We visited Noto Peninsula as a day trip from Kanazawa. We never made to visit the Wajima Lacquerware Center but after checking the bus timings (we took the first bus from Kanazawa... read more
Wajima Nuri Kaikan
(Wajima Urushi Craft Museum)
The 1st floor is a store,and...
Wajima Nuri Kaikan
(Wajima Urushi Craft Museum)
The 1st floor is a store,and 2nd floor is the lacquerware museum,exhibiting historical
documents and material relating to Wajima lacquerware.Admission to the museum is
Traditional Japanese handicraft
About Wajima nuri
Wajima nuri is a traditional lacquerware method originated and developed around Wajima.
The word may refer to both the craft technique and urushi artifacts .?
Urushi is the sap of the urushi tree. It has strong adhesive properties and is used as a
lacquering material that on hardening becomes extremely durable and produces a glossy finish.
It can be found widely throughout Eastern Asia and has been used in Japan for several
thousand years. The word ‘urushi’ is thought to have originated from the Japanese uruwashi
or urumu which approximates to the English for fresh and vibrant gloss. When urushi hardens
it is very resistant to both acids and alkalis and is durable enough to last several thousand
years. Urushi product have been found in excavations that date from the Jomon period (8000
BC - 300 BC). There have even been cases reported where the original wooden base has
completely rotted away but the original urushi coating has remained with its color and quality
Urushi is also a very delicate substance. The quality of urushi changes depending on the time
of day and year in which the urushi is taken from the tree and it is also affected by the method
and place by which it is collected. Urushi is different from other coating materials in the way
that it is dried. It contains a substance called urushiol which reacts with oxygen and hardens
through a process of oxidization. For this process to occur a suitable temperature and level of
humidity are both necessary. The drying process also proceeds gradually over a considerable
length of time after the piece has been completed. Therefore a piece that has just been
finished should be treated very carefully when it is first used. It can be used normally after
the first year and after about three years of use the gloss fully matures and the piece can be
said to have come of age.
Urushiware is Ecological
With its raw materials of wood and urushi, urushiware is a collaboration of two of the blessings
of nature. The production process uses almost all natural materials which means that a very
small amount of energy is required. Further, there are no harmful side-effects associated with
the production process and it creates minimal environmental pollution or ecological damage.
The History of Wajima-nuri
There are a number of theories as to how urushi production started in Wajima but as yet none
of them have been confirmed. Vessels that contain locally found powder mixed in with the
urushi undercoating have been discovered in a number of local excavations which date back to
medieval times. From evidence found in the small number of handed down texts that have
survived the centuries, it is thought that urushi was being produced in Wajima in the
Important factors in the development of urushiware production are both the local abundance of
readily available materials such as Noto cypress, zelkova, urushi trees and Wajima jinoko
powder and the area’s favorable climatic conditions. Wajima was historically a port of call on a
major sea route which made it convenient for the transportation of materials and goods. This
was probably an important contributing factor to the local development of the industry.
However, the fact that the people involved in the production and distribution of urushiware
had such pride in their work, and that the level of the techniques were continuously being
honed, are probably the most important factors in ensuring that the tradition has been passed
down so successfully to the present day.
The Production Process of Wajima-nuri
There is a systematic division of labor in the production process of Wajima-nuri that at its
broadest level can be divided into the stages of substrate production, lacquering and
decoration. Within these general categories there is a further level of specialization which
includes the wooden substrate crafts of wan-kiji (wood turning to produce objects composed of
concentric circles), magemono (the bending of previously soaked wood to produce substrates),
sashimono (the assembly of processed wood into boxes and shelves), hou-kiji (specialist
carving of more complex shapes), and the lacquering techniques of shitaji (undercoating),
uwanuri (top coating), ro-iro (polishing), maki-e (predominantly decoration through the
sprinkling of gold or silver into intricate patterns) and chinkin (decoration through carving of
patterns onto the surface and filling the grooves with gold and sliver).
With a production process based on a system of division of labor, a piece will typically go
through over one hundred stages which can take anything from six months to several years to
complete. Each of the specialist fields have developed their own traditions of high level
craftsmanship and efficiency at each stage of the production process which have been carefully
passed down through generations and are still held in high regard today.
Each craftsman works with confidence and dedication to produce his work. The nushiya is the
master craftsman and it is his job to manage and oversee the entire production process. From
the time that an order is placed until the delivery of the product he is uncompromising in
ensuring that at each stage the highest standards of quality are maintained.
The shape of the wooden substrate differs according to its purpose and the industry is divided
into trades in which craftsmen who have mastered the necessary specialist techniques work.
Certain woods are more suited to certain shapes and the correct choice of wood for each
shape is another important part of the production process. Whichever kind of wood is chosen,
it needs to be dried for three to five years after the tree has been felled before it can be
Wan-kiji, which is also known as hikimono-kiji is the technique of turning wood on a lathe a
while carving it with a turning tool. It is used for producing circular vessels such as bowls,
dishes, plates and pots. The woods most often used are zelkova, cherry and horse chestnut.
