29 August 2022
"Kiji-shi", Woodturning Craftsmen of Yamanaka Lacquerware
The origin of Yamanaka lacquerware dates back to about 400 years ago (Azuchi-Momoyama period). A group of "Kiji-shi (woodturners)" who made their living by traveling from mountain to mountain producing wooden tableware settled in Manago, upstream from Yamanaka Onsen (hot spring), and began to turn wood into lacquerware.
Lacquerware is basically made by a "Kiji-shi" who turns the wood and a "Nuri-shi" who applies the lacquer. Yamanaka lacquerware is characterized by its wood, and has excelled at producing bowls with a wipe lacquer finish that brings out the grain of the turned wood.
- Satake Workshop
- Yamanaka Shikki Kogei Workshop
- Photo Gallery
- Yamanaka Lacquerware Collection
Mr. Satake is a “Kiji-shi” who specializes in turning wood. His technique of turning wood that highlights the beauty of the wood grain is the essence of Yamanaka lacquerware. His workshop is located in the scenic countryside near Yamanaka Onsen(hot springs) surrounded by picturesque mountains.
The first thing that caught my eye at the workshop was a high pile of rough molds. Most of them, manufactured by "Arabiki-ya(rough sawyers)", are put through a drying process using specialized drying equipment. However, when artificially dried, more moisture than necessary is released from the wood, so the molds are once placed inside the workshop to adjust the moisture content to an appropriate level. Without this adjustment, the wood may crack or deform.
When the rough molds are in an appropriate state of dryness, they are set on a woodturning lathe and rotated at high speed, and then shaved and shaped with a metal blade called a "Kanna(Wood planer)", sometimes with a delicate pattern on the surface.
Wooden jigs such as wooden molds and metal cutting tools such as "Kanna" used in this process are also manufactured in the workshop. Making these tools is also an essential part of the work of a traditional craftsman.
Since natural wood is used, the grain of each piece of wood is different. And this grain also changes depending on the depth at which the wood is cut. When a beautiful grain appears, the craftsman checks the back and sides of the wood to see what will happen if the grain is cut deeper, and proceeds with the cutting based on his experience and intuition.
Many people feel that the finished product is much lighter than it looks when they hold it in their hands. Yamanaka's skill in creating thin and flexible shapes from hard, vertically-trimmed wood is top class among wood crafts in all regions of Japan.
When he can find the time between projects, Mr. Satake also creates his own works of art. He says that he gets inspiration from various works of art, not only woodwork,but also from art exhibitions and other venues, and uses this inspiration in his own creations. I was able to hold one of his trays that he had made before, and I was surprised at how light it was. I think it was about one-fifth as light as it looked.
It took more than three months to create, as it was carved little by little every day, aiming at the position where the grain of the wood looks the most beautiful. The luster of the wiped lacquer, which had been applied more than 30 times, was very elegant.
Mr. Satake calls himself a movie geek and frequents movie theaters on his days off. He is a very friendly person, but his eye for wood is very sharp, and I could sense his pride and passion for craftsmanship.
Yamanaka Shikki Kogei Workshop
The next workshop we visited was Yamanaka Lacquer Ware Kogei, which specializes in the production of large plates and trays called "Itamono".
Outside of the workshop, there were piles of large boards cut from horizontal wood and hollowed out round pieces of them stored indoors.
When we visited, they were in the process of making Hibiki Yamanaka Lacquerware boxes with dividers, which are very popular at MUSUBI KILN.
The body and lid of the Jubako are not made of plywood laminated together, but blocks of wood like this one, which are carefully cut down to a thickness of about 5 mm(0.2in). The seamless and beautiful grain can only be achieved with this manufacturing method. The cutting alone is done several times and takes a considerable amount of time, so those who have seen this can understand why the product is always in short supply.
Hibiki Yamanaka Lacquerware box with dividers