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.
Ishikawa Prefecture was once ruled by the Kaga Clan, known as a “Hyakumangoku” clan or one million“Koku”clan. Koku was a measure of the domain’s production and the Kaga clan’s Hyakumangoku ranking indicated the extreme wealth of the region. Kanazawa Paulownia Woodwork, with its distinctly flamboyant design, has been produced in the region since the era of the Kaga clan.
Kanazawa Paulownia woodwork is unique-to-the-region. It combines the high quality Paulownia wood, which thrives in the region due to the heavy snowfall each year, and the Makie lacquer technique, a craft promoted by Maeda Oshitsune, the third lord of the Kaga clan.
While a more common Paulownia features a white chest of drawers, Kanezawa’s chests of drawers are different. Their surface is first burnt and polished to create a characteristic burnt look, then Makie lacquer is applied. The lightness of Paulownia wood and distinctive tone of its color result in woodwork that is truly original.
In the Meiji period, Shouku Oogaki, regarded as a great master of Kaga Makie, developed the technique of applying Makie lacquer to the Paulownia Hibachi, a charcoal brazier. These gained popularity all over Japan and greatly increased the desire for Kanazawa Paulownia woodwork nationwide.
In the Ishikawa prefecture, the Paulownia Hibachi became a necessary household article for new brides. Paulownia Hibachis were regarded as essential for heating in the winter and they were once widely used all over Japan.
Naruko lacquer ware is a traditional handicraft in Naruko Onsen, Osaki City, Miyagi Prefecture. It is a nationally designated Traditional Craft Product. During the Kanei era (1624-1643) in the Edo period, the lord of the Iwadeyama domain, Date Toshichika, dispatched a lacquerer, Murata Uhei, and a makie craftsman, Kikuta Sanzo, to Kyoto to develop their skills in order to promote the local lacquering industry. Naruko lacquer ware has been handed down by their descendents up to the present day.
The traditional lacquering techniques include kijiro-nuri, which enhances the beautiful grains of the wood, fuki-urusi finishing, and ryumon-nuri, which produces a marbling effect. Each product has limpid beauty brought out by these traditional techniques. As lacquer is applied and rubbed down repeatedly many times to create a thick surface, Naruko lacquer ware is durable for a long-term daily use.
Jubako lunch boxes come in various shapes such as cylindrical or hexagonal, but the most common is square.
Jubako are basically lunch boxes for food. They may have up to 5 layers. Officially, these layers represent the 4 seasons, so there are usually only 4 layers. Jubako may hold special food such as 'osechi' at New Year, or for hanami cherry-blossom-viewing picnics, or during athletic festivals.
It is believed that jubako developed from 'food baskets' ('shilong') introduced from China. However, there are references to lunch boxes in Muromachi-period documents, therefore, it could be said that jubako have a long history.
During the Edo period, jubako came to be used by common people, too, and their real manufacture began in 1610. Samurai and daimyo used them as lunch boxes during leisure outings, such as hunting expeditions. Later, they started to be lacquered and decorated. Even now, this traditional item is commonly used in Japan.
Japanese boxwood combs are not simply tools for the coiffure but also hair ornaments for women. Combs have an ancient history in Japan. They are depicted on ancient clay tomb figures of the Jomon Period (up to 200 B.C.), and a boxwood comb is referred to in a poem in the Manyoshu. Boxwood combs became objects of luxury; some are beautifully carved and others are decorated with Makie (gold and silver sprinkling). They have been flattered women’s beauty all through the times.
Boxwood combs attract special attention in these days as effective hair care tools, for they don’t produce static electricity, they don’t cause split ends or hair breakage, and their strokes are smooth and gentle.
In Kyoto, the production of boxwood combs started in the Heian period (794-1192). Because softness and gentleness of boxwood are ideal not only to human scalps but also to many traditional handicraft materials, boxwood combs are used as tools for producing wide variety of craft products typical to Kyoto such as Tsuzure-ori (tapestry weaving) in Nishijin and Kyo-dolls.
Shizuoka Pref. has been known for producing paraphernalia for the Hina Matsuri (doll festival), which included a sewing box, tea utensils, a chest, nagamochi (Japanese trunk), and a scissor case. Those items were originally made to mock the gorgeous bridal trousseau of a warrior’s family in the Edo period. Though miniature, they are made as elaborately as real things. Hina doll fittings had been already made in the Suruga district in the 16th century, when the Imagawa clan ruled the province. In the Edo period (1603-186), carpenters with advanced craft techniques were called together to construct Kunosan Toshogu Shrine and Sengen Shrine. Many of them settled down in this area and taught their techniques to the local craftsmen, by which the production of hina doll fittings greatly developed. The main characteristics of Suruga Hina industry is that all the parts are made separately by craftsmen specializing in woodwork, lacquering, Makie decoration, or metal work. It is said that the industry took off because of this style of specialization and it also made mass production possible. The warm humid climate of the area and its geographical condition of being located between the nation’s two largest consumption centers, Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto, furthered the growth of hina doll fitting industry in the Suruga region.
Makie, a lacquer working technique, is a traditional craftwork passed down through generations for over 1,500 years.
While other lacquer techniques such as “Hyoumon” and “Raden” originated in China, the oldest evidence of Makie lacquer was discovered inside Shousouin Temple. It is believed the Makie technique is indigenous to Japan and is unique in the world.
The word “makie” come from “maki” meaning “sprinkle” and “e” meaning “painting”.
In the makie technique, patterns and pictures are drawn on to lacquer ware with lacquer, and while they are still wet, gold and silver metal powders are sprinkled on to designs adhering to the wet lacquer.
Any excess powder protruding from the drawings and remaining unattached to the surface are later brushed off, thus allowing beautiful patterns to finally emerge.
Makie is further divided by its techniques: Tokidashi Makie, Hira Makie, Taka Makie, Shishiai Makie, Rankaku Makie among others. The technique of “shading off” by a way of sprinkling the powder is also used. Makie is an art form with a wide variety of expressions.
The fact that metal powders are not pasted, but “sprinkled” might give some insight into the Japanese characteristic of being finely tuned to details.
Tamamushi lacquer ware was developed in 1932 by Shun Koiwa (artist name: Komei), who taught at National Tohoku Craftworks Institute established in Sendai by the old Ministry of Commerce and Industry in 1928. Traditional lacquering techniques and some innovative techniques were combined together to create a product with styles favored by foreign people.
The origin of the name Tamamushi comes from the fact that it glitters just like a Tamamushi (jewel beetle). After a base coating with lacquer, silver power is sprinkled on the surface, over which lacquer is applied 10 times, or in special cases 40-50 times. Because of this silver coating and repeated lacquering processes, its color is iridescent and mysteriously beautiful. In the final stage, patterns are drawn and decorated with the techniques of Chinkin (gold-inlay carving) or Makie (gold and silver powdering).
In the post-war period, it became very popular in foreign countries and became the major lacquer ware item for export. Today, it enjoys a good reputation domestically and overseas as the lacquer ware that fits both Japanese and Western lifestyles.