Wakasa-nuri | with its refined lacquering patterns for 1300 years


Wakasa-nuri is popular for its deep colors and beautiful designs

Wakasa-nuri lacquerware is made using the “Togidashi technique,” in which patterns are made with eggshells, seashells, pine leaves, etc., and then coated with lacquer and polished over the patterns. This gives the lacquerware a unique character and a sense of dignity, and it is highly prized as a work of art. The layers of lacquer coating make the chopsticks resistant to water and heat, which has led to the widespread use of Wakasa-nuri chopsticks, especially for daily necessities, and they have remained in use until the present day. Wakasa lacquered chopsticks boast a production volume that exceeds 80% of the national share of lacquered chopsticks. In addition, since basically one craftsman performs all processes of Wakasa-nuri, it is easy for the individuality of the craftsman to emerge.

wakasa-nuri, chopsticks
Source: 箸のふるさと館WAKASA


The Spread of Chopsticks from the Fat God to the Aristocracy and the Common People

It is said that chopsticks were introduced to Japan from China at the end of the Yayoi Period. At that time, chopsticks were regarded as sacred objects used by the gods and only the emperor was allowed to use them. They were made of thinly shaved bamboo bent into a tweezer-like shape. The Japanese people still ate with their hands, and the “Wei Zhi Wajinden” also mentions that the Japanese ate with their hands.

In the Asuka period (710-784), the Sui Dynasty envoys dispatched by Prince Shotoku brought back a Chinese eating method that included chopsticks and a spoon, and the nobility began to use chopsticks for their daily meals. Around the Nara period (710-794), people began to use a pair of chopsticks instead of tweezers, and ordinary people also began to use chopsticks made of bamboo or wood.

The establishment of Japan’s unique “food” using only chopsticks

Japan’s unique eating method using only chopsticks was established in the Kamakura period (1185-1333). It is said that chopsticks came to be counted as one or two sets of chopsticks since chopsticks were placed on the table at this time. In addition, to make chopsticks more durable for repeated use, chopsticks began to be coated with lacquer. In the Muromachi period (1333-1573), the original form of Japanese cuisine, which was easy to eat with chopsticks, was completed.

Appearance of “Wakasa-nuri,” a favorite of the Fat Lords

In the Edo period (1603-1867), the popularity of restaurants led to the widespread use of chopsticks. It is said that most of Japan’s lacquerware production centers were established during the Edo period, and it was around this time that lacquered chopsticks became diversified. In Wakasa, ozen, suzuri-boxes, bento boxes, chopsticks, confectionery, stacked boxes, etc. were initially made. Sakai Tadakatsu, the lord of Wakasa, fell in love with the beauty of the lacquerware produced in Wakasa and named it “Wakasa-nuri. The middle to late Edo period is said to be the golden age of Wakasa-nuri, when more than 200 different techniques were perfected, including mother-of-pearl inlays and maki-e lacquerware.

Overseas Expansion and Diversification of Designs

During the Meiji period (1868-1912), disposable chopsticks were created to make effective use of cedar wood scraps. In 1878, Wakasa-nuri was exhibited at the World Exposition in Paris, and gradually Wakasa-nuri made its way overseas. From the Taisho to the Showa period, efforts were made to create not only old traditional designs, but also modern designs that suited the new era, and a wide range of styles were produced.

Source: 箸のふるさと館WAKASA

Wakasa-nuri – Manufacturing  Process & Method

1. Nuno-hari

The process of Wakasa-nuri involves more than 60 steps, which can be divided into several major categories. Everything is done by a single craftsman. For the base, solid woods such as zelkova, tochi, hoo, chestnut, cherry, and mizume-zakura are used, and it is important to select a wood that will not distort. After the selected wood is dried to a condition suitable for processing, it is cut into the shape of the product and finished to the exact size.

Cloth or Japanese paper is then applied to reinforce the joints and tears in the wood and to close up any holes. This is called “cloth pasting. This prevents the wood from cracking or warping.

2. Grounding

The next step is “shijitsuke. The next step is to prepare the surface by mixing raw lacquer, which has been collected and cleaned of debris, ground clay powder, and nori (glue), and applying it evenly over the entire surface of the wood with a brush. On top of this, rust lacquer, a mixture of fine stone powder and raw lacquer, is applied neatly with a spatula. Although the base of the lacquer cannot be seen in the finished work, the beauty of the finished product depends on this priming process.

3. NAKA-Undercoating

After the basecoat is applied, “rust polishing” is performed. Rust polishing is a process in which the rusty lacquer is allowed to dry thoroughly and then polished with water on a whetstone to flatten it. After that, a middle coat of lacquer is applied to prevent the lacquer used for pattern making from being absorbed by the grindstone.

4. Pattern application

On top of the middle coating, patterns are painted with various natural materials such as eggshells, seashells, green shells, rice husks, etc. The patterns are then applied after the lacquer has been applied. The patterns must be applied after the lacquer is applied and before it dries, but if the lacquer dries too fast, the patterns will not be beautifully applied. The best drying time is winter, so patterns are applied between December and March.

5. Ai-nuri

After the pattern is applied, the process of lacquering and polishing is repeated many times. Ai-nuri” is the process of applying two or more coats of colored lacquer, which gives the lacquer a unique sheen and color.

6. Hakuoki

Hakuoki” is the process of placing gold leaf on top of the Go-nuri lacquer coating. This process adds an elegant and beautiful shine.

7. Nurikomi

Nurikomi” is a technique in which lacquer is applied in layers to give strength to the product, and then polished off to bring out the pattern.

8. Stone polishing

Ishi Togi” is a process of sharpening a rough whetstone, a medium whetstone, and a finishing whetstone, in this order, from coarse to fine grit, until a pattern appears firmly on the surface. Ishi honing is a process unique to Wakasa lacquerware and not seen in other lacquerware.

9. Charcoal sharpening

After the stone polishing, “glazed lacquer” or “sashi-urushi” is applied. After that, the surface is further polished smooth by using rough charcoal and medium charcoal made from hohonoki (Japanese cypress), and roiro-sumi made from chisha and sarsaparilla.

10. Polishing

The surface is then polished by rubbing it with a cloth dipped in “oil polishing powder,” which is a mixture of polishing powder and rapeseed oil. Finally, the piece is finished by applying rapeseed oil and bengara, an abrasive, to the fingers and polishing in a circular motion.


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