Gohara lacquer ware is a traditional handicraft in Hiruzen, Maniwa City, Okayama Prefecture. It is designated as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property by the prefecture. It is said that the craft dates back to the Meitoku era (1390-1400) of the Muromachi period. The production reached its peak in the Edo period (1603-1868), when a lot of Gohara lacquer products were shipped to areas in the Sanin region.
Local chestnut wood is cut in a round slice, which is directly placed on a turner and shaped into a desired form, by which the grains of wood remain unimpaired. Then natural lacquer from Bicchu area (the southwestern part of the prefecture) is applied many times to create solid surface.
Because of its beautiful curbs of grains as well as the practicability for daily use, Gohara lacquered vessels are still loved by many people.
Hida Shunkei lacquer ware is a traditional handicraft in the cities of Takayama and Hida in Gifu Prefecture. The origin of this craft dates back to 1606. A head carpenter, who were engaged in building temples and shrines in the castle town of Takayama, happened to discover beautiful straight grains, when he chopped a piece of sawara cypress wood apart. He made it into a tray and lacquered the surface. Because the coloring of this tray resembled “Hishunkei,” a famous tea ceremony tea jar made by master potter, Kato Kagemasa, the name Shunkei was given to this lacquer ware.
What makes Hida Shunkei lacquer ware so special is the way that the beauty of the surface of the wood is brought out by the application of a transparent coating of lacquer. It is also characterized by its delicate technique of hegime (grooves that are carved out between the wood grains). When exposed to the light, the grains with hegime grooves glow gold through the transparent lacquer. The more it is used, the more gloss it takes on. Hida Shunkei is extremely appealing and robust form of lacquer ware.
Neriagede is an artistic technique for creating ceramic pottery by layering or blending of clay of different colors to create a striped or marbleized effect. It requires high level of pottery techniques. Quite simply saying, it can be a little like making a tiered cake (baumkuhen).
The Neriagede shaping process comprises the steps of stacking alternately a plurality of clay boards differing from each other in color, which creates beautiful striped or marble-like patterns. In order to avoid cracking and breaking which come along with mixing a variety of different kinds of clay or during firing, high level of thechniques and extensive experiences are required.
The thechnique of Neriagede is said to be derived from the marbeling tchnique (called “Kotai” in Japan) in the Tang Dynasty China in the 7th century. It is said to have been introduced to Japan around the Azuchi-momoyama period (1568-1598), for there are several pieces of Neriagede pottery, which were supposedly made in this era, have been found.
In recent years, the techniques to color the clay itself is invented and more complex and highly artistic works are being created. New “layers” of the techniques are overlapped on to the traditional “layers,” which continuously propels the development of this high-leveled ceramic ware.
It is said that Sendai Chests were created by a local carpenter during the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568-1598). They are solid, yet elegant chests made of zelkova or chestnut wood. The surface of the wood is finished with kijiro lacquer to create transparent coating to bring out the beauty of the grains.
As Sendai Chests were originally made for warriors, they are contrived to contain long things such as a sword or a hakama (a formal men’s divided long skirt). They are also characterized with elaborate metal fittings on which patterns of dragons, Chinese lions, peony flowers and arabesques are hammered out. About 70 to 80 iron fittings are attached to one chest. This elaborate ironwork adds elegant and artistic flavor to a solid chest for men.
Further improvement has been made in skills and techniques, and products in new styles that fit the modern life have been added to the traditional product line. Going through a history of 500 years, they still keep on changing to add colors to people’s lifestyles.
Yamanaka lacquer ware is a traditional handicraft handed down for 400 years in Kaga City, Ishikawa Prefecture. This craft dates back to the Tensho era (1570-1592) during the Azuchi-Momoyama period, when wood turners from Echizen (present-day Ishikawa Prefecture) moved to this area and taught turnery to the local workmen. In the Edo period (1603-1868), the techniques of lacquering and makie were introduced, by which the town became famous as the producing center of tea utensils.
Yamanaka lacquer ware is characterized by rokurobiki, or wheel wood carving skills, by which a block of wood place on a wheel is shaped into a bowl or a teacup holder. At the summit of wheel wood curving skill is kashoku-biki, or pattern adding wheel curving, in which quality of wood and beauty of grains are fully utilized. The turned pieces are perfect in shape without any deformation and they are works of art in themselves. In Yamanaka lacquer ware, the excellent skills of turners, which are beyond all imagination from the simple appearance of the finished works, are hidden behind the application of lacquer.
Yuhei Kamata is a craftsman in Akita cedar cooperage, a traditional handicraft in Akita Pref. Born in Akita Pref. in 1933, he is the 11th generation of Tarutomi Kamata. He was designated as a Traditional Craftsman in 1985.
Akita cedar cooperage has a long history. Several parts of tubs dating from the 15th and 16th centuries were discovered at the ruins of Akita castle. In the early Edo period (the 17th C), the production of tubs and barrels was encouraged by the Akita domain and the name of Akita cedar cooperage became known all over the country. The wood from local cedar has a fine straight grain because of the severe winter, which maintains the superb quality of the products.
While keeping the tradition as the head of an established shop with a long history since the Edo period, he cherishes innovative mind and is always making a new challenge. He highly esteems sensibility and receptivity and tries to listens to others’ opinions. This frame of mind is fully reflected in his products, which have been used for a long time in the modern life.
Yoshiaki Fujii is a craftsman in Fukuyama koto harp, a traditional handicraft in Fukuyama City, Hiroshima Pref.
Fukuyama koto harp dates back to the early Edo period (the 17th C), when Mizuno Katsunari was enfeoffed the Fukuyama domain and built Fukuyama Castle in this town. Encouraged by the domain lord, artistic accomplishments came into boom among the wives and daughters of townspeople as well as the warrior class, from which the making of koto harps also developed in the town. The high-grade articles of Fukuyama koto harp are made of paulownia wood from Aizu area. The paulownia tree grown slowly in the cold weather has tight growth rings, which is indispensable for creating good tones.
Tough each part is made separately by different workmen using machines today, Mr. Fujii undertakes the whole processes by hand. He exerts delicate care and expert skills on each product. When he encounters a wood of beautiful grain, he is so much absorbed in the making that he feels 24 hours is too short a time, he says. As a craftsman, it is the happiest moment for him to see his harp is played with treasured care.
Akita cedar cooperage is a traditional handicraft in the area around Odate City, Akita Pref. It is designated as a Traditional Craft Product by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry. Making of tubs in this area dates back to the Heian period (794-1192). A tub in almost the same shape as the present products was discovered at the ruins of Akita Castle. In the early Edo period (the 17th century), the cooperage developed under the protection of the domain and the union of coopers was organized.
Traditional skills and a fine straight grain of local cedar that withstands the severe winter in the region contribute to producing high quality tubs and barrels. In the making of another Akita’s special product, Mage-wappa (bentwood work), a thin piece of cedar board is curved round, while in the making of tubs, pieces of strip board are placed around the bottom board and bound with a bamboo hoop. Items such as Japanese bath tubs, rice tubs and sake barrels are mainly produced now. Recently new products such as beer tankards are becoming popular.