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

Kokontozai: KASHIYUKA’s Shop of Japanese Arts and Crafts / INDEN

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. The discovery this time is Yamanashi prefecture’s 400-year-old leather and lacquer crafting technique, inden, a practice that remained virtually hidden until a half century ago.

Koshu Inden is deerskin imprinted with lacquer patterning. At the flagship store of Indenya Uehara Yushichi, established in Kofu in 1582, purses, wallets, and other inden accessories line the walls. “The fun is in getting lost in choice among the hundreds of combinations of leather, lacquer, colors and patterns,” says shopkeeper KASHIYUKA.
A technique that had, for hundreds of years, remained a closely-guarded secret from the larger world — of how many traditional crafts in Japan can that claim realistically be made? I visited a leathercraft studio for Koshu Inden, which is one such. Established in 1582 (which is actually just pre-Edo) as Indenya Uehara Yushichi in the city of Kofu, Yamanashi prefecture, the secrets of its practice were handed down orally to a single family “patriarch” in each generation (not even shared among family), for over 370 years, until the mid-20th century.
Drawstring Pouch in Koshu Inden — A handcraft using leather and lacquer, passed down through generations from parent to a sole child.
The handcraft of inden involves the application of lacquer directly onto the surface of dyed deerskin. The name is a portmanteau of the words Indo denrai, “of Indian derivation”. The technique itself dates back over 1300 years, but the founder of Indenya Uehara Yushichi, Mr. Uehara, developed an original method that built upon tradition. That was the origin of Koshu Inden, its representative techniques being urushizuke (lacquer application), fusube (smoking), and sarasa, which has to do with patterning on the underlying material. On this day we were shown the first two techniques of smoking and lacquering.

First, the urushi lacquer is applied. The stencil with a specific pattern, such as the wavelike seigaiha, or an equally classic tiny flower shape, covers the deerskin, and lacquer is spread with a spatula across the surface. With lacquer filling the stencil wells, the paper is swiftly, delicately lifted off of the leather, leaving behind the thick beads of lacquer plumped on the surface. Navy-colored leather adorned with white lacquer waves; crimson leather covered with a pattern of tiny black urushi flowers… My gaze is held steadily by their subtle charms.