Sashimono or kakumono, is the assembly of wood that has been made into boards. The woods
most often used are Noto cypress, Japanese cypress, paulownia and gingko. The boards are
used to make such things as stacked box sets, ink-stone boxes, miniature dining tables and
Using thin prepared wood with a vertical grain, the wood is soaked in water to make it pliable
and then bent into round shapes such as circular trays and lunch boxes. Good quality wood is
necessary such as Noto cypress or Japanese cypress.
Hou-kiji is also known as kurimono-kiji and falls within the field of sashimono. It is the
specialist field of the production of substrates which have many curves and require the carving
of more complex shapes such as tatami floor tables, the legs of flower vases, the mouse of
sake bottle and spoons. The woods most often used are magnolia, katsura and Noto cypress.
Wajima-nuri has a characteristic lacquering method. It is known as hon-kataji and is a
traditional technique of undercoating. Wajima has remained steadfast in keeping to this
method and through continuing research has strived to achieve the highest quality possible in
urushiware. It has become the standard in Wajima lacquering.
The parts of a wooden substrate that are most prone to damage are reinforced with cloth that
is applied to the wood with urushi. Subsequent urushi undercoats are mixed with Wajima
jinoko which literally means earth powder.
Jinoko is high quality baked diatomaceous earth (a light soft chalk-like sedimentary rock that
contains fossilized algae that give it an absorbent quality). Jinoko is extremely heat resistant
and when mixed with urushi dries to form a hard and durable coating. Jinoko in Wajima is
graded according to the size of the particles and is applied to the substrate mixed with urushi
from the rough ippenji (first grade) followed by ippenji Between each stage the surface is
sanded when dry and with each layer the finish becomes both finer and smoother.
The repeated undercoating process however is not just for the purpose of ensuring durability.
The undercoating process is also known as jitsuke and through careful manipulation of the
thickness of coats and the sanding process between these coats the craftsman also determines
the final shape and character of the substrate. It is an extremely important stage of the
production process as there is no room for error as any oversight will be visible in the finished
product. In order to produce such high quality work, a considerable level of technique is
required from the craftsmen to consistently produce at such a demanding level.
In uwa-nuri high quality refined urushi is applied to the substrate with a brush. Dust is the
greatest enemy at this stage which requires great care and concentration.
There are several varieties of urushi which are each used according to their individual
properties. The season and climate contribute to the condition of the urushi when it is used
and so it has to be carefully prepared. The experience and techniques of the uwa-nuri
craftsman provide him with the ability to carefully mix and adjust the urushi so that each time
it is used an optimum coating is achieved.
One of the most important factors that give the both durable and elegant-its character is the
beauty of the decorative techniques of maki-e and chinkin . With their harmonized colour-
schemes they add a new dimension of aestheticism to urushiware.
Broadly speaking there are two main finishes in urushi. These are nuri-tate and ro-iro. Nuri-
tate refers to the finish that is achieved by applying the final coat of urushi and doing no other
work on it after it has dried. Ro-iro is a repeated process of rubbing urushi into the top coat
and then polishing it. At the end, the final polishing is carried out using the skin of the hand
until even the tiniest scratches have been removed. The resultant mirror-like finish which is
unique to urushi sets off the gold and silver decorative work.
This is the decorative technique of using urushi to draw patterns on a lacquered surface and
then sprinkling on gold or silver. It has a history of several thousand years and is one of the
representative decorative techniques in Japanese urushi art.
Within maki-e there are a number of specialist techniques such as hira maki-e (flat collage-
like designs), togidashi maki-e (sanded through designs) and taka maki-e (raised designs).
These can be used in a variety of ways to achieve many different kinds of finishes.
Chinkin is a decorative technique that involves carving into the lacquered surface of
urushiware and filling these grooves with gold leaf or powder. A round-tipped chisel is the
standard tool and is used for carving lines and grooves but other special chisels are also used
for different particular tasks such as carving shallow wider areas or gouging out deeper
grooves in the surface.
How to Handle Urushiware
If urushiware is used for its original purpose it will rarely become damaged. However, there
are some points to remember with regard to the way that it is washed and stored. If care is
taken to keep to these guidelines, urushiware will enhance the aesthetic quality of your life
for many years to come.
How to Wash
Urushiware can be washed with a conventional neutral household detergent. Scrubbing
brushes and steel wool that contain abrasive material in them will cause scratching and so
should be avoided. If urushiware is washed separately from tableware with rough surfaces such
as pottery any risk of scratching can be further avoided.
No Microwave Ovens
Electromagnetic waves burn urushi so under no circumstances should urushiware be put into
Refrain from Using Automatic Dishwashers and Dish Dryers
Please refrain from automatic dish washers and dish dryers as boiling water and hot air can
Avoid Direct Sunlight
Urushi deteriorates by being exposed to ultra-violet rays and so should not be placed in areas
that get direct sunlight for long periods of time.
How to Store
If urushi is to be stored for long periods of time it should be out of direct sunlight and in a
place with a reasonable amount of humidity. In order that mold does not form on it is
important that any dirt or water should be wiped off before storage. A place that is too dry
can cause warping so should be avoided.
Scratches and Damage Can Be Repaired
Urushiware can be re-lacquered and damage can be repaired. In Wajima this has been known
from olden times as naoshimon and is the responsibility of craftsman who made it.
Transportation information (