw lacquer in its raw state. The color will fade in a few years if it is left as raw lacquer, so it is heated and kneaded to a state called “nayashi”. The process of nayashi makes it possible to produce strong lacquerware that will not fade for hundreds of years.

The top coat is applied in a special room with proper temperature and humidity to prevent dust and dirt from flying around. This is a process that tests the craftsman’s care and skill. For plain color, the work is completed with the topcoat.

4. Decoration

After the top coat, we apply the coloring to bring out the luster of the surface. The lacquerware is carefully polished with a fine abrasive to avoid scratches.

After the roiro process is completed, the lacquer ware is decorated by maki-e and chinkin, in which gold and silver are pressed into the lacquer ware. Maki-e and Chinkin are applied to complete the graceful Wajima-nuri.


Wajima-nuri is one of the best and most famous traditional Japanese crafts. If you understand the characteristics and individuality of lacquerware before using it, Wajima-nuri will answer you with more beauty and elegance the more you put your hands on it. When purchasing this Japanese traditional craft, keep attention to imitations. Some Wajima-nuri products are so expensive, and there are some dealers from certain countries that try to earn money  with imitation Wajima-nuri by selling for non-Japanese people who cannot find the true products from others. If you purchase authentic Wajima-nuri, You will have your life more fashionable and decorative. 


Kutani Yaki    Kaga Yuzen

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