Kagawa lacquerware is unique appearance with vivid color


Kagawa lacquerware with unique carving technique and coloring method

Kagawa lacquerware is produced mainly in Takamatsu City, Kagawa Prefecture. The wide range of products includes confectionery, trays, tables, and decorative shelves. and people have loved widely various scenes of daily life. Kagawa lacquerware is characterized by its beautifully varied and elegant colored lacquer and the wide variety of products produced. As it is used, the lacquerware becomes moist to the touch, beautifully shiny, and resistant to cracking.

Kagawa lacquerware varies in type according to the carving technique and color lacquer. They are “Kinma,” “Zonsei,” and “Choshitsu” techniques.


  • Kinma is a Chinese technique of “filling lacquer” (meaning filling with lacquer) that was introduced from southern China (Sichuan and Yunnan regions) to Thailand and Myanmar. It came to Japan around the end of the Muromachi period (1333-1573). The lacquer is applied over the top of a vessel made of bamboo, wood, or dry lacquer. And patterns are carved into the surface with a konjac sword. The carved grooves are then filled with colored lacquer, and the surface is polished flat to remove excess colored lacquer to create the intended design.The word “kin” comes from the Thai word “kin mark. Kin” means chewing, and “mark” means betel nut. In Thailand and Myanmar, there is a custom to mix betel nut and shell ash (powdered shells that have been burned) as a cooling agent, wrap it around a grass leaf called “kinma,” and chew it. The container in which the betel nut is placed is also called “kinma” because of the engraved patterns on it.
    kagawa lacquer


  • Zonsei came to Japan in the Muromachi period (1333-1573). But Kagawa Prefecture uses the character “zonsei”, which was used by Tamakazi Zogani. A pattern is in colored lacquer on a lacquered vessel. Then, a sword is used to carve outlines and details. In addition, they use gold powder or gold leaf to fill in the recesses of the carving to enhance the design. Tamakazi Zoya uses this technique to produce Zunqing’s works.There is another technique used in Zonsei. A pattern is  with a carving knife on a lacquered vessel. The carved edge is filled with colored lacquer and polished with charcoal to flatten it. Then, the contours and details are engraved with a sword. Same as above process, gold powder or gold leaf is into the recesses of the engraving to enhance the design. This name of this technique is  “yari-kin hoso-gakko-shitsu-bo”.
    kagawa lacquerware


  • In chōshitsu, a layer of colored lacquer (about 3 mm thick at 100 coats) is created by applying dozens to hundreds of coats of various types of colored lacquer. Also, they carve down the layer to bring out the design in relief. Then, the three-dimensional effect of the carving itself and the contrast of colors depending on the depth of the carving create a unique beauty.This technique originated in China during the Song and Yuan dynasties and flourished during the Ming dynasty. Later on, it came to Japan in the Muromachi period (1333-1573). Tamakazi Zogani perfected the Japanese carving technique by imitating Chinese lacquerware. Lacquer coated only with vermilion lacquer is called Tsuishu. In addition,  lacquer coated only with black lacquer is called tsuikuro. Today, with the development of pigments, a variety of colored urushi lacquer is used.
    kagawa lacquerware

History of Kagawa lacquerware

Lacquerware has a long history in Japan, with lacquerware excavated from ruins dating back approximately 9,000 years. Moreover, It is a craft that has taken root in the Japanese people, with buildings being finished in lacquer during the Heian period (794-1185) and lacquered furnishings becoming popular during the Kamakura period (1185-1333). In the Muromachi period (1333-1573), a new technique of lacquerware was introduced from China. So how did lacquerware develop in Kagawa Prefecture?

During the Edo period (1603-1867), the Takamatsu Clan encouraged the cultural arts such as the tea ceremony and flower arrangement, which in turn encouraged the production of crafts. Among these, the achievements of “Tamakaji Zokoku”, known as the “founder of Kagawa lacquerware,” are particularly well known. Born into a family of shea lacquers in Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture, Tamakaji Zokoku encountered rare lacquerware imported from China and Southeast Asia while studying in Kyoto, and studied its techniques. After returning to his hometown, he worked as an official craftsman for the Takamatsu clan and developed the “kinma,” “zonsei,” and “choshitsu” techniques of China and Southeast Asia, establishing a technique unique to Kagawa lacquerware.

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Modern era

Kagawa lacquerware is characterized by the use of a variety of colors in “iro-ursi” (colored lacquer), but during the Edo and Meiji periods there were only a limited number of colors available: black, vermilion, green, yellow, and brown. However, in the early Showa period (1926-1989), white lacquer was created by mixing powdered titanium with clear lacquer, making it possible to produce a variety of colors.

