Owari Shippo (Enamel)

It's glassy decorating technique on metallic base.  The depth of layered colors catches people's eyes and hearts.  The craft is a fruit of shokunin concentration.


Shippo is Japanese enamel art

Enameling is a decorative technique, which is normally applied on metallic bases, used for jewelry and art, and that has been made in many countries around the world.  

Shippo is the name of Japanese enameling and Owari* Shippo is the mainstream of Japanese enamel.

*Owari is an old geographical name of around the West side of Aichi Prefecture.


It is said this decorating technique originated from ancient Egypt and was carried to Japan through Europe and Asian countries.  Owari Shippo began in 1833 by a Japanese man named Tsunekichi Kaji who obsessed with imported enamels investigated it earnestly, and he finally got to be able to produce enamel by himself.  Actually, Owari Shippo is not the origin of Japanese Shippo. Before he discovered the method of producing shippo, that had not been disclosed in public. However, shippo had been spread widely in Japan after he established his own method.  

Japanese shippo was introduced to the world at the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1867 and was highly regarded.  Japanese shippo techniques had been developed rapidly between the Meiji Period and Taisho Period, and many masters and masterpieces came out then.  However, some techniques were not passed on and lost because of the production interruption during World War II.

Despite that fact, fortunately, Owari Shippo has survived until now and was certified as an official Japanese traditional craft by METI (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry).


How to make Owari Shippo 

Owari Shippo is mainly produced as Yusen-Shippo (Cloisonné).  Now let's look at processes of making Yusen-Shippo.


1. Prepare a metal base

The metal base for shippo should be pure or high-grade metal, and mainly copper or silver is used for it because they are easier to be formed and compatible with glaze. When shokunins form a base, they use three techniques: hammering, spinning, and pressing.  Which technique should be used depends on the shape they form.


2. Draw outlines 

They draw outlines to insert metal lines.


3. Insert silver lines

The lines work as partitions to put glaze in.  They insert silver lines, which are thin like ribbons, on the base along with the outlines of the design.  This work needs fine skill and has some difficulties.  For example, it is hard to put the line on a curved surface; you need to bend the line gently.  


Even if the design looks simple like the picture below, it's not easy at all.  Both elaborate designs and simple straight lines are difficult.


4. Glazing

They put powdered glazes with water or glue on the surface of the base with brush or bamboo spatula.  The shippo glaze is a milled lump of colored glasses made from some kinds of ore and metals.



5. Firing

Firing is to fuse and entrench glaze on the base at around 800.  After firing, there would be some white dots coming out at the point that there was unseen dust before firing.  They remove those dots with a chisel, and then glaze and fire it again.  

Firing process would be repeated at least 7 times.  After firing, the glaze over all the metal grew thick and the thickness lets us see the depth of colors.



6. Polishing

This is the final process of making Owari Shippo.  They polish it with whetstones or diamond polishing papers to flatten and shine the surface.  

Polishing will educe the beauty of the shippo to its fullest extent.  The object would be polished to be appeared the edge of silver lines, then the design gets look sharper. When the polishing is finished, you can see a reflection of yourself on the surface like a mirror.

In addition, polishing could give the shippo different appearance. If you would like matte texture, it could be tuned by changing the degree of polishing.



Owari Shippo and Mass-Produced Shippo

Owari Shippo goes through many processes to be completed so it takes lots of time to make; it often takes many months.  Therefore, some shippo manufacturers started to produce cheap shippos which some of its making processes were abbreviated.  The design of mass-produced shippo is stamped by machine on metal plates and most of them are not polished, just glazed and fired.  

Take a look at the below pictures: those are for comparison of the surfaces of a mass-produced shippo and Owari Shippo.  You can easily see the difference from their reflecting lights.  The mass-produced shippo is lumpy because it was not polished as much as Owari Shippo.  

Mass-produced shippo looks sweet, seemingly, but it has less depth of colors.  It is hard for mass-produced shippo to get the depth of colors because of thinness of its glaze.  

Owari Shippo tends to be expensive.  However, it has quality that mass-produced ones don't have.  I'd like you to know there is a big difference between them.


Shippo Shokunins 

Kato Shippo Seisakusyo, which is one of a few makers of Owari Shippo, has produced shippos for over 60 years.  Now Mr. Yoshiro Kato, whom I interviewed, is leading this studio.  


He is challenging to create new styles of Owari Shippo and has launched some products so far: washbasins, ball markers, funeral urns, and nail tips.  These items are created with techniques of Owari-Shippo.

Owari-Shippo has been improved and extended its range of expression in its history, therefore it has wide application.  It is a decorating technique and it can be used as long as the glaze could fix on the material.  Mr. Yohiro is seeking new styles of Owari-Shippo which fits to modern times.


On the other hand, his father, Mr. Katsumi Kato, is pursuing the technique of traditional shippo.  


He stepped down as the head of the studio so he doesn't have to spend time thinking about company management.  Now he can just concentrate on his work.  Thanks to that, now he is challenging to establish a making method for one of the most difficult shippos to produce stably.  The shippo is called Shotai-Shippo and it's similar to "Plique à jour"; it is a baseless cloisonné.  The making processes are almost the same as cloisonné, but the metal base is dissolved and removed by acidic liquid.  Then it remains only glazes and metal lines so lights can be seen through it like stained glass.  It was quite difficult to make Shotai-Shippo and the manufacturing failure rate would be over 70%.  Shotai-Shippo is delicate and it can be broke easily so completed products were rare.  However, Mr. Katsumi reviewed every making processes and revised some of them, and then the completion rate was drastically raised.

The Shotai-Shippo in the picture above is the one which is made with the new making method.  He is doing his work with the lofty mind to create shippos that surpasses historical masterpieces.

The number of shokunins of Owari Shippo has been reduced and transferring the techniques to the next generation is a tough situation.  In order to turn around this situation for the better, it needs to be known by many people as much as possible.  In this studio, this father-and-son duo is making efforts to build effective styles to popularize Owari Shippo.  The son is creating new styles of Owari-Shippo and promoting them, and the father is focusing on creating greater masterpieces.  Both keeping the tradition as it was and adapting it along with the time are indispensable so as not to lose the traditional craft.

Mr. Yoshiro said during the last interview, "Enameling techniques exist in many countries and each of them has its history and they are all magnificent.  However, there is definitely something that only Owari Shippo can express, and I will keep pursuing it.  I would sincerely like people in the world to notice Owari Shippo's beauty."


Maker Information

Kato Shippo Seisakusyo

URL: http://katoshippo.com/

Address: 4-31, Konomicho, Nishi-ku, Nagoya-shi, Aichi, 451-0015, Japan

Yuki Teranishi