Kokontozai: KASHIYUKA’s Shop of Japanese Arts and Crafts / [URUSHI] | カーサ ブルータス Casa BRUTUS

Kokontozai: KASHIYUKA’s Shop of Japanese Arts and Crafts / [URUSHI]

Searching all of Japan for handcrafted items that express its heart and soul, our proprietor, KASHIYUKA, presents things that bring a bit of luxury to everyday life. This time she visits a workshop for Tsugaru-nuri, the traditional craft representative of Aomori prefecture. She comes face to face with this beautiful handcrafting process that requires lacquering, rasping, polishing and repeating, layer upon layer.

Apple orchards abound in the suburbs of Hirosaki City, Aomori prefecture, including the one just next to the Matsuyama Urushi Workshop, which KASHIYUKA paid a visit this time.
I’d become preoccupied with lacquer, having had the opportunity to learn kintsugi technique, by which pottery is repaired with the application of urushi lacquer. I was intrigued by the depth and lustrous beauty of lacquer. At that time I saw a lacquered bowl with a refined dotted pattern such as one usually sees in delicate kimono fabric. “How did this pattern come to be?” It turned out to be Aomori’s Tsugaru-nuri, and so that’s where I wanted to head.
Purchase No. 20【 URUSHI】 Lacquer is ground to reveal a delicate pattern in this charming northern region handcraft. The featured bowl was made with the traditional nanako-nuri technique, using red urushi lacquer and a rare orange pigment to create a snowflake pattern.
“The traditional craft of Tsugaru-nuri was developed during the mid-Edo period under the auspices of the Hirosaki Domain. Originally made to adorn the scabbards of swords and knives, the practice eventually extended to serving trays and bowls. In essence, the urushi is applied in layers, then the surface is evenly ground in such a way as to expose the pattern,” Mr. Tsugumichi Matsuyama of Matsuyama Urushi Kobo explained. The labor-intensive process is said to require as many as 48 steps to make a single bowl, and hasn’t been altered in more than three centuries.
A small implement forms patterns in the lacquer.
The urushi lacquer dries in a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment known as a “muro”.
A small implement forms patterns in the lacquer.
The urushi lacquer dries in a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment known as a “muro”.
Now, while there are a variety of traditional urushi techniques, the one I was shown was “nanako-nuri”, which produces a delightful dot pattern. I was told that nanako was a word for fish eggs. There’s something awfully sweet about the naming sense that people had in times past!

First off, the artisan brushes lacquer onto the bare wooden surface. While the lacquer remains tacky, rapeseeds are applied to it. A dry “shara-shara” sound caresses my ears while that’s taking place.