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.
In Japanese, the word 'koshi' is a mathematical term for equidistant segments and dividers. Generally, though, koshi is used to represent lattice doors or iron grates.
From olden times, Japanese lattice doors were doors of temple-style architecture. This changed during the late Heian period when double sliding doors became more popular. Black laquered sliding lattice doors are described in the 'Tale of Genji Picture Scroll' and the 'Annual Event Picture Scroll'.
Lattice doors can separate spaces, ventilate rooms, take in light and make rooms look more beautiful, all at the same time. All of these things connect to the introduction of shoji: paper sliding doors.
Ezaki Guji is an Edo lacquerware craftsman, and was born in 1913 in Akita prefecture.
Ezaki's father was a Kawatsura lacquerware craftsman. After graduation, Ezaki studied the craft of lacquerware from his father. In 1931, at the age of 18, he moved to Tokyo to study under a lacquering craftsman in Asakusa.
Edo lacquerware developed as a craft during the period of the fifth Tokugawa shogun Tsunayoshi (1646–1709), and was being used by commoners as everyday objects by the period of the eighth shogun Yoshimune (1684-1751).
Many different kinds of Edo lacquerware vessels and utensils are produced, including objects for the tea ceremony and for low tables.
Ezaki set up his own business in Katsushika-ku, Tokyo, in 1946. Until 1950, he lacquered and assembled sacred portable shrines for Tokyo's Asakusa district. Now, he is mainly engaged in lacquering drums, lion-dance masks and portable shrines.
Ezaki says: 'The basic preparation in lacquering is vital. The surface might look similar at first, but the longer you use it, the more tasteful the best ware gets.'
In 1995, he was designated as a Tokyo Traditional Craftsman of Katsushika-ku.
Toshimichi Shiraishi is an Edo lacquerware craftsman, born in 1937 in Horikiri, Katsushika-ku, Tokyo.
Toshimichi's father was also a craftsman. In 1953, Toshimichi was apprenticed to a craftsman in Senju. In 1963, when he was 26, he set up on his own.
Edo lacquerware became popular in the early Edo period when the shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, invited Kyoto lacquerware craftsmen to move to the capital. Since then, the craft developed mainly to make strong practical ware, such as sushi boxes and buckwheat noodle steamers.
Toshimichi's lacquerware is amazingly inexpensive for its quality. Now, the emphasis of his practice is to repair lacquerware. 'Whether it is chipped or cracked, any wooden ware can be fixed repeatedly and once fixed, it will keep for another several years. I'm willing to fix any lacquerware,' he says.
Toshimichi has been designated as a Tokyo Traditional Craftsman, a Traditional Craftsman of Katsushika-ku, and a National Lacquerware Development First-Class Technician.