Offbeat Wajima Lacquerware to Benefit Today’s Users -1
ISHIKAWA – What if it rains all day, every day? Wouldn’t you feel depressed? But to those who live in regions of abundant rainfall, cloudy weather might be better than clear, sunny skies. “It rains so much here that little children say sunlight is too blinding,” said Junko Kirimoto, who came to Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture, 27 years ago. She came to this rainy town to marry the owner of a local lacquer factory. Wajima is located at the end of a peninsula that faces the sea. A lot of rain brings humidity, and the moisture is indispensable to the development of traditional lacquerware called “Wajima-nuri.”
Usually, dryness and humidity are considered opposites. But the Japanese lacquer called “urushi” is the only paint coating agent that solidifies with moisture. Urushi is the sap of a tree. In Wajima-nuri lacquer techniques, craftsmen meticulously coat shaped wood with dozens of layers of urushi lacquer. It seems an endless repetition of painting and drying. It thus requires time and tremendous patience. Once it is done, the product is resistant to water, acids and alkalis. Its lacquer coating gives it luster, and makes Wajima-nuri tableware feel gentle to the hands and lips.
For standard Japanese consumers, Wajima-nuri lacquerware is ultra-high grade. The dishes, bowls and cups are wrapped with thin silk cloth and stowed away in the back of a cupboard. The lacquerware is used only once or twice a year on special occasions, with maximum attention paid to their care. Although the object we have taken out is a bowl, we might wonder if we are even allowed to serve miso soup in it, which seems like putting the cart before the horse. But many people in Japan probably get nervous when it comes to practically using Wajima-nuri products.
When asked how carefully we should handle Wajima-nuri lacquer products, Taiichi Kirimoro said, “You should wash Wajima-nuri tableware with a lot of water, just as you wash other regular dishes. Splashes of water sustain the moisture in the lacquer coating, increasing the luster.” Taiichi, Junko’s husband, is the seventh-generation owner of Wajima Kirimoto, a lacquer factory which started more than 200 years ago in this small town. In their home, they use Wajima-nuri lacquerware made more than 100 years ago on a daily basis.
Standard Wajima-nuri lacquerware is shiny and smooth as a result of repeated coating. Orange-red and black are the main traditional colors. Some bowls and chopsticks have a gold leaf design on the surface unique to the Wajima-nuri style. There are many Waijma-nuri lacquerware stores in this town, but many of the products sold here look almost the same.
In such a traditional industry, a new challenge is being laid down. Offbeat, stylish Wajima-nuri lacquer techniques are being commercialized by Taiichi’s company. According to Taiichi, who was born at a Wajima-nuri lacquerware production factory and has been involved in the industry for more than 30 years, steel cutlery is not the ally of traditional products. Such cutlery damages lacquerware by scratching the surface. It goes without saying that steel is stronger than solidified lacquer. Once the surface is damaged, the dish or bowl will degrade rapidly.