"The resonating beauty of carved and colored lacquer work"
In the late Edo period (c. 1603-1867), Tamakaji Zokoku set out to research lacquerware techniques from Thailand and China such as "Kinma" and "Zonsei." By combining traditional Japanese methods with these new ones, he was able to develop unique lacquerwares. Nowadays, Takamatsu City in Kagawa Prefecture is mainly producing these pieces which are collectively known as Kagawa Lacquerware.
Histories of Kagawa lacquerware
Its history dates back to 1642 when Yorishige Matsudaira became the feudal lord of Takamatsu Domain after being transferred from the Tokugawa family in Mito. Yorishige encouraged lacquerware policies and the art of sculpture, which marked the beginning of Kagawa lacquerware. The successive feudal lords also provided strong support for the protection and nurturing of craftsmanship, including lacquer art, leading to the flourishing of the craft and the growth of many renowned artisans and masters.
Among them, Tamakaji Zokoku, born in Takamatsu City, is well-known for establishing the distinctive lacquer application technique specific to Kagawa and making significant contributions to the traditional industry of the region. During his studies in Kyoto, he was exposed to various lacquer works, including Tang dynasty lacquerware from China, as well as Kinma lacquerware made in Yunnan provinces of China, Thailand, and Myanmar.
Instead of adhering to the mainstream maki-e style at that time, Zokoku utilized the techniques he had brought back and developed his unique lacquer art technique, establishing three techniques: "Kinma," "Zonsei," and "Choshitsu."
After Zokoku's passing, his brother took over, but the industrialization of practical lacquerware was unsuccessful. During the Meiji period (1868 – 1912), there was a period when "Zonsei," which had been synonymous with Kagawa lacquerware, declined. In its place, "Sanuki-bori," a technique of applying colored lacquer to wood carvings, emerged as a central presence.
In 1976, five techniques were designated as national traditional crafts: "Kinma," "Zonsei," "Choshitsu," "Goto-nuri," and "Zokoku-nuri," named after Zokoku. Sanuki lacquerware has produced six Living National Treasures to date, and the Kagawa Lacquerware Research Institute in Kagawa Prefecture has been established as an institution for cultivating successors, demonstrating the continued dedication to the inheritance of lacquer art.
In this technique, lacquer is applied over objects made of bamboo or wood, with the lacquer being layered more than ten times. Then, using a carving knife called a "Kinma ken," patterns are carved into the surface, and the carved grooves are filled with colored lacquer. Finally, the surface is polished flat, revealing the raised pattern. This technique originated in the Yunnan region of China, Thailand, and Myanmar, and was introduced to Japan during the Muromachi period(c.1336-1573). When dealing with complex colors, the characteristic is to perform line carving for each color and fill it with the corresponding color. Compared to a brush, the kinma ken allows for more delicate and intricate lines and dots to be drawn. The name "Kinma" is said to derive from the name of a Thai plant's fruit.
Zonsei is a technique believed to have originated in Southeast Asia, traveled to China, and then reached Japan during the Muromachi period(c. 1336-1573). In this method, brush-colored lacquer patterns are painted on the surface built up with layers of lacquer. After the lacquer dries, a carving knife is used to carve out outlines, lines, and dots, and then gold powder or gold leaf is embedded into the carved areas to express the pattern. This is a traditional technique. Tamakaji Zokoku, who was attracted to the Zonsei lacquerware from China, studied this technique and developed his unique approach. The shading created by carving the outline with fine lines resembling hair is one of its attractions.
Choushitsu is a technique in which layers of colored lacquer are applied dozens to hundreds of times to create layers of colored lacquer, and then the layered surface is carved to create raised patterns. This technique requires the craftsmanship of artisans since the surface is carved down to the desired color of lacquer. The contrast between the three-dimensionality created by carving and the color variations is a characteristic feature.
Gotou-nuri is a technique invented by Gotou Taihei, a samurai of the Takamatsu domain in the late Edo period. It is a lacquerware technique that uses vermilion-colored lacquer and was named "Gotou-nuri" in his honor. This technique involves repeatedly applying layers of vermilion lacquer, initially resulting in a dark color that gradually changes to a vibrant hue over time. A unique feature is that while the vermilion lacquer is still wet, patterns are directly created by stroking or tapping with the fingertips.
Named after its founder, Tamakaji Zokoku, it is known as "Zokoku-nuri." This technique refers to the process of applying layered lacquer and then sprinkling the powder of "Makomo," a type of sedge plant that grows in ponds and rivers, followed by a final polishing. It is characterized by swirling patterns, and the simple design allows one to appreciate the inherent beauty of lacquer. Additionally, it becomes more lustrous with age, exuding a sense of wabi-sabi. While it used to be predominantly used for daily items such as round trays and tea utensils, it has recently found application in furniture and tableware.
Sanuki Urushi Sinra
Sanuki Urushi Sinra, a maker launched in 2012 by Kouta Matsumoto, who trained under the esteemed national living treasure Masami Isoi, showcases the unique lacquer art of Kagawa by creating original lacquerware.View Sanuki Urushi Sinra Collection