Nikko carving is a traditional handicraft in Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture. In 1634, the 3rd Shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu declared that he was going to give a large-scale improvement to Toshogu Shrine, by which it was rebuilt into the present magnificent forms. Then he assembled as many as 1,680,000 workmen including miya-daiku (carpenters specialized in building temples and shrines), horimono-daiku (specialist carpenters engaged in transom sculpture), lacquerers, metal workers, and painters from all over the country. Among them, 400,000 were horimono-daiku and what they made at their leisure was the origin of the present Nikko carving.
After the construction of Toshogu Shrine, some of the horimono-daiku settled in the town of Nikko and were engaged in repair work or improvement work of Toshogu, while kept on making wooden trays or furniture, which were sold to sightseers as souvenirs. Since the Meiji period (1868-1912), a large number of Nikko carved products have been exported.
Most of the products are made of chestnut wood. Nikko carving products have a warm feeling of wood and a nice taste that is created by careful handiwork. There are also expensive products made with Tsuishu technique, in which thick layers of solid lacquer is engraved with designs.
Ouchi lacquer ware is a traditional handicraft in Yamaguchi City, Yamaguchi Prefecture. It is nationally designated as a Traditional Craft Product. It is said that the crafts dates back to the Muromachi period (1336-1573), when the Ouchi clan, who was a prominent figure in the area, promoted trade with Korea and Ming dynasty in China and encouraged the making of this lacquer ware for export.
Ouchi lacquer ware is first undercoated with a sober vermilion, onto which motifs of autumn grasses are applied in a yellowish green lacquer. Finally, a cloud form is drawn, onto which the Ouchi family crest in gold leaf is applied.
At the present time, bowls, trays, flower vessels and dolls are being made. Among them, Ouchi doll is the most popular product. It is said that the 24th lord of the Ouchi clan invited a doll maker from Kyoto and asked him to make a doll for his wife, who had been missing the life in Kyoto. Its cute facial expression attracts people who wish a happy married life.
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.
Celadon, or Seiji in Japanese, is a pottery that has a long history dating back to the 1st century in China. Its origin goes even further back to more than 3,500 years ago when China began making real glazed ceramics called “primitive porcelain” during the Yin Dynasty. The techniques of making Seiji, whose distinctive color is created when iron in glass-quality glaze glows a deep blue/green like color during reduction firing, was established during the Later Han period around the 1st century and since then it has been followed rigorously to this day.
Seiji became popular in other countries and, after around the 9th century, it was exported extensively to Japan, the Korean peninsula and other Southeast Asian countries. Especially in Japan where China was highly regarded at that time, Seiji was actively collected and copied, and production techniques were rapidly refined.
Because Seiji tea cup brightens the color of green tea inside, Seiji became essential for use during the tea ceremony and has been much valued by tea masters, feudal lords and temples over the years.
Seiji, with its exquisite graceful hues of blue that evokes the transparent sea and subtle green, enchants people’s hearts around the world.
It is Kanazawa gold leaf that has given glitter to Kinkakuji Temple, Nikko Toshogu Shrine, and many other handicraft works such as lacquer ware, Buddhist altars, fabrics, and Kutani ware. The city of Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture has a 400-year history of producing gold leaf and is the only place in Japan where gold leaf is still made.
During the Edo period (1603-1868), the Tokugawa Shogunate set up a gilders’ guild and confined the production of gold leaf only to Edo and Kyoto. However, the Kaga domain maintained production a secret in order to promote the domain’s industry. With a lot of rain and snow, the climate in this area was suitable for making gold leaf, which contributed the development of this craft. During World War I, when supply of gold and silver leaf from Germany was stopped and replaced by Kanazawa leaf, it secured itself an important position in the world.
Kanazawa gold leaf craftsmen can pound a piece of gold in the size of a 10 yen coin evenly into the size of two tatami mats. Even though gold leaf is so thin that we can see through it, the brightness and evenness of the final leaf are not lost. Pounding gold leaf requires refined techniques for each process, which enabled numerous cultural properties to be handed down to the present day.
Buzan Fukuyama, born in 1944, is a craftsman in Kutani Ware, a traditional handicraft in Ishikawa Pref. He was designated as a Traditional Craftsman by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry in 1990, and designated as an Intangible Cultural Property by the prefecture.
Kutani Ware was made in the Kaga domain (present-day Ishikawa Pref.) in the early Edo period (the 17th C); however, production suddenly ceased. It was revived in the late Edo period (the 19th C) and has thrived into the world famous porcelain. Its gorgeous designs are popular among foreigners.
Mt. Fukuyama specializes in “Akae (red drawing).” Though he has never apprenticed to anyone and learned everything for himself from how to dissolve colors to how to overgraze, his delicate touches are outstanding. He always tries to caution himself to avoid compromise, which seems to have resulted in his solid skills and vivid designs.
Eiichi Kuroda is a craftsman in Suruga Sensuji (a thousand splints) basket ware, a traditional handicraft in Shizuoka prefecture. Born in 1931, has been a bamboo craftsman all his life for 50 years. He especially excels at the technique of Kyokusen-mage (curving). He was designated as a Traditional Craftsman by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry in 1986. He has been awarded a lot of prizes at competitions including the Director-General of Kanto Bureau of International Trade Prize in 1991, the Director-General of Kanto Bureau of Economy, Trade and Industry Prize and the President of the Association for the Promotion of Traditional Craft Industries Prize in 2001.
This craft dates back to the early Edo period (1603-1868). It is said that the first product of this craft was a feedbox for hawks that Tokugawa Ieyasu used for hunting. The making of bamboo craft spread among local warriors as a side job. It developed into a local business in the Meiji period (1868-1912) and Sensuji bamboo ware was favored as the article of export.
Mr. Kuroda handles resilient bamboo strips at will. It is said that his works have such original aesthetic property that anyone can recognize who made them no matter where they are placed. Besides making effort to brush up his skills that were handed down from his grandfather, he also makes efforts to train young craftsmen to promote this craftwork.
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.