Higo Zogan is beautiful gold and silver with Samurai Culture


The Beauty of Higo Zogan, Loved by Samurai

Higo zogan is a traditional craft produced in Kumamoto City, Kumamoto Prefecture. Zogan is a craft in which pure gold or pure silver is hammered into an iron base metal to create decorations, and it flourished in the Edo period as part of the culture of the samurai. It was popular as a decoration for guns and other items. Higo zogan has a unique austere charm not found in other types of zogan, and today it is a beautiful ornament applied to a variety of accessories and luxury goods.

The characteristic of Higo zogan is that it expresses the culture of the samurai family by utilizing the ground color of iron without being gaudy. It is massive and austere, representing the simplicity and toughness of the samurai culture, and is also a form of wabi sabi. The contrast between the rust-reddish black iron and the gold leaf and silver powder is symbolic. Various decorations, such as elaborate floral and geometric patterns, have attracted many people. The base iron is not colored with paint, but rather the rust color is left as it is, giving it a unique hue and expressing a profound and elegant beauty.

Several techniques are used for Higo zogan, including nunome zogan, in which gold and silver are hammered into the cut lines carved with a chisel, carving zogan, in which the fabric is carved and decorated, and kirifitsume. Currently, most Zogan is made with Nunome Zogan.

Katana with Higo Zogan
source: http://kougeikan.otemo-yan.net/e824604.html

History of Higo Zogan

Higo zogan is said to have originated about 400 years ago in the early Edo period, when gunsmiths applied zogan to gun barrels and sword mounts as decoration. Hosokawa Tadaoki, in particular, encouraged the production of sword fittings by employing master craftsmen and encouraged their skills, resulting in the production of numerous masterpieces such as sword mounts and sword fittings, which were highly regarded nationwide as “Higo goldsmiths.

The Hayashi family, including Matashichi Hayashi, the founder of Higo Zogan, as well as the Nishigaki, Hirata, and Shimizu families, and the Kamiyoshi family at the end of the Edo period, were among the goldsmiths of the Edo period. Although the demand for sword fittings declined after the abolition of the sword law during the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912), the technique was utilized to produce accessories and other items. This phenomenon is similar to what happened to Seki Knife and Sakai knife craftsmen.

In the Showa period (1926-1989), the Higo Zogan technique was handed down through the training of successors such as Tahei Yonemitsu, who was recognized as a national important intangible cultural property holder, and Tsuneo Tanabe, who was recognized as a prefectural important intangible cultural property holder.

Manufacturing Method & Process

1. Dough Making

An iron plate is cut and shaped with a file.

2. Polishing the cloth

The surface of the iron is polished with a file to remove surface rust and dirt.

3. Preparation of Dough

The fabric is fixed to a workbench called a “file stand” made of a mixture of pine needles and abrasive powder (tonoko = stone powder), and further polished with a file or sandpaper until the surface is smooth.

4. Preliminary drawing

After deciding on the design and arrangement of inlays, a rough sketch is drawn on the fabric using a brush. In some cases, the underpainting is drawn directly on the fabric, while in other cases, the underpainting is drawn on a thin sheet of paper and transferred to the fabric using a tagane. This is an important process that expresses the charm and uniqueness of the work depending on the design.

5. Cloth cutting

Using a hammer and a tool, the fabric is cut in four directions: vertically, horizontally, and diagonally. 16 fine grooves are cut in a 1 mm square, and the depth of the grooves is adjusted so that the vertical grooves are the deepest and the horizontal grooves are the shallowest.

Higo Zogan
source: https://kogeijapan.com/locale/ja_JP/higozogan/

6. Die cutting

The parts of the pattern to be used for inlays are made. The metals used for inlaying are gold, silver, and blue gold (an alloy of gold and silver). The metal is rolled to a certain thickness using a roller, which is approximately four times thicker than that of Kyoto zogan.

This thickness expresses the heaviness that is characteristic of Higo Zogan. The pattern is stamped out from the stretched metal sheet, placed on a plate, and placed over a fire. This process is called “annealing,” and the baking process has the effect of stretching the metal and increasing its adhesiveness to the dough.

7. Hammering

A deer antler is placed on the annealed metal plate and hammered into the fabric (the grain of the base metal). The antlers are carefully hammered until the grain of the cloth becomes visible through the metal.

8. Tightening by hammering

The protruding metal plate is cut and aligned according to the design, and the surface of the metal plate is hammered with a special hammer until smooth. The cloth grain disappears and the metal plate adheres firmly to the base metal.

9. Polishing

The surface is rubbed and polished, and then further tightened by beating with a deer antler.

10. Nuno-me eraser

Using a pencil-shaped iron rod called a “nunome-keshi-bar,” unnecessary nuno-me marks left on the base metal are crushed and erased. Once the fabric is crushed, the surface is shaved smooth using a tool called a “kisaki.

11. Polishing

The surface of the fabric is polished using several types of polishing rods until it returns to its original smooth state.

12. Hair Carving

The metal plate parts that have been inlaid are detailed with the pattern using a hair carving trowel. After carving, the surface is polished with an abrasive to finish.

Higo zogan
Kumamoto Kougeikan

13. Preparation for rust removal

After polishing, remove the polished fabric from the burnishing table, and then remove any stains or dirt that may have adhered to the surface. When the surface becomes slightly cloudy, it is neutralized with ammonia and rinsed with water. This process roughens the surface of the base metal and allows rust to be applied cleanly.

14. Rust removal

A special rust-dissolving liquid, called “sabi-tsuki,” is applied evenly to the surface of the piece. After that, the rust is baked by exposing it to a flame. After baking, the piece is cooled, allowed to dry, and then coated again with rust remover solution and exposed to a flame. Rusting varies depending on the temperature and humidity, so make sure that the rust is evenly distributed throughout the entire surface.

15. Rust prevention

The fabric is left overnight and boiled in tea. After cooking the tea for about 30 minutes, cool it in water, and when the water has evaporated, put it over a flame. When white smoke appears, remove the pot from the flame.

16. Baking

The tea leaves are coated with camellia oil mixed with yuen (oil smoke) and baked again. Repeated baking creates a film on the surface to stop rusting. Finally, the piece is polished with camellia oil to bring out the gold and silver patterns. Final finishing touches, such as blurring and engraving, are also applied.

17. Assembly

The final product is finished by attaching metal fittings, etc.

Higo Zogan
source: https://kougeihin.jp/info/no-34/

Key point

The characteristics of Higo Zogan are “dignity” and “elegant beauty” reflecting the samurai culture. The beauty of Zogan, with its gold and silver on a deep black background, is less gaudy and more dignified. Please enjoy the beauty created only by the contrast of gold and silver on the color of the base iron, without using any paint.

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