Echizen lacquerware | Simple but appealing designs with 1500 years


Echizen lacquerware is Simple but Cute Japanese traditional crafts

Echizen lacquerware is produced in the Kawada district of Sabae City, Fukui Prefecture, and the surrounding area. Sabae is famous in Japan for producing eyeglasses, but Echizen lacquerware actually accounts for more than 80% of the domestic share of commercial lacquerware used in restaurants and inns, making it the largest producer in Japan.

The technique of making lacquerware has been nurtured in Sabae because of the large number of lacquer scrapers who have worked in the area since ancient times and the availability of high-quality timber. The characteristics of lacquerware are that it has an elegant and shiny lacquered surface, yet it is light and strong. The development of lacquerware has also incorporated decorative techniques from other regions, such as “chinkin” from Wajima and “makie” from Kyoto.

The variety of vessels produced is diverse, including bowls, sets, trays, stacked boxes, confectionery boxes, chopsticks, vases, and tea ceremony utensils. The lineup ranges from high-end tableware used for special occasions to easy-to-use everyday items.

Echizen lacquerware
Source: Sabae Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Characteristics of Echizen lacquerware

Echizen lacquerware is both robust and elegant.

Echizen lacquerware is both sturdy and visually pleasing due to its origins. Echizen lacquerware is also characterized by the “hana-nuri” (flower lacquering) technique, in which the lacquer is applied to the surface and left to dry, leaving no brush marks or dust.

Introduction of Maki-e and Chinkin

Until the Meiji period (1868-1912), robust and simple lacquer ware called “Katayama bowls” were manufactured. Gradually, new techniques were introduced, such as maki-e from Kyoto and chinkin from Wajima. Echizen lacquerware gradually introduced new techniques, such as “maki-e” from Kyoto and “chinkin” from Wajima, which gave Echizen lacquerware a gorgeous design.

Echizen lacquerware
Source: Sabae Chamber of Commerce and Industry

History of Echizen Lacquerware

Origin of Echizen Lacquerware

The origin of Echizen lacquerware dates back to about 1,500 years ago. The prince of the time (later the 26th Emperor Tsugitai) broke the crown and ordered a lacquer craftsman from Katayama village (present-day Katayama-cho, Kawada district, Sabae City, Fukui Prefecture) to repair it. The lacquer craftsman repaired the crown beautifully using lacquer and presented it together with the black lacquered “Mitsugumi Bowl” to the emperor. The prince was so impressed with the workmanship that he recommended the production of lacquerware in Katayama village, which is said to have been the origin of this craft.

Surrounded by mountains, Echizen was not suitable for farming, and the area had long been home to many lacquer scrapers (craftsmen who extract sap from lacquer trees), and the temperature and humidity were also suitable for making lacquerware. At its peak, half of the nation’s lacquer scrapers were in Echizen.

Prosperity in the Muromachi Period

In the Muromachi period (1333-1573), the Jodo Shinshu sect of Buddhism, which was popular at the time, began to spread its teachings through the “Hoon Kou (Buddhist memorial service),” which was a popular form of worship for the founder of Jodo Shinshu. In the Muromachi period (1333-1573), lacquer bowls were used in Buddhist rituals to honor Shinran, the founder of Jodo Shinshu, and were held before and after the anniversary of his death. This is also said to have been the beginning of the spread of Echizen lacquerware.

Source: Sabae Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Technological Development in the Edo and Meiji Periods

Toward the end of the Edo period, Echizen adopted lacquer techniques developed in other regions, such as Wajima’s “chinkin” and Kyoto’s “makie” techniques. These techniques gave Echizen lacquerware a gorgeous and elegant decorative quality and broadened the range of expression.

By the middle of the Meiji period (1868-1912), however, Echizen lacquerware began to be produced in the form of kakumono (boxes and vessels made by assembling boards). By the mid-Meiji period, the range of products had expanded to include tables, trays, stacked boxes, confectionery boxes, vases, and other items.

Echizen lacquerware today

In the beginning, Echizen lacquerware was produced only in Katayama village (present-day Katayama-cho, Kawada district, Sabae City, Fukui Prefecture), but it gradually spread to the entire Kawada district. Lacquerware produced in the Kawada district is also called “Kawada-nuri. In the Taisho era (1912-1926), new machinery and techniques were added, and a mass production system for commercial lacquerware for the food service industry, such as inns and restaurants, was established, and the demand for lacquerware expanded not only in Fukui Prefecture, but also in mass consumption areas outside the prefecture, such as Nagoya and Osaka. Today, the company has grown to account for more than 80% of the domestic share of the restaurant industry and commercial lacquerware market.

Echizen Owan
Source: MONSEN

Manufacturing method

Echizen lacquerware is a division of labor in which each process is detailed and a nushiya (lacquer craftsman) organizes craftsmen in the production area to make a single piece of lacquerware.

1. Wooden base making

The first process in the production of lacquerware begins with the selection of the wood material. The wood is the material used to coat the lacquer. The wood is made from a variety of sturdy trees such as zelkova, horse chestnut, cherry, and hoo, and is then cut from the wood.

Before the wood is applied to the painting process, it is important to prepare the base of the piece. The undercoating is the process of creating the foundation of the lacquerware, filling in any scratches, holes, or natural tears in the wood and reinforcing vulnerable areas. The finish of a lacquer ware depends on the quality of the groundwork. Round objects such as bowls are cut using a potter’s wheel, while square objects are assembled by cutting and shaping a board.

2. Primer Coating

The painting process consists of two stages: under-coating and over-coating. Lacquer can be applied by hand or sprayed on. The urushiol in the lacquer causes a chemical reaction that hardens the lacquer, requiring high humidity. Since the process is affected by weather conditions, it is a delicate process that requires many years of experience. The primer coating is a process that involves repeated painting and polishing, and is therefore a process that affects the quality of the lacquerware.

3. Coating

In the top coating, the technique of drying the lacquer while maintaining the right temperature and humidity is important in order to produce a moist luster. Spray painting is done using manual spraying or an automatic spray gun. New techniques such as “variegated lacquer” have been developed to use not only traditional colors but also modern colors.

After the lacquered lacquerware is finished, it is placed in a machine called a “rotating bath,” which rotates for a certain period of time and dries over a period of several days. This is a meticulous process to prevent even the slightest dust or dirt from adhering to the lacquerware.

4. Maki-e

Echizen lacquerware has a variety of decorative techniques, the most commonly used of which are maki-e, chinkin, and machine printing and transcription. In maki-e, lacquer is applied with a maki-e brush to draw pictures and patterns, and then gold or silver powder is sprinkled to add color, followed by repeated polishing. There are three main techniques depending on the process of maki-e: togidashi maki-e, hira maki-e, and taka maki-e.

5. Chinkin

Chinkin is done by engraving a design on the surface using a chinkin-knife and then applying gold or silver foil, powder, or pigment to the engraved mark with lacquer. The main techniques of Chinkin are “Line engraving”, “Dot engraving”, and “Katakiribori”.


Lacquerware has a strong image of being a luxury item for celebratory occasions and being difficult to handle. However, when you talk to Echizen lacquerware craftsmen, you will find that in addition to being light and strong and not easily broken, they are also easy to use in daily life, as they are pleasant to the palate and keep food cool. Why not incorporate the traditional techniques and high quality products of Japan into your daily life?

Echizen lacquerware
Wakasa Nuri        Wakasa agate

 1        2             

Let's share this post !