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What is Yamanaka Lacquer Ware?

by StarkEvan

Yamanaka lacquerware (also known as Yamanaka shikki) is a type of lacquerware produced in the Yamanaka Onsen (hot spring) district of Kaga, Ishikawa prefecture. This lacquerware is unique in that it blends the natural elegance of the wood grain with the elegant maki-e technique of sprinkling gold, silver, or other colored powder onto a lacquer painting.

The history of yamanaka lacquer ware

Yamanaka Lacquerware began during the Azuchi Momoyama period (1568–1600), when local woodworkers moved up the Yamanaka onsen’s stream, using the surrounding trees as raw materials. Initially, the artisans sold wooden crafts such as dishes as souvenirs to local onsen tourists, but they began to improve the quality of their goods in the 18th century, during the mid-Edo period (1603–1868), by inviting professional lacquerware artisans from Kyoto, Kanazawa, and Aizu. Many Yamanaka lacquerware techniques were created during this period, including “sensu-jibiki,” a woodworking design with the appearance of a thousand ridges; “shudame-nuri,” a design in which lacquer is layered over a base painted a vermillion color; and “koma-nuri,” a design in which multiple rings are painted in different colors to mimic a Japanese spinning top called a “koma.” These specialized skills have been passed down through the centuries, and they help to ensure the high quality of traditional lacquerware produced in Yamanaka today.

Crafting the unfinished wood base used in Yamanaka lacquer ware

Yamanaka lacquerware is generally made of vertically focused zelkova (keyaki), horse chestnut (tochi), or Japanese cherry birch (mizume) wood (tatekidori). This technique produces less warping and greater longevity than horizontally focused cutting. The rough-cut wood is first dried in a vacuum dryer to extract 7% of its moisture content. The wood is allowed to mature naturally, and lathe work starts once the water content has been restored. Following this process, the base is then decorated using Yamanaka lacquer’s characteristic process of carving through woodturning (kashokubiki).

Preliminary coating (shitaji)

The application of fukiurushi lacquer

Yamanaka ware is typically finished through a method called fukiurushi, a technique of rubbing lacquer into the wood after it has been shaped and engraved with a pattern. The process of fukiurushi (“lacquer-wiping”) is essential for showcasing the beautiful grain of the zelkova and horse chestnut woods used in Yamanaka lacquerware. Suriurushi (“lacquer-rubbing”) is another name for it. The latter refers to the method of directly adding lacquer to the wood, while the former refers to the process of wiping it off. After the unfinished wood has been rubbed with lacquer with a horsehair brush and the lacquer has penetrated the wood, it is cleaned with long-fiber paper and allowed to dry. These steps are repeated over and over again. The quality of the kiji, or base wood to which the lacquer is applied, determines the quality of the finished product, so the Yamanaka woodturners’ highly developed skills are what allow the beautiful fukiurushi end products.

About Yamanaka lacquer’s unique decorative woodturning (kashokubiki)

Yamanaka lacquerware has been distinguished by its techniques for turning wood on a lathe since its inception. The most distinguishing feature of Yamanaka lacquerware is decorative woodturning (kashokubiki), which entails carving fine concentric lines in the wood. One of the most popular types of design used to produce Yamanaka lacquer ware is the “sensu-jibiki” (a thousand stripes) incorporates a verticle-carved stripe pattern. There are many different styles incorporated in yamanaka lacquerware decorative woodturning such as tomesuji (“threadlike stripes”), rokuromesuji (“lathe stripes”), inahosuji (“rice-ear stripes”), hirasuji (“flat stripes”) and more.

How to use Yamanaka lacquer ware

Yamanaka lacquer ware’s stark design provides a visually eye-catching centerpiece to any dining experience. By pairing a Yamanaka lacquer piece with a more visually varied piece, the eye will be drawn to Yamanaka lacquer’s more detailed wood designs and intricate carving patterns.

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