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.
Hiromichi Osaka was born in 1937, in Kurayoshi, Tottori prefecture. In 1997, he was designated as a Living National Treasure for his woodcraft work.
After graduating from the Tokyo Gakugei University art department, Hiromichi Osaka became a public school teacher. He also became a disciple of Himi Kodo, another Living National Treasure. Under Kodo, Osaka studied woodcraft techniques such as 'kara-sashimono'. After much hard work, Osaka's work won a prize at the Traditional Japanese Crafts Exhibition.
In 1980, when he was 43, he was appointed by the Imperial Household Agency to copy a treasure from the Shoso-in. At this point, he retired from teaching and concentrated on the restoration project. The restoration imitation of a shitan wooden box was completed in 1986 and placed in the Shoso-in collection. His usage of materials such as 'kokushi' and 'shitan' using techniques and motifs from the Shoso-in wooden pictures and carvings have been highly praised.
Masami Isoi was born in 1926 in Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture. In 1985, his 'kinma' work was designated as an important intangible cultural heritage and he became a Living National Treasure.
Kinma is a decorating skill for lacquerwork that involves special patterns that are incised and filled with color.
Masami Isoi's father Joshin Isoi is known as the 'father' of Sanuki-urushi-chuko. He is also designated as a Living National Treasure for his original technique of kinma dot carving. Kinma dot carving was invented by Joshin, who developed the idea of the technique from old photos.
Joshin's kinma style is more feathery than Masami's. Masami's pieces have 'both a contemporary look and the classical feel of traditional urushi'. Masami expresses imaginary scenes using butterflies and plants that are mentioned in the 'Manyoshu' ('Collection of Myriad Leaves').
Kitamura Shosai is an urushi lacquerware artist who was born in 1938. As the holder of the intangible cultural heritage of 'raden' he is a Living National Treasure and an official repairer of urushi craft.
Kitamura Shosai actively works on both preserving and creating cultural assets. Raden is a decorating skill using mother-of-pearl inlay work on lacquerware and woodware.
Kitamura Shosai was born into an hereditary family of urushi craftsmen. After graduating in fine art from Tokyo National University of Fine Arts & Music, he practiced and cultivated his urushi techniques. His sophisticated technique of 'atsu-gai raden' is an original development from a tradition. His combination of 'hishimon' and 'hanamon' patterning makes his pieces stand out and draws praise for their beauty as a contemporary art form.
Takeji Iwatani was born in the town of Fuka-Ura, Aomori Prefecture, in 1939. He is a lacquerware craftsman using the 'tsugarunuri' technique. He is also known by the pseudonym of Gozan.
Takeji Iwatani established a tsugarunuri atelier called Gozan-Kobo in 1969. In 1975, he founded the Tsugarunuri Friendship Society. The next year, he won the chief-director's prize at the national lacquerware exhibition. In 1981, he was authorized as a traditional craftsman. At present, he is the chairman of the Tsugarunuri Traditional Craftsmen Association. In 2003 he won the Director General of Forestry Agency prize in the national lacquerware exhibition.
Tsugarunuri, or tsugaru lacquer, is believed to have originated with the Tsugaru clan in the early Edo period. This technique is also known as bakanuri. It involves the repeated process of painting and layering lacquer. It takes several months to finish just one piece.
Iwatani's work are made for private orders only. It is interesting to see that he has persistence with his work. When having two orders, he makes three pieces, one for each order and one for himself to make sure that the sold pieces are truly perfect.
An offering is money that you will pay to gods or Buddha for fulfillment of your wish. In olden times, Japanese dedicated more valuable stuff like rice, gold and silver instead, but as the money economy developed, money replaced them.
In the Muromachi period, a box was placed at Shizuoka Hachimangu Shrine so that offerings would not litter the ground. This box is said to be the origin of the offering box.
After that, in the Edo period, as the trip to the Ise Shrine got more popular, offering boxes spread across Japan and developed into this present style.
A common offering box has wooden frames on its upside. But there are some strange-shaped boxes such as the one with 19 slits in Fukagawa-Enmado,or the money-pouch box in Hetsunomiya of Enoshima Shrine.
Edo Sashimono is furniture and woodwork that is assembled without nails, and expresses a cool sense with elegance.
In the Edo period, the Tokugawa shogunate invited craftsmen from all over Japan to set up workshops in Kanda and Nihonbashi.
By the mid-Edo period, the workshops had refined certain styles and skills, one of them being sashimono woodwork.
Without using any visible connection or metal nail, sashimono craftsmen created sturdy yet beautiful wooden pieces, such as mirror-stands, drawers for tea paraphernalia and boxes for inkstones.
In Kyoto, sashimono for the Imperial Court and for the tea ceremony developed. In Edo, sashimono were mainly used by samurais, tradesmen and Kabuki actors.
Edo Sashimono avoids over-decoration and retains a smartness and toughness. Hence, Edo sashimono fully characterizes the cool sense of the Edo people.