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Late Edo Period Lacquer Bowls: Aizu Lacquerware

Written on May 7, 2012

On my recent trip to Japan I found these wonderful lacquer bowls dating from the late Edo period, roughly around 1860.  They are from Aizu, which is now in present-day Fukushima Prefecture, and although Aizu has a famously long history of producing lacquer work, these are not the perfectly finished lacquer of, say, Wajima, but rather they have a more provincial appeal.The slightly rough handling of lacquer work is what I like about these–as well as the full, rich images which seem to be plum blossoms.   Each of these lidded bowls has a bit of repair, mostly around the lip of the bowl, and in keeping with the slightly imperfect spirit of these beauties, each of the lids is not a perfect fit to the bowl.From this website, here’s a very condensed synopsis of the history of Aizu lacquerware:

It was the planting of lacquer trees promoted by a powerful local family during the Muromachi period (1392-1573) that led to the making of Aizu lacquer ware. Then, when Gamo Ujisato who hailed from present-day Shiga Prefecture arrived to head the Aizu clan in the Momoyama period (1573-1600), he brought skilled lacquerers to this northern region from Shiga. Their skills were disseminated and as a result of fostering the development of techniques in crafts using lacquer, Aizu soon became a production center for all kinds of lacquer ware.
Later, specialist maki-e decorators were brought in from Kyoto and the steady development of lacquer craft here resulted in special permission to export Aizu lacquer ware being granted by the Shogunate in the middle of the Edo period (1600-1868). Production suffered around the unsettled period of the Meiji Restoration in 1868 but work soon returned to normal and heralded a golden age.

The various techniques employed and decorations using auspicious motifs favored by the Japanese are part of the delight of Aizu lacquer ware. Several techniques are of particular note. One called tetsusabi-nuri is decorated with tasteful motifs drawn in a rusty brown. Then there is kinmushikui-nuri which sports a pattern achieved by sprinkling rice husks over the wet surface of a piece of work. With kijiro-nuri the beauty of the grain of the wooden carcass is allowed to show through. Each technique is intelligently employed in the making of bowls, traditional stacking boxes, coasters and trays. Today, 38 government recognized Master Craftsmen head 3,000 people employed by the 311 firms privileged to be making this distinctive lacquer ware.

I’ll be offering these bowls on the webshop, but if you are interested in purchasing any, please send me an email: stephen(at)srithreads(dot)com

Each of the bowls, as shown, measures 3 7/8″ x 3 7/8″ or 9.75 cm x 9.75 cm.


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