In the second year of the Keicho period (1597), Ukita Hideie, one of Toyotomi's five major feudal lords, built Okayama Castle. Because the castle is covered with black-lacquered wood amd appears predominantly dark, it is popularly known as Crow Castle, in contrast to the white Himeji Castle in the neighboring prefecture, which is called Egret Castle.
The four-layered, six-storeyed donjon is said to have been made in imitation of Azuchi Castle. Okayama Castle was a pioneer of new construction methods, influencing modern Edo castles such as Osaka Castle, built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Hiroshima Castle, built by Mori Terumoto. The castle's turrets and stone walls give it a masculine and austere appearance.
During World War II, the tower and Ishiyama Gate were destroyed, but in 1966 the tower was rebuilt on the basis of a design found at Okayama University. In 1996, it was completely renovated and gilded tiles and gargoyles were installed. The Tsukimi Yagura (three-storied turret), which survived the war, is designated as an Important National Cultural Asset.
Located inside the grounds of the garden of Kenrokuen, Seisonkaku Villa was built in 1863. It was originally named 'Tatsumi-goten' and was built by the 13th lord of the Kaga Domain, Nariyasu Maeda, as a retreat for his mother Takako (wife of the 12th lord Narinaga Maeda).
Seisonkaku Villa is located in the southeast section ('tatsumi') of Kanazawa Castle, hence its original name Tatsumi-goten. Additionally, the name derives from the Tatsumiden built by the Takatsuka clan in Kyoto.
The building is two storeys high, with the first floor built in Shoin-style architecture and the second floor in Sukiya-style architecture. It is designated as an Important National Cultural Asset and is also a representative example of late-Edo architecture.
The elegant interior decoration indicates great consideration by the architect. Instead of walls made of earthen elements, paper is used flamboyantly, along with crimson lacquer for the first floor. On top of this, mica and gold are used for designs and ornaments. On the whole, rich decoration is a dominant characteristic of Seisonkaku Villa.
Tobizuruen, the garden of the villa, is also designated as a national scenic spot. Seisonkaku Villa is currently a historical museum.
Edo Wazao are fishing poles made from natural bamboo, with structures that vary depending on the kind of fish to be caught and the fishing place.
These rod-poles were first produced in the mid-Edo period; by the end, they were an established artistic handicraft known as Edo Wazao.
The quality of the pole depends on the material used, which varies according to the bamboo and the lacquer finish. Craftsmen cut the bamboo themselves, selecting the best from among thousands.
Edo Wazao are still used today, their forms are adapted to the types of fish caught and the fishing place. In some cases, they are easier to use than up-to-date rods.
Edo Wazao represent the epitome of craftsmanship meeting the demands of the Edo people, who wished to fish in a land blessed with sea or rivers.
Edo lacquerware is a simple, tough and practical handicraft. It dates back to 1590, when the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, living in Edo castle, invited Kyoto lacquerware artisans to Edo.
During the rule of Tsunayoshi, the fifth shogun, a coating technique was developed, and by the rule of Yoshimune, the eighth shogun, lacquerware was being made into food vessels. Ordinary people loved to use lacquerware as layered boxes for eel dishes, bowls for buckwheat noodles (soba) and other practical, functional utensils.
Today, many kinds of lacquerware are produced for tea ceremony utensils, as low tables, etc., which show the development of technique and tradition from the Edo period.
Outside Japan, while ceramics from China are referred to as china to this day, in the same way, lacquerware from Japan was once known as japan ware. Edo lacquerware is one excellent example of a Japanese handicraft used in everyday life.
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.
Twun-Dar-Bun are appetizer vessels, exclusive to Okinawa, and are magnificent examples of Ryukyu lacquerware.
Twun-dar-bun was originally a kind of bowl introduced from China and means in Chinese: 'bowl with meals to welcome the guest'. In Ryukyu, this bowl form became decorated using the techniques of Ryukyu lacquerware that were typically Okinawan.
Apart from being such gorgeous vessels, the food usually presented in these containers was as sumptuous and expensive as the container itself. Such containers were often used on important occasions such as weddings and 60th-birthday celebrations. They were used on New Year holidays, too.
It seems that the term Twun-Dar-Bun originally referred to the container itself. But now refers to the container as well as the meal inside.
Today, the classic octagonal Twun-Dar-Bun bowl is representative of Ryukyu cuisine, and recalls the gracious past of the Ryukyu Kingdom.
Ryukyu lacquerware is a traditional craft with a history of 600 years in Okinawa. It is mainly produced in Naha and in the town of Haebaru in Shimajiri county.
Ryukyu lacquerware dates back to the 14th and 15th centuries. Its skilful and artistic qualities were highly appreciated, making it one of the most sought-after luxury exports from Okinawa to China and Japan.
Gorgeous and technically advanced tables, writing boxes, food containers and trays were crafted under the Kaizuri-Bugyousho, a department of lacquerware manufacturing established by the Ryukyu kingdom. Technically and artistically high-standard lacquerware was produced. In particular, the 'tsuikin' method of creating designs in relief is a decorative technique only seen in Ryukyu lacquerware.
The bright vermilion color of this lacquerware is unequaled elsewhere. The contrast of black and vermilion is audacious and innovative. It is one further example of the special characteristics of Ryukyu lacquerware.