Japanese

漆のチカラ

The power of
urushi

Traditional
Industrial

Aizu
3 hours north of Tokyo.

Thousands of years ago, people gathered in this region encompassed by mountains, and blessed with abundant water and fertile land. They built villages in nature and made tools for life and agri-culture, advancing civilization in various ways.

At the end of the Edo Period, it was the largest cultural and economic center in Tohoku, with nearly the same population as today.

Currently in the 17 cities, towns and villages that make up Aizu, 320,000 people continue to seek a new shape of the power of Aizu, backed up by tradition and culture, to leave to the future.

地域のチカラ

Black and Red Teacups with Gold Interior, Sakura Pattern

Black and Red Teacups with Gold Interior, Sakura Pattern

The power of urushi is one whose skills and traditions have been passed down for 400 years, but which continues to be innovated even now.

The origin of urushi

Urushi (lacquer) is sap collected from the lacquer tree, and is said to have the most outstanding qualities of the natural paints. To the Japanese, urushi is a distinctive culture which has been carefully cultivated in its environment and lifestyle. The etymology of urushi, the Japanese word for lacquer, is said to come from the words uruwashii (beautiful) and uruosu (to moisten). It has a color tone that has depth and luster, which continues to mesmerize viewers to the present day.

Japan is the country where the world’ s oldest lacquer trees have been found. There has been lacquer trees found in Fukui Prefecture from 12,600 years ago, and in Hokkaido from 9,000 years ago. Lacquer trees are difficult to grow in the wild. It is by cultivating the lacquer tree that humans have come to understand the properties of its sap and wood, and harvest it as a functional material for daily life.

In the Aizu area as well, tools used for livelihood 2,500 years ago, including urushi yarn balls and decorative items, have been excavated from the Arayashiki Ruins in Mishima Town. Urushi armor was also excavated from the Otsukayama Kofun (Burial Grounds) in downtown Aizu.
Urushi has high antibacterial properties, so it is natural that it is used for daily tools. Because of its strong powers of preservation, it also plays a large role in the conservation and repair of cultural treasures.
Because of its tenacity, urushi’ s coating film is said to endure for thousands of years. However, it is weak to sunlight and ultraviolet rays, and the coating film weathers and degrades outdoors, thereby making it an eco-friendly material that returns to nature.
As a symbol of Japanese culture which honors harmony with nature, urushi can be said to be a treasure esteemed by the world.

たくみ

のチカラ

 Process

Boards process

Material /  Base /  Lacquer /  Decoration

Round Objects process

Material /  Base /  Lacquer /  Decoration

Resin Process

Material /  Base /  Lacquer /  Decoration

技のチカラ

消金地 / 金虫喰塗り / 朱磨き / 会津絵

Keshikinji

Keshikinji

This is a decoration technique that uses an especially fine powder out of the gold powders. The unique technique involves using silk floss or deerskin to polish the urushi surface repeatedly after it has been painted gold, which reinforces the gold surface at the same time as creating a sense of depth.

Keshikinji1 Keshikinji2
Kinmushikui-nuri

Kinmushikui-nuri

After coating the surface with black urushi, the entire surface is sprinkled with barley or rice husks. Removing the grains once the surface has dried creates the mottled pattern. Afterwards, gold or silver leaf or gold powder are sprinkled on the sur face and painted over with clear urushi, which is allowed to dry. The surface is then polished with a whetstone or polishing charcoal, and the urushi technique is completed through the polishing process.

Kinmushikui-nuri1 Kinmushikui-nuri2

Traditional skills of Aizu

Keshikinji / Kinmushikui-nuri / Shumigaki / AIZU-E

AIZU-E

AIZU-E

Also known as shochikubai-e. In addition to colored urushi such as red urushi, blue urushi, yellow urushi, opaque urushi, and red oxide urushi, gold leaf and keshikinpun (fine gold powder) are used to create motifs such as shouchikubai (pine, bamboo, and plum), hamaya (demon-breaking arrow), itoguruma (spinning wheel), and higaki (lattice of hinoki leaves).

AIZU-E1 AIZU-E2
Shumigaki

Shumigaki

After using red oxide urushi and yellow urushi to draw the patterns, the surface is sprinkled with vermillion powder, and then polished with sanding powder. The finished product is vermillion maki-e.

