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.
The paint brush known as hake has been used since ancient times. According to some documents dating back to Heian period, feathers from millet plants were used to paint lacquer onto such things as bowls and bows and arrows.
Edo Hake was an important tool and played a vital role for Edo-influenced artisans from various fields. The word, Edo Hake, first appeared in a product guide book called “Mankin-sugiwai-bukuro”, published in the middle of Edo period. In the book, Edo Hake was introduced as a brush to apply glue for mounting. There are seven kinds of brushes that are designated as Edo Hake: Kyouji Hake, Senshoku Hake, Ningyou Hake, Urushi Hake, Mokuhan Hake, Oshiroi Hake and Tosou Hake.
Modern Edo Hake now uses human hair and animal hair such as horse, deer and goat as well as plant fibers from box tree and hemp palm. Because many hairs are curly to some degree and contain oil, both of which prevent craftsmen from attempting subtle work, a good part of the production process is dedicated to strengthening the hair and eliminating grease from the hair.
The most vital part of the brush is the edge of the hair which is evaluated for its evenness and firmness. It is an essential job for the brush makers to make a careful examination in selecting the best materials.
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.
Niigata lacquer ware is a traditional handicraft in the cities of Niigata and Kamo in Niigata Prefecture. It is a nationally designated Traditional Craft Product. As a port used by Kitamae ships in the Edo period (1603-1868), various cultures were brought into this town both by land and sea, which contributed to the development of various craft techniques in this area.
It is said that the making of lacquer ware in Niigata started during the Genna era (1615-1624). In 1638, an authorized specialist area for selling lacquered goods was established under the name of “Wan-dana (bowl store)” in present-day Furumachi-dori Shichibancho.
Niigata lacquer ware is characterized by a number of different styles, which have been developed since the Meiji period (1868-1912). These techniques include take-nuri, which simulates the appearance of bamboo, contrived by Kyuhei Yoshida, kinma-nuri using gold leaf by Heikichi Meguro, isokusa-nuri (expressing sea-grass), hana-nuri (lacquering without grinding), nishiki-nuri (with patterns of gold) and ishime-nuri (with stone-like appearance). Among them, the solid and elegant take-nuri style is the most famous as the original lacquering techniqeu of Niigata lacquer ware.
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.
Owase wappa is a traditional handicraft in Owase City, Mie Prefecture. It was widely used as a lunchbox by common people in the Edo period (1603-1868). Located in a part of ancient Kii province, which was called “Country of Tree,” Owase was known as a production center of high quality lumber. Owase wappa is made of wood from locally grown Japanese cypress trees. This lunchbox has been and is still favored not just because it is beautiful but because it is so durable as to be used for scores of years and its lacquer coat has bactericidal effect. As it is contrived to vent the air inside, it keeps food warm in winter and prevents rot in summer. In the making of Owase wappa, it is impossible to mechanize any one of the processes, so the manufacturing processes of as many as 45 different stages are all done by hand even today.
A “menpa” made in Ikawa, Shizuoka City, Shizuoka Prefecture, is a kind of lunchbox used by mountain workers in the old times. It still attracts a lot of hikers and people working outdoors for its beautiful gloss of natural lacquer and excellent rice preserving feature.
It is said that menpa was first made in this area in the Kamakura period (1192-1333). In the Muromachi period (1336-1573), the village of Ikawa was flourished with gold mining, for which dippers and tubs were in request and skills in bentwood work developed. Later, farmers started to make menpa as a side job.
Made of Japanese cypress wood coated with natural lacquer, Ikawa menpa keeps food warm in winter and prevents it from going bad in summer. If you eat rice from Ikawa menpa, you can enjoy a heartwarming taste that can’t be gotten from an ordinary modern lunchbox.
Tanabu Festival held on August 18 to 20 in Mutsu City in Aomori Prefecture is the largest summer festival in the Shimokita region. It serves as the annual festival of Tanabu Shrine, designated as the shrine housing the head guardian god of the region in the Edo period (1603-1868). The festival is prefecturally designated as an intangible folk cultural peroperty.
The origin of the festival is unknown; however, as Tanabu Festival is referred to in the travel diary written in 1793 by Masumi Sugae, a natural historian in the Edo period, it is believed that the festival began in much earlier eras.
The five floats lacquered in black and gorgeously decorated in the style of Gion Festival in Kyoto are brought from five sub-towns of Tanabe Town for the parade through the city. The floats have two stories; the deity of each sub-town is enshrined on the upper story, while the Ohayashi musicians called “Noriko (men who ride on)” are playing elegant Gion-bayashi on the lower story.
The highlight of the festival is “Goshawakare (the farewell parting of the five floats),” which takes place at 11 P.M. on the night of August 20. The five floats leave the shrine for the main crossroad of the town, where float-pullers and spectators are entertained with sake in a barrel and promise to hold the festival again in the following year; then they return to their own neighborhood.