Kagawa Urushi Lacquerware Institute


2018.03.08

NAVITIME TRAVEL EDITOR

Lacquerware is a craft that has been considered emblematic of Japanese culture for centuries, and Kagawa Prefecture has played a key role in developing of some of its most cherished styles. The Kagawa Urushi Lacquerware Institute, in Takamatsu City, ensures that this art form remains very much alive in the 21st century, and offers visitors a fascinating look at its creation.

  • Kagawa Urushi Lacquerware Institute

    Kagawa Urushi Lacquerware Institute

    So closely identified with Japan is lacquerware that it was actually termed ‘Japan’ in 19th century Europe. Although similar techniques emerged in China, it is thought that lacquerwork in Japan first appeared independently of this, with traces of the craft evident as far back as it is possible to trace Japanese history. Lacquering can be seen in artifacts produced circa 5000 BCE during Japan’s Jomon period, including pottery and burial clothing for the dead.

    Kagawa Urushi Lacquerware Institute

    Kagawa Urushi Lacquerware Institute

    Lacquer itself, which is poisonous to the touch until dry, is created by extracting sap from the Asian lacquer tree and then patiently refining it. This extraction process remains essentially the same, with centuries of innovation since the Jomon era having been more in the areas of lacquer refining and decoration. By the Edo period (1603-1868) Japanese lacquerware had absorbed influence from China and other Asian cultures, and was being applied to the kind of objects associated with it today, such as bento lunch boxes, vases, and tea utensils.

    Kagawa Urushi Lacquerware Institute

    Kagawa Urushi Lacquerware Institute

    It was also in the Edo era that Kagawa Prefecture came to develop its own identifiable styles of lacquerware. Yorishige Matsudaira (1622-1695), the daimyo lord of what was then the feudal Takamatsu domain, was a great admirer of the form, and actively encouraged local artisans to originate innovative production and decoration techniques. A highly revered craftsman called Tamakaji Zoukoku (1807-1869) later popularized these methods across Japan, with five distinct decorative styles becoming collectively known as Kagawa Urushi (‘Kagawa Lacquer’).

    It is three of the most exquisite Kagawa Urushi techniques (Choshitsu, Kinma, and Zonsei) that the Kagawa Urushi Lacquerware Institute works to promote, with the latter two officially designated as Intangible Cultural Properties by the Japanese government. Established in 1954, the Institute serves both to showcase Kagawa Urushi to the general public, and to train successive generations in its painstaking creation. Each year just ten young students are admitted for tuition after passing an examination, after which they receive a three-year schooling in Choshitsu, Kinma and Zonsei from instructors who include officially-designated ‘Living National Treasures’ among their number.

    Kagawa Urushi Lacquerware Institute

    Kagawa Urushi Lacquerware Institute

    To briefly break down the three styles taught at, and celebrated by, the Institute: Choshitsu involves lacquer of various colors being repeatedly applied to an object as many as 200 times, with a decorative design then being carved into the dried, solid layer. Kinma and Zonsei meanwhile both begin with repeated application of black lacquer, with the process differing from thereon. The former sees a design engraved in fine lines that are then filled with colored lacquer, while in the latter design outlines and details are incised before gold dust and/or gold leaf are used to fill in the notches. All three methods are completed by polishing the surface smooth and even.

    Kagawa Urushi Lacquerware Institute

    Kagawa Urushi Lacquerware Institute

    Tours each weekday allow these techniques, along with other aspects of lacquerware making, to be observed across floors five to seven of the Kagawa Urushi Lacquerware Institute. Pre-registration by email is necessary, with tours running from 9am until 4pm. Observation is from behind glass due to the toxic nature of materials used, and it is requested that visitors refrain from bringing younger children along.

    Kagawa Urushi Lacquerware Institute

    Kagawa Urushi Lacquerware Institute

    Kagawakenurushigeikenkyujo
    place
    Kagawa Pref. Takamatsushi Banchou 1-chome 10-39
    phone
    0878311814

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