Wakasa-nuri (Lacquerware)

Japanese lacquerware

Wakasa-nuri is a kind of Japan's lacquerware.  Lacquerwares are representative crafts in Japan, which is called "Shikki" or "Urushi-nuri" in Japanese.  It is a craft coated with resin paint (Urushi) sapped from lacquer trees.  In Japan, many things were made of woods and it had to be coated to avoid decay by wetness, so urushi could fit into Japanese lifestyle.  Urushi can protect a base not only from wetness but also chemicals like acid or alkali, plus, adds great appearance on the base.  Urushi was used for woods or papers in olden times but it can be used for more various ways nowadays like smartphone cases.

What kind of shikki is the Wakasa-nuri?

Wakasa-nuri is the shikki patterned with seashells, egg shells, pine needles, and other artistic materials.  In the early Edo Period, a lacquerware craftsman named Sanjuro Matsuura created an original of Wakasa-nuri inspired by Chinese lacquerwares.  That is apparently the beginning of Wakasa-nuri.

The design of Wakasa-nuri originally depicted the sea or the floor of the sea because Wakasa is the oceanfront area in Fukui Prefecture, so some materials used for patterns are related to the sea.

Wakasa-nuri is very unique in all of shikki crafts.  It is designated as an official Japanese traditional craft.  The patterns of Wakasa-nuri are typically divided into 3 types: "Rankaku Moyo," "Kaigara Moyo," and "Okoshi Moyo."  Moyo means a "design" or a "pattern."  Both Rankaku Moyo and Kaigara Moyo are the patterns which embed some materials on its surface.  Rankaku means "egg shells" and Kaigara means "seashells."  Okoshi Moyo is different from the other two patterns.  In Okoshi Moyo, as the two other patterns, some materials (pine needles, hulls of rice, etc) are used to print patterns, but those materials would not be embedded into the surface permanently.  Okoshi means like "raise," "get up," or "lift up."  When the material is put in wet urushi, urushi climbs up the side of the material because of surface tension. Finally, the materials are removed after urushi completely shaped itself.

These patterns' outlines are colored with many colors of various urushis and gold leaves; it looks kind of gorgeous and calm.  All the patterns are done by hand-working of a shokunin so there can't be exactly the same design products.

Making Process of Wakasa Nuri

It goes through a lot of processes and takes a long time to finish each process.  Let me briefly introduce the whole process.

First of all, do some pretreatment to a base material which would mainly be wood to paint urushi on it.  If the base is not wood, this process could be skipped. 

And then, draw patterns on the surface.

Next, lacquer red, yellow, and green urushi.  This is called "Ainuri."  These colors will come out as outlines of patterns after polishing.  After ainuri, put gold leaves on and lacquer urushi over them.  Gold leaves will appear as outlines, too.  

And we are not even close to being finished yet; polish it with whetstones, charcoals, and sandpapers, and then lacquer urushi again.  Polishing is the feature of Wakasa-nuri, which draws a line between itself and other shikkis.  Wakasa-nuri's surface is bumpy and it uses multi-hardness materials embedded into urushi.  This causes difficulty on polishing.  Shokunins have to pay attention on their polishing power all the time; it is difficult to make it flat and smooth.  Furthermore, the materials embedded into urushi would unexpectedly pop out while a shokunin polishes it and they could accidentally scratch the surface of urushi sometimes.

Finally, Wakasa-nuri would be finished after a number of times of polishing and lacquering.

I described the process so simply but it really takes a very long time, like a year, to make Wakasa-nuri. One of the reasons why it takes that long is that the time to dry urushi has to be days or weeks every time it is lacquered.  

Actually there are cheap quick-produced Wakasa-nuri products, but it is lacquered by chemical paints, not real urushi.  If you want to get true urushi's color and beauty, it must be done with time and efforts.


At Kabuku Shikkiten, which is a maker of Wakasa-nuri, they only produces true Wakasa-nuri, not chemical lacquer.  

They produce traditional kinds of Wakasa-nuri products, and they have also been trying to create modern products like smartphone cases, outlet covers, PC mouses, and hand mirrors.


Maker Information

Kabuku Shikkiten

URL: http://kabukusikki.sakura.ne.jp/

Address: 1-9, Ichibancho, Obama-shi, Fukui, 917-0071, Japan

Yuki Teranishi