Kitamura Shosai is an urushi lacquerware artist who was born in 1938. As the holder of the intangible cultural heritage of 'raden' he is a Living National Treasure and an official repairer of urushi craft.
Kitamura Shosai actively works on both preserving and creating cultural assets. Raden is a decorating skill using mother-of-pearl inlay work on lacquerware and woodware.
Kitamura Shosai was born into an hereditary family of urushi craftsmen. After graduating in fine art from Tokyo National University of Fine Arts & Music, he practiced and cultivated his urushi techniques. His sophisticated technique of 'atsu-gai raden' is an original development from a tradition. His combination of 'hishimon' and 'hanamon' patterning makes his pieces stand out and draws praise for their beauty as a contemporary art form.
The pearl industry flourishes in Shima, Mie prefecture, while Ago Bay is known as the 'home of pearls'. It is also famous as the place where pearl cultivation originated.
In 1893, Kokichi Mikimoto extracted five half-circled pearls from a pearl oyster during an experiment, proving that pearls could be cultivated from oysters. Pearl cultivation around Ago Bay in Mie prefecture really took off after that discovery.
Today, in Ago Bay eight pearl culture cooperative associations and four fisheries cooperative associations are licensed to cultivate the pearls.
Pearl culture requires several different fishing grounds for each developmental process of the pearl oyster, and it is necessary to take great care with the water temperature and to protect against red tides.
Today, pearl cultivation techniques in Mie prefecture are highly valued across the nation. The pearls are recognized for their high quality, and have received awards at national pearl culture fairs almost every year.
Ago Bay lies to the south of the Shima Peninsula in Mie Prefecture. It is the biggest landlocked bay in the Shima Peninsula and has a saw-toothed coastline. Big and small, innumerable islands like Kashiko Island are very impressive.
Ago Bay is famous for pearl culture and, in the early Showa period, it was called Pearl Bay. Ago Bay is where a genuine round pearl was invented for the first time in the world, and it is said 'Ago Bay is the home of the pearl'.
The name 'Ago' dates back to the time of the Emperor Tenmu. In prehistoric times, many peoples lived here. There are many stone age tools found here, which were brought from remote Shinshu, evidence of the movements of prehistoric man in Japan.
Ago Bay appears at the beginning of Japanese history, and is a very time-honored sea. The pearl rafts are charming sights, unique to this district and a pleasure for visitors to see.
Gokashowan is a ria (submerged coastal landform), or a drowned valley by the sea. It is located within the Ise-shima National Park in Mie Prefecture. The water is surrounded by a strip of land that connects Tasosaki, Nansei-cho, Watarai-gun, Mie Prefecture and Tomenohana, Nansei-cho along the shore.
Gokashowan Bay is also called the Fuukouwan (Fuukou Bay) and is a representative example of a ria with many bays and inlets within its drowned valley. The mouth of the bay is about 2.6km wide, 22.2 km2 in area, and is 27m deep at its deepest point.
Within the bay, many types of coastal fishing take place, using fixed shore nets, gill nets and purse seine nets. Apart from coastal fishing, pearls, nori (laver), hamachi (young yellowfish) and tai (bream) are farmed here. In the Shukutaso area, deep-sea fishing for katsuo (bonito) and maguro (tuna) takes place. Additionally, many types of amusements can be enjoyed, including swimming, camping, sailing and fishing for fun.
As well as being the 'backdoor' to the beautiful scenic spots of Ise-shima, Gokashowan Bay has been, and still is, the central and most prominent spot for fisheries in all of Nansei.
Raden is a decorative technique used in traditional crafts. The Raden kashiki (Raden sweets bowl) is one example of traditional Ryuyku lacquerware.
The craft of Raden-work involves a technique of framing and pasting the pearls of turban shells and abalones, then adjusting and grinding them into patterned shapes on a lacquer-coated surface. This technique comes from a decorative technique where light is beautifully reflected in blues and whites. The lacquer-coated surfaces are carved in patterns, while the shells are fixed with lacquer paste to the surface. Some Raden-work features engraving on the shell itself as decoration.
Raden includes decoration not only using shell, but also using amber, tortoiseshell and pieces of metal. Decoration using gold and silver is not called Raden, but Hyoumon or Heitatsu.
Raden kashiki is one example of Ryukyu lacquerware that developed uniquely from earlier lacquerware techniques introduced from China.
Iroha Island is a general term for the island chain consists of 48 large and small islands located in Imari Bay, a part of Genkai Quasi National Park in Saga Pref. It is said that the Buddhist great priest, Kukai (Kobo-Daishi) named them after 48 letters in the ancient Japanese alphabet. The green islands including Bentenjima or Hotatejima in the blue ocean are so beautiful that even Kukai, who was a master of calligraphy, is said to have stopped writing for a moment. The landscape of Iroha Island changes according to the ebb and flood. When the tide ebbs, mud flat appears and the islands are connected together to create scenic beauty, which reminds you of a stone garden in Kyoto. The ocean is not only beautiful but also bounteous. This calm bay is known for cultivation of quality pearls. Oysters in this bay are also famous. In winter you can taste really fresh natural oysters.