In their wide category of fine and decorative arts, lacquer, from lacquer trees has been used in paintings, prints and on a wide variety of objects from hair combs, food containers (bento-box), to religious statues. Japanese lacquerware is called as Shikki, which lacquerware in the most literal sense, while nurimono means “coated things”, and urushi-nuri means “lacquer coating.”
Lacquering is to give life that lasts a thousand years
Lacquerware, which is known as “Japan” throughout the world, is one of Japan’s representative traditional crafts. What is unique about lacquering is its long history dating back to the Jomon period (before 300 BC); its richness of cultural layers from different social classes including the court nobility, samurais, temples and shrines, and merchants; and the local varieties of lacquerware.
People likely think lacquer is used for aesthetic handicrafts but originally, lacquering, when applied to the surface of bowls or caskets, served a distinctive purpose as a natural coating material or adhesive providing excellent protection against water and corrosion. Something having a variety of applications was deeply valued by the Japanese who have made lacquer a cultural asset, supporting their everyday life since ancient times.
It is said that the history of Japanese lacquer has its origins in Ancient China. In Japan, some pieces of lacquerware have been found in archaeological site dating from about 9000 years ago.
Decorative techniques used at that time included attachment of pieces of gold and silver foil, ivory, and
mother-of-pearl shell, since lacquer is also a highly effective adhesive.
The varied techniques of lacquer application later spread
to all over Japan. Interest was shown nationwide in lacquerware and the Japanese lacquer industry became increasingly active with support of its government and craft guilds.
Carpenters throughout the country were producing lacquer bowls, trays, and tables.
Beside such practical lacquerware in cinnabar and black, in cities such as Kyoto, Edo (Tokyo), and
Kanazawa begun producing decorated lacquerware featuring Maki-e (gold dust), silver, and
mother-of-pearl inlay lavidly. Japan’s lacquerware started to enjoy great popularity.
The Nagano 1998 Olympic Winter Games medals were created in lacquer (Kiso Lacquer).
The lacquered parts were done individually by artists from the Kiso region.
The decoration technique adopted has fine gilding (or called "Maki-e" in Japan), with so-called Shippoyaki (i.e. cloisonné techniques) and is metalswork in precision.
The obverse represents the rising sun in Maki-e.
The sun rising over the Shinshu mountains!
The Japanese government has identified 14 major lacquer centers, each with their own unique style and application of the lacquering process.
Wajima Lacquer | Wajima-Nuri |輪島
Aizu Lacquer | Aizu-Nuri | 会津塗
Kiso Lacquer | Kiso Shikki | 木曽漆
Hida Shunkei Lacquer | Hida Shunkei| 飛騨春慶
Kishu Lacquer | Kishu Shikki |紀州漆器
Murakami Carved Lacquer | Kurakami Kibori Tsuishu | 村上木彫堆朱
Kamakura Lacquer | Kamakura Bori | 鎌倉彫
Yamanaka Lacquer | Yamanaka Shikki |山中漆器
Kagawa Lacquer | Kagawa Shikki | 香川漆器
Tsugaru Lacquer | Tsugaru Nuri | 津軽塗
Odawara Lacquer | Odawara Shikki |小田原漆器
Kanazawa Lacquer | Kanazawa Shikki |金沢漆器
Wakasa Lacquer | 若狭塗り
Ryukyu Lacquer | Ryukyuan Shikki |琉球漆器