Shumigaki1 Shumigaki2

Hana-nuri

This is a coating that uses urushi with drying oil added to it. With its elevated glossiness and stretchiness, it is a high-grade painting technique that despises brush unevenness.

Hana-nuri

Chinkin

Designs are carved onto the urushi surface with a special tool called chinkinto. Afterwards, the surface is polished and sprinkled with gold and silver leaf, keshikin, colored powders, etc. Leaf and powder that have adhered to areas outside of the design are removed, and the process is complete.

Chinkin

Ami-e

An intricate netting pattern is painted with brush onto the urushi surface, and afterwards, gold, silver, and other colored powders are sprinkled on. Additionally, vermillion lacquer, hirafun and marufun may also be sprinkled on, with the process finished by polishing.

Ami-e

Nishiki-e

This is a decoration technique developed in Aizu in the Meiji Period. It uses colored urushi or shumigaki and keshikinpun on the urushi surface, and its composition contains lucky charms, including cloud shapes, peonies, phoenixes, or takara-dzukushi (a pattern drawn with lucky items) as a motif.

Nishiki-e

History

Lacquer art took root in Aizu due to its promotion by Gamo Ujisato, who became the feudal lord in 1590 and encouraged the lacquer arts as an industry. Lord Gamo called master wood- workers and urushi artists from his former dominion of Hino (Shiga Prefecture), to pass down advanced techniques. In the Edo Period, the founder of the Aizu Clan, Hoshina Masayuki, strove to cultivate and protect lacquer trees, and successive generations of clan leaders, as well as chief retainer Tanaka Harunaka, engaged with innovation of techniques. As a result, exports to countries such as China and Holland blossomed, and the area flourished. In the Boshin War , Aizu urushi was struck with a devastating blow. However , from the Meiji Period through the Showa Period, it gained recognition as a Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry-specified traditional handicraft. Currently, Aizu enjoys a reputation as one of Japan's leading industrial arts production areas, where close to 40 traditional artisans keep alive traditional techniques.

History1 History2

Repair

Along with the beauty of urushi’s painted coating, urushi has also been shown to have high adhesive strength. It is used for the restoration of cultural assets, largely because of its highly harmonious and durable properties as a natural paint. From ancient times, the traditional technique of “kintsugi” has existed in Japan. In kintsugi, damaged bowls are repaired by being patched with urushi and embellished with gold or silver; it is characteristic of Japan’ s recycling culture. The practice is said to have begun in the tea ceremony world in the Muromachi Period. It must be noted that the broken bowl is not simply mended, it is refined to a state more beautiful than before it was broken. At the Aizu Lacquerware Cooperative Union, we undertake tasks from the restoration of cultural structures to the repair of the tools for daily life.

Repair1 Repair2

Inherit

At the Aizu Lacquerware Cooperative Union, effort is put into educating successors, so that the techniques of traditional craftsmanship may be passed on to the future. From 1971, with the support of the city and prefecture, the industry and the administrative body came together to established the “Aizu Lacquerware Techniques Successor Development Association,” and the business of educating successors began in earnest. From 2003, it continued operations as the “Fukushima Prefecture Designated Aizu Lacquerware Techniques Successor Training School,” and, with the union at its core, continued educa- tion.The trainees are divided into the specialties of nuri and maki-e. After receiving two years of education in a high-density curriculum, they devote themselves to even more training. Every year several young people are developed as important human resources who will carry the future of the production area on their shoulders.

Inherit1 Inherit2

Future

Traditional Aizu lacquerware, which has been passed down for over 400 years, continues to take on the challenge of creating new products and innovations to techniques daily. Currently in Aizu, a project is underway entitled “Urban Design with the Fragrance of Lacquer,” which concentrates on increasing urushi products in schools and public buildings through activities promoting education. By also increasing opportunities for people to come into contact with lacquerware in hotels and ordinary restaurants, the project aims to create a town where one can feel the warmth and texture of urushi in various settings. Addi - tionally, with the incorporation of urushi into interior design and accessories, as well as architectural components and things one might have a strong preference for (the interior of cars, watches, and cell phone cases), we are allowing a new breeze to blow, connecting to the next generation.

Future1 Future2

Please note that there may be a small difference in color and tone between the picture and the actual item.