15 February 2024

Mastering Tradition and Innovation: Art of Aizu Lacquerware

In the serene and culturally rich region of Aizu (modern-day Fukushima Prefecture) in Japan, where tradition melds seamlessly with the rhythm of modern life, resides an artisan whose hands have shaped more than just lacquerware. Komatsu Shigeo, a lacquer artist, carries the torch of an ancient craft that has illuminated the Japanese art scene for centuries.

In this exclusive interview, Komatsu delves into the depths of Aizu lacquerware, sharing insights on its unique characteristics, the intricate processes involved, and his personal journey in this venerable art form. His words paint a vivid picture of a craft that is not just a testament to aesthetic beauty but also a reflection of Japan's enduring cultural heritage. As we explore the world of Aizu lacquerware through Komatsu's eyes, we discover not just the artistry in his work but the heartbeat of a tradition that continues to evolve and enchant in the modern era.


  • The Distinctiveness of Aizu Lacquerware
  • The Aesthetics of Vibrant Colors and Motifs
  • The Intricacies of Aizu Lacquerware Techniques
  • Challenges and Joys of Lacquer Craftsmanship
  • Future Prospects and Current Endeavors

The Distinctiveness of Aizu Lacquerware

In the realm of Japanese lacquerware, the northern regions are renowned for their distinctive styles, including Wajima lacquerware (Ishikawa Prefecture), Echizen lacquerware (Fukui Prefecture), and Yamanaka lacquerware (Ishikawa Prefecture). However, Aizu lacquerware holds a unique position in this esteemed group, as explained by Komatsu Shigeo, a veteran craftsman in this field.

Aizu lacquerware embraces an efficient division of labor, which, according to Komatsu, results in exceptional performance. This approach allows for the creation of high-quality, affordable lacquerware, making it accessible to a broader audience.

The Aesthetics of Vibrant Colors and Motifs

Aizu-e, painted on Aizu lacquerware, is characterized by bold designs incorporating traditional Japanese auspicious motifs like pine, bamboo, plum (shochikubai), and hamaya arrows. Komatsu describes the beauty of Aizu painting, with its rustic yet elegant lacquer techniques. The use of various colors like gold, vermilion, green, and yellow adds a striking vibrancy to the designs. This rich palette, combined with the inherent simplicity of the lacquer technique, results in an exceptional design quality that sets Aizu lacquerware apart.

The Intricacies of Aizu Lacquerware Techniques

When asked about the most challenging aspects of Aizu lacquerware production, Komatsu elaborates on the complexity of various decorating techniques such as urushi-e "lacquer painting," haku-e "foil painting," and keshi maki-e "sprinkled gold and silver." He emphasizes that mastering these techniques, particularly the timing of sprinkling gold powder in keshi maki-e and attaching foil in haku-e, takes years of practice. The satisfaction he derives from perfecting these skills is a testament to the joy embedded in this meticulous craft.

Challenges and Joys of Lacquer Craftsmanship

Delving into his personal journey, Komatsu shares that his decision to pursue lacquer craftsmanship was influenced by his family heritage, as both his father and grandfather were maki-e craftsmen. He speaks fondly of his apprenticeship under the guidance of Terui Kurando, which allowed him to deepen his understanding and refine his skills in various lacquer techniques.

When asked about the rigors and joys of his profession, Komatsu speaks about the challenges of working with natural materials like lacquer. Maintaining a clean workspace and adjusting to varying humidity and temperature conditions are crucial for achieving desired results. The satisfaction of seeing a piece turn out exactly as envisioned is unparalleled, reflecting the deep passion and commitment inherent in this craft.

Looking towards the future, Komatsu is hoping the integration of Aizu lacquerware in modern living. He believes in the potential of lacquer as a material that should be incorporated into various everyday utensils. Komatsu underscores the importance of preserving the essence of Aizu lacquerware, as they represent not only the identity of Aizu but also a significant part of Japanese craftsmanship.

Future Prospects and Current Endeavors

In his concluding remarks, Komatsu acknowledges the difficulties facing the lacquerware industry. He expresses hope for the future, referencing the efforts in Aizu to cultivate a new generation of craftsmen through the Aizu Lacquerware Technology Successor Training School. As an instructor, he is committed to passing on his knowledge and skills to the younger generations, entrusting them with the responsibility of carrying forward the legacy of Aizu lacquerware into new realms.

Komatsu's insights not only shed light on the intricacies of Aizu lacquerware but also reflect the dedication and passion of a craftsman deeply rooted in tradition yet looking forward to the future. His commitment to his craft and his vision for the future of Aizu lacquerware offer an inspiring perspective on the enduring relevance and evolution of traditional crafts in contemporary society.

View Aizu Lacquerware