Takaoka lacquerware originated about four centuries ago in Takaoka, Toyama Prefecture. Takaoka lacquerware crystallises the wisdom and skills of this craft and is closely linked to the history of this area.
Takaoka lacquerware was first made in the early Edo period, when the head of the Kaga Domain, Maeda Toshinaga, built Takaoka Castle and needed the locals to lacquer weapons and daily commodities for him, such as drawers and trays with legs.
The local craft further developed when techniques for coloring lacquer, known as 'tsuishu' and 'tsuikoku', were imported from China. Other features of this craft are lacquering techniques that use ground powders ('sabi-e'), beautiful stones or iridescent shells to decorate surfaces with scenery, figures and patterns.
In the mid-Meiji period, another technique was established. Known as 'chokoku-nuri', it builds up various colored lacquers to give a three-dimensional sculptural effect that elegantly recalls the Kamakura period.
The mastery and skill of this craft were recognised in 1975, when Takaoka lacquerware was designated as a National Traditional Handicraft.
The umbrella was invented in ancient China as a canopy to be held over a nobleman. In 552, during the Asuka period, the umbrella was introduced to Japan through Kudara (the Korean peninsula) as part of Buddhist ceremonies.
The umbrella in Japan was originally called 'kinugasa', but because it came from China ('kara'), it was also called 'karakasa'. The original form of the umbrella was improved over time: the center tube and ribs were made from bamboo, and the covering was made from oilpaper, waterproofed with persimmon, linseed oil and China wood oil. Despite its strong water resistance, its major flaws were that it was neither light nor durable.
There are two types of Japanese umbrella: the bangasa (coarse oilpaper umbrella) and janomegasa (snake-eye umbrella/paper umbrella). The janomegasa is made from paper, is blue in the center and at the edges, and white in between, and looks like the eye of a snake when viewed from above. This umbrella does have variations, such as painted black rings on the surface and the application of other astringent materials.
Currently, the kano umbrella, made in Kano, Gifu Prefecture, is proud to be to the only place in Japan to be a major producer of traditional Japanese umbrellas.
Aizu lacquerware is a traditional handicraft of Aizuwakamatsu City, Fukushima Prefecture. In 1590 (Tensho 17), Gamo Ujisato, a feudal lord of Aizu, invited specialist craftsmen and painters to initiate a lacquerware industry for the region.
Aizu lacquerware really took off after this, with the area becoming the main production center for the growth of urushi lacquer and decoration. In the Edo period, Aizu laquerware was the most prosperous lacquer business in Japan and was exported to China and as far afield as the Netherlands.
By the late Edo period, the area had suffered damage following the Boshin war but later revived to become one of Japan's chief centers of lacquerware production from the mid-Meiji period.
Aizu lacquerware involves several different techniques: 'tetsabu-nuri' (iron-rust coating with rust-brown lacquer); 'kinmushikui-nuri' (gold 'worm-eaten' coating using a process where the wet surface of the vessel is sprinkled with rice chaff); and 'kijiro-nuri' (a lacquer coating that reveals the natural grain of the wooden core vessel).
Aizu lacquerware features all kinds of lucky designs favored by the Japanese. As a traditional craft, Aizu lacquerware has survived for over 400 years.
Jusetsu Miwa was born in Hagi in Yamaguchi Prefecture, in the 43rd year of the Meiji period (1910). In Showa 58 (1983), he was designated as a Living National Treasure because of his expertise as a craftsman of Hagi ware.
After graduating from junior high school, he studied under his older brother, the 10th Kyusetsu, at the Miwa kiln, one of the best kilns for Hagi ware. After he was designated a Living National Treasure (following his older brother), he renamed himself Jusetsu. He is now 96 years old, but still an active potter.
Jusetsu Miwa took over 'kyusetsu white', a glaze made from straw ash, which had been acquired by his brother. With this glaze, he introduced something new to Hagi ware and established his own quite different style. It is true that he inherited the 400-year-old tradition of Hagi ware, but his works are far from just imitations. Indeed, they are so original as to attract worldwide admiration.
Manji Inoue was born in Arita in Saga Prefecture in 1929. In 1995, he was designated as a Living National Treasure because of his work with white porcelain ceramics.
In 1945, he studied the technique of white porcelain ceramics under Kakiemon Sakaida and Chuzaemon Okugawa. In 1958, he worked for the Prefectural Arita Kiln Institute and researched ceramics and glazes.
White porcelain requires that the vessels and objets produced have perfect shapes. White porcelain ware itself does not depend on decoration, while the shape itself must express neatness, warmth and dignity. Superficial techniques or camouflage will be scoffed at in white porcelains.
Mr Inoue says that 'a figure itself is a pattern'. He has pursued the craft of genuine porcelain through his expertise on the potter's wheel. 'Excellent works do not involve any idle thoughts: only technique and feeling'. He is still now sitting in front of his wheel and will not compromise over a single distortion.
Hiroshi Tajima was born in 1922. In 1999, he was designated as a Living National Treasure in yuzen dyeing.
Just after he graduated from junior-high school, Tajima studied under Shoko Takamura and Ryuji Takamura, then he learned the yuzen technique on his own. When he was 32 years old, he became independent and sent works to many exhibitions, such as the Japan Traditional Handicrafts Exhibition. In a study group, he learned from a Living National Treasure, Nakamura Katsuma, and improved his techniques.
His technique is based on traditional yuzen dyeing and the various techniques he studied. Finally he invented his original 'sekidashi-yuzen'. This features raised patterns of sekidashi-yuzen, which are richly and beautifully colored by techniques such as direct rice-glue painting. The themes of his designs are mainly based on natural things, such as wild birds, cranes, eagles, gulls and wild flowers. His artistic works stir your poetic imagination.
Yoshio Koda was born in 1929. He has been designated as a Living National Treasure for his work in Seigo Sendaihira handwoven silk.
Seigo Sendaihira is a costly thick silk cloth from Sendai. It is made from high-quality raw silk threads that have been kneaded with straw ash, dyed with natural dyes, and which are then woven by hand.
As a boy, Yoshio Koda was apprenticed to his father, Eisuke, (who was designated as a Human National Treasure in 1956), and learned the traditional skill of Seigo Sendaihira.
After his father died in 1965, Yoshio succeeded to the craft. He has been engaged not only in preserving the tradition but in making his original style. Now, he is one of the best weavers in Japan.
Fukumi Shimura was born in Omihachirin, Shiga Prefecture, in 1924. In 1990, she was designated as a Living National Treasure for her work in Tsumugi-fabric.
When she was 17, she started learning weaving from her mother. When she was 30, she decided to work independently as a Tsumugi-fabric craftsman and divorced her husband. She learned plant-dyeing on her own and made lively works one after another.
Her work's charm is in its harmony of rich colors, carefully extracted from nature's plants. She integrated traditional patterns, like stripes, with plant-dyed silk and developed Tsumugi-woven kimonos into art. Her efforts and accomplishment have been highly valued.
Shimura has made many works on the theme of historical stories; she chose 'The Tale of Genji' in particular as her lifetime work. Her gracefully woven tsumugi with plant-dyed silk presents heartfelt images from these stories .