*Lacquer is made from the sap of the poison oak tree. The sap is called “kiurushi” (raw lacquer) and is used as a base for lacquerware. When heat is added to raw lacquer, it becomes “suki urushi” (clear lacquer), and when minerals and pigments are added to clear lacquer, it becomes “colored lacquer.

*Black lacquer, by the way, is not pigmented, but is mixed with iron powder and turned black by a chemical reaction between the acid in the lacquer and the iron. Because it is not pigmented, it is transparent when spread thinly, and the more coats are applied, the deeper the black color becomes. The term “Shikkoku” refers to the deep black color of this black lacquer.

Production Methods for Kagawa lacquerware

The manufacturing process of Kagawa lacquerware differs slightly depending on the three techniques described above. This section introduces the most basic manufacturing process, which is generally introduced and used in hands-on workshops. For more detailed information on each of the three types, please refer to the official Kagawa Prefecture website.

1. Wood hardening

The following is an introduction to the process based on Zoya-nuri, a typical Kagawa lacquerware technique. Zoya-nuri is a technique named after its creator, Tamakazaki-Zokoku.

Raw lacquer is applied to a hollowed-out piece of white wood made of Japanese horse chestnut (tochi). The white base is a wooden form that has not yet been painted. If there are any remaining coats of lacquer on the wood, it will affect the solidity of the finished product. Careful application of lacquer on all surfaces is an important process because it is the basis for all subsequent processes. After the raw lacquer is applied, the wood is left to dry in a place called a “muro” for one day. This is to allow the lacquer to dry thoroughly before starting the later processes.

2. Sharpening the wood

Using a wheel, the surface of the wood is sharpened to make the surface smooth. This is the process of carefully correcting the surface so that there are no roughness or rustling of the wood. This process improves the adhesion during the lacquering process.

Koku-u is made by mixing raw lacquer with sawdust from zelkova trees. Koku-u is applied to holes or dents in the wood, and when dry, the surface is smoothed with paper to improve the adhesion of the next coat of lacquer.

3. Lacquer overcoating

The lacquer is again applied in several coats, using only raw lacquer. The process of nuri-ue is a repetition of the process of lacquering and then polishing with water. Between each coating, the process of “mizukengeri” (polishing with water) is always performed. This is essential to strengthen the adhesive strength of the lacquer. Lacquer takes about one day to dry, so, for example, five coats of lacquer will take at least five days. The important point of the lacquering process is to allow the surface to dry thoroughly before proceeding to the next step.

4. Nurikomi

Using raw urushi lacquer as an adhesive, makomo, which grows naturally in ponds and riverside areas, is applied to the surface. Makomo is a type of komogaya that grows wild along riversides. The black berries are ground into a black powder and used. In Zoya-nuri, the black powder of the makomoko enters into the pattern of the wood and gives it a black luster. After the Makomoko is applied, the excess powder is removed.

Lacquer is a versatile paint that is used to increase water resistance and can also be used as an adhesive when mixed with other materials such as glue. To make it shiny, lacquer is applied with a tool called a tampo, and excess lacquer is wiped off with a cloth.

5. Lustering

In the case of Tate Urushi Nurushi, charcoal is used to smooth the surface and improve the adhesion of the layers of lacquer. Colored lacquer kneaded with nuritate-shu-ai urushi is applied with a brush and allowed to dry to a glossy finish in a single step. Goto-nuri” is characterized by its unique mottled patterns. After applying a coat of lacquer made of shu-ai urushi plus vermilion to the middle coat, the mottled patterns are drawn on with the fingertips before they dry. The mottled patterns are added by directly tapping or stroking the fingertips. The “mottled pattern” technique is called “finger tapping” or “finger stroking,” and the pattern changes by changing the way the fingers are tapped.

The more the lacquer is repeatedly applied, the more Kagawa lacquerware gains luster and a deeper flavor as it is used. Other techniques include “Kinma,” “Zonsei,” and “choushitsu,” or carved lacquer.

kagawa lacquerware
Source: PR TIMES


The taste is gorgeous, yet calm and serene. The transparent luster and glossy sheen that oozes from the depths of the piece deepens as it is used more and more. The more you use it, the more you appreciate its taste. It feels soft and comfortable in your hand, and you can sense its tension and volume. Lacquerware is a vessel with such a variety of charms. Lacquerware also has another important characteristic: it does not conduct heat easily and is not easily damaged. It is possible to hold a bowl of hot soup or soup in one’s hand and eat it, and it is highly resistant to shock and abrasion. You can incorporate the taste of lacquer into your daily life. Why don’t you start your life with Kagawa lacquerware?

    Marugame Uchiwa

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