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.
Tsuishu is a kind of Japanese traditional lacquer ware. In the making of Tsuishu, the thick layer of solid lacquer is engraved with designs such as flowers, birds, or landscapes. Tsuishu originated in China and was introduced to Japan during the Heian period (794-1192). Tsuishu ware was highly valued as tea utensils and house ornaments.
In the making of Sendai Tsuishu, however, the total production time, which is said to be several months at the maximum, is considerably reduced by producing many pieces of engraved lacquer ware of the same pattern out of one hand-carved prototype. The molded wood-carved intaglio is then coated with vermillion lacquer at least one hundred times. This streamlined production method was established during the Meiji period (1868-1912).
Special care is normally needed to handle Tsuishu lacquer ware, but improvements in heat and water resistance were made in Sendai Tsuish so that each item is suitable for daily use without losing delicacy and beauty of lacquer. This is why Sendai Tsuishu has maintained its reputation as a long-beloved traditional art work
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.
Kamakura-bori is a traditional carved lacquerware craft from Kamakura in Kanagawa Prefecture.
During the Kamakura period, various artistic objects were imported from the Chinese mainland. Among these, carved red and black lacquerware (Chinese 'diaoqi' or 'tsuishu' and 'tsuikoku' in Japanese) had some of the greatest influence on Japanese craftsmen. Many of these craftsmen began to make their own designs, using these objects as models.
In the late Muromachi period, the tea ceremony became popular and Kamakura-bori were used as tea implements. In the Meiji period, carved wooden objects for everyday use were designed and used for broader purposes.
Powerful and bold designs in relief colored with Macomo Indian ink and expressed in peculiar forms emphasize the solidity of Kamakura-bori. These are features not seen in other wood carving in Japan.
Kamakura-bori embodies the warmth of Japanese trees, and expresses a depth of color and density of carving. As artistic objects, Kamakura-bori harmonizes these three characteristics..
Murakami Tsuishu is a carved and lacquered ware. In the making process, first a wooden core is carved and given fine carved decorations, and then natural lacquer is applied several times. This traditional handicraft with a history of 600 years is a handicraft of Murakami City, Niigata Prefecture. The city has long been the cultural center of the northern part of the prefecture and there are many temples and shrines with histories. Techniques of the specialist carpenters engaged in the construction of temples and shrines were adopted in the making of this lacquer ware. Excellent master techniques are fully exerted in accurate and elaborate woodcarving, arduous multiple lacquer application, finishing work and grinding. Its vermillion that gets deeper and deeper as you use longer, its deep and transparent black and its prime-quality finishing work that fits in your hand. The craftsmen have honed their skills and exercised their ingenuities for these 600 years. In the modern times, items such as tea utensils, flower vases and trays are made but they still maintain the traditional elegance and fascination. Murakami ware was designated as Niigata’s Intangible Cultural Property and specified as the Traditional Craft Product by Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.