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Rooted Essence: The Duality Viewpoint on Wajima Lacquer-ware

What crosses your mind when you think about lacquer-ware? I never encountered them in my life before and from what I’ve researched, the first thing that came to my mind was food-related objects, its glossy texture and the classic feeling. Those things still lingered in my mind until I finally came to Wajima in Noto Peninsula.

 

Wajima was a major seaport for trade on the Sea of Japan side of the country and this enabled the town to spread Wajima lacquer-ware throughout Japan[1]. The Wajima lacquer-ware industry has a history that dates back 500 years and involves more than 100 manufacturing processes with the painstaking devotion of the craftsmen repeating elaborate coatings of the highest-quality of urushi and the results has been adored by the Japanese people as the most luxurious, elegant and durable lacquer-ware for practical use[2]. Lacquer-ware can also be restored if it gets damaged and the unique characteristic from Wajima lacquer-ware in Noto Peninsula is the use of powdered diatomaceous earth generally known as jinoko. There have been over 500 lacquer-ware related workshops and over 1.000 people engaged in lacquer-ware related jobs in Wajima, but the number has been declining for several years now and Wajima City Hall has taken some measures to promote their lacquer-ware industry again.

 

After around 2 hours of travel with ocean in the background as we passed the highway, we finally reached this scenic town. We were welcomed by traditional Japanese houses that still stand so beautifully with lush green hills as its backdrop. We visited several important places for lacquer-ware, such as the Ishikawa Wajima Urushi Art Museum, the Ishikawa Prefectural Institute of Wajima Lacquer Arts, the urushi shop, the Wajima Kirimoto Workshop and the Wajima Kobo Nagaya. There are many lacquer-ware stores in Wajima and we had the chance to visit two of them, the Wajima Lacquer-ware Kaikan shop and the Wajima Kirimoto shop.

 

Even though both the Wajima Lacquer-ware Kaikan shop and the Wajima Kirimoto shop are lacquer-ware stores, they are very different from one another. When we entered the Wajima Lacquer-ware Kaikan shop, the feel is similar with the lacquer-ware that I had in my mind before. They mainly stock the luxurious and fancy ones; hence their lacquer-ware is more elaborate in detail and decoration. The kind of lacquer-ware that they have their varies from the smallest one, for example the chopstick, to the biggest products in the shop, like lacquer-ware tables and room dividers. All of the lacquer-ware there was produced by many different artists and craftsmen in Wajima. Just one glance of the price tag is enough to make me realized the painstaking efforts they used to produce one lacquer-ware product. I really felt that some of their lacquer-ware was fit for an upscale way of living and a perfect heirloom to be passed down from generations.

 

The second floor of the shop is the lacquer-ware museum where we can understand the history and the process of lacquer-ware that has been passed down from the earliest time until now. They also showcased some of the artifacts used for lacquer-ware productions from the Edo and Meiji periods, like the tools for making the wood base and also the brushes for coating and decorations. The weirdest thing I found there is the shark’s skins that were used for sanding the lacquer-ware back then.

 

The feeling of that extravagant lacquer-ware is such a contrast compared with when we finally visited the Wajima Kirimoto shop. Taiichi Kirimoto is the third generation owner of the workshop. It turns out that from the late Edo period to the Meiji period, their company has manufactured and sold Wajima lacquer-ware, and from the early Showa period his grandfather, Kyuko Kirimoto, founded a workshop specializing in carving the core wooden fittings. The second generation, Toshihei Kirimoto, produced other variety of lacquer-ware which included furniture, not only wooden-base lacquer-ware. Now, the workshop not only produces the wooden-base lacquer-ware and furniture but also lacquer-vessels, interior elements, as well as providing a variety of other lacquer-ware.

 

Kirimoto-san and his wife explained that they want to change people’s perspective on lacquer-ware. They emphasized that they want people to use them more in everyday life, not just on occasional special days. To preserve the lacquer-ware industry in this modern age, they developed new design as well as new techniques to appeal to younger generations. Kirimoto-san explained that lacquer-ware is versatile and with the right technique it could be imbued in modern everyday things, such as bowls, cups, mugs, plates, teapot, bento(lunch) box, clock, mirror, card case, and even in children’s toys. Some of the techniques he used are Fuki-urushi technique, Honkataji technique, and their signature techniques, Wajima Kirimoto’s Makiji technique and Wajima Kirimoto’s Sensuji technique. The feel of their lacquer-ware is way different than the conventional ones. It is simple in decoration, but still maintains its high-quality material and the artists and craftsman’s skill in making their lacquer-ware.

 

 

From visiting those two stores, I think it is very important to not only maintain the traditional process but also to explore other possibilities of lacquer-ware for modern everyday life. People should not only know lacquer-ware because of their decorative purpose but also to understand the many benefits of using them in their daily activities. Lastly, we should educate people that it is not only for the more fortunate ones, but everyone should experience the exceptional feeling which can only be felt by using lacquer-ware. (A.P)

 



[1] Wajima Museum of Lacqer (Urushi) Art: http://www.city.wajima.ishikawa.jp/art/home_e_c.html

[2] KIYO-SATO URUSI DREAM WORKS: http://www.kiyo-sato.com/brand/brand.html

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