Hon’ami Koetsu was a calligrapher and artist in the early Edo period. He was also well known as the leading tea master of the time.
Hon’ami Koetsu was born into a family of swordsmiths who created and sharpened swords in Kyoto. He showed talent in a wide range of fields including calligraphy, pottery, lacquer, publishing, architecture and landscape design.
He especially excelled in calligraphy and, along with Konoe Nobutada and Shokodo Shojo, he came to be known as one of the Three Brushes of the Kan’ei Era (Kan’ei no Sanpitsu) . He founded his own personal style known as Koetsu-ryu, developed from the Japanese calligraphy style.
Hon’ami is also credited with founding the Rimpa School in the field of painting, together with Tawaraya Sotasu and Ogata Korin. His works include Rakuyaki Kamigawa-chawan ceramic teacups and Funabashi Makie Suzuribako lacquer work- both of which are designated as National Treasures, and Tsurushitae-wakakan painting, designated as an Important Cultural Asset.
In 1615, Hon’ami began an artist community called Koetsu-mura or Koetsu village in Takagamine, north of Kyoto, in the land granted by Tokugawa Ieyasu. He developed his own artistic style further and was also believed to have supervised all the work there.
Suruga lacquer ware is characterized by the use of Makie. Makie is a decorative technique in which gold and silver powder is spread over the lacquered surface to create beautiful patterns. After spreading the powder, it is dried, applied raw lacquer to fix the powder, ground with charcoal, dried again through the process of suri-urushi (applying and wiping off lacquer again and again), and given a final grind to finish. The craft dates back to 1828, when Senzo Nakagawa, a lacquerer living in the Suruga region, acquired the skill of Makie and used it in his lacquering processes. In 1830, two Makie lacquerers, Tomekichi and Senjiro Kobayashi, came from Edo (present-day Tokyo) and taught their skills to the local craftsmen, which highly enhanced Makie techniques in this region. Suruga lacquer ware was one of the representative export products from the Meiji period (1868-1912) through the early Showa period (1926-1989), but after World War II, lacquer ware was considered as expensive luxury not suitable for daily use. Today, articles such as suzuribako (box for writing equipment), trays, fubako (letter box), flower vessels, geta (Japanese sandals), and accessories are being made.
Awano lacquer ware (Awano Shunkei-nuri) is a traditional handicraft that is counted as one of Japan’s 3 Fine Shunkei Lacquer Ware together with Hida Shunkei in Gifu Pref. and Noshiro Shunkei in Akita Pref. This is the oldest Shunkei lacquering technique in Japan. Its origin dated back to 1489, when Minamoto no Yoshiaki, the castellan of Inagawa castle, began lacquering in present-day Awa, Shirosato-machi, Ibaraki Pref. The hardest kind of Hinoki cypress is cut into pieces, planed, and assembled by using wooden nails made of Deutzia. Then the surface is polished with Equisetum (horsetails) and allpied lacquer bringing out the beauty of straight grains. This lacquering technique is characterized by the use of Japanese plum vinegar to enhance the transparency and create beautiful color shade. Nowadays trays, jubako boxes, lunch boxes and ink-stone boxes are produced.
Nara lacquer ware has a history of 1,300 years, an example of which is preserved at Shosoin (the Imperial Repository). This very attractive handicraft is characterized by the technique of Raden (mother-of-pearl inlaying), in which green snails, abalones, or butterfly shells are cut into pieces to create patterns, pasted to the cypress wood board, and inlayed with lacquer. The lacquered surface is polished in the final step of the process to give it gloss. This lacquering technique flourished as part of the Tempyo Culture, which developed with the introduction of Buddhism in the Nara period (710-794). It is supposed that not only finished products were imported to Japan but also lacquerers came from China and taught lacquering techniques to Japanese craftsmen. Nara lacquering has continued to the present time going through various changes from applying lacquer to temple and shrine buildings in the Middle Age, tea utensils in Azuchi-Momoyama period, when tea ceremony was established, and then to applying lacquer to armors in the Edo period. Presently, suzuribako (box for writing equipment), jewelry boxes, and fubako (letter box) with beautiful Raden work are all popular among nationwide enthusiasts.
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.