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To Transmit Traditional Knowledge and Technique to the Younger Generation: Ishikawa Wajima Urushi Art Museum and Institute of Wajima Lacquer Arts

Learning at  Ishikawa Prefectural Institute of Wajima Lacquer Arts

The deciduous urushi tree is found in many Asian countries. The sap can be collected by carving short grooves into the trunk of the tree and those of similar species. Use of this sap as a coating material has become well established throughout Japan, China, Korea, Thailand, Myanmar, and my country, Vietnam. Vietnamese lacquerware is valuable, and it is typically used by wealthy families. Some of my Japanese friends have said to me that “in Japan, when people hear the name Wajima, they immediately think of the world famous Wajima-Nuri-Wajima lacquerware.” I was very excited to hear that, and I looked forward to seeing valuable lacquerware inWajima during the field trip organized by the Graduate Program in Cultural Resource Management.

 

First, we visited the Ishikawa Wajima Urushi Art Museum, the first lacquer art museum in Japan. Ms. Suzanne Ross, an artist of the Wajima lacquer craft guided us on the museum tour.

 

Along with a direct view of the urushi tree, we were introduced to the process of making Wajima-Nuri. We were surprised to hear that Wajima-Nuri requires seven craftspersons who working carefully for a long time-from half a year to a few years-to complete their works. Each lacquerware creation is handmade during a process consisting of more than 100 steps, clearly reinforcing the reputation of Wajima-Nuri for high quality.

 

After that, we visited two exhibition rooms. The first one displayed famous lacquer products made by artists over the long history of Wajima-Nuri. I was particularly impressed by Makie (lacquer ornamentation created by sprinkling gold or silver powders) and Chinkin (lacquer ornamentation with gold or silver inlay in an engraved pattern) collections. This was the first time that I had looked at lacquer products closely: they are not only beautiful but also delicate. In the second room, visitors can watch video clips related to lacquer art. In addition, fine lacquerware collections from all over the world, especially from Asia, are displayed.

 

One of the requirements for the preservation and development of lacquer art is that techniques must be transmitted to the younger generation. In my opinion, the local government has succeeded in passing on traditional knowledge and techniques to the youth by establishing the Ishikawa Prefectural Institute of Wajima Lacquer Arts. It was founded in 1967 by the initiative of the late Matsuda Gonroku, the great master of lacquerware. Each course offered by this institute involves three years of training for people who already have the basic skills. Artists who have graduated from this institute have contributed to a large extent to raise the technical level of Wajima-Nuri.

 

On the first floor of the Institute, there is a small exhibition room featuring lacquer products completed by students before graduation. I was surprised to know that students were able to create sophisticated products within their three-year training course.

 

We spent two days in Wajima and had a wonderful time. We met some great people who are proud of their work. I believe that the lacquerware arts of Wajima will continue to grow with younger generations. Consequently, I have become interested in my own country’s lacquerware production and policies to help develop traditional handicrafts. (N. H. Manh)

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