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Urushi - a cultural quintessence of Japan

Urushi - a cultural quintessence of Japan

Have you ever been to Ishikawa prefecture, Japan? It is a beautiful area well-known as the best prefecture in Japan for traditional arts such as ceramics, Kaga Yuzen silk dyeing, gold leaf, and so on. In this article, I want to share my own experience about lacquer (Urushi) art, something that Ishikawa people are very proud of.

On September 25th, 2014, the group of professors and students of Cultural Resources Studies (CRS) program, Kanazawa University, visited Wajima Museum of Urushi Art in Wajima city, Ishikawa. Thanks to the guidance of Mrs. Suzanne Ross, an urushi artist who has lived in Wajima for many years, we entered the world of urushi art with enthusiasm and curiosity.

My first impression of Wajima Museum of Urushi Art was that it was not so big and only had two floors.However, it draws visitors' attention by the elegant interior decoration. On the first floor, I was immediately attracted by many kinds of sophisticated, various and colorful lacquerware that were sold in the museum shop. The second floor was even more interesting with the scientific and logical method of exhibition. The museum specializes in urushi art, therefore, all four exhibition rooms on the second floor were mainly utilized to introduce urushi art. Thanks to these exhibition rooms, I was able to obtain basic information about urushi art in Japan; for example, about the tools and techniques of urushi craftsmen and the complicated process of urushi production. I also had a chance to observe an abundant collection of lacquer art works produced by various craftsmen and from different areas of Japan as well as from other countries. I believe that the museum really succeeds in transmitting the nature and spirit of urushi art to visitors.

After the Wajima Museum of Urushi Art, we continued to learn about urushi artin different aspects. Our next destination was the Institute of Wajima Lacquer Arts. The Institute was established in 1967 and became one of famous schools for training urushi craftsmen. At present, although the institute only has a modest number of lecturers and students (17 and 56, respectively), both lecturers and students are carefully selected and theyhave to satisfy strict requirements. At the institute, students study fundamental knowledge and techniques while practicing their skills under the supervision of lecturers - high level qualified urushi artists. Noticeably, students have opportunities to learn from urushi craftsmen who are designated as Living National Treasures in Japan. I had a feeling that the Institute of Wajima Lacquer Arts had provided students methodical training program as well as a professional working environment.

Leaving the land of urushi art, now I can partially understand the real value of urushi art in the Japanese culture and the special respect of Japanese people for it. It is in places like Wajima Museum of Urushi Art and Institute of Wajima Lacquer Arts that traditional Japanese culture is preserved, developed and transmitted to future generations. (Nguyen Ngoc Minh)

Wajima Urushi Museum
Institute of Wajima Urushi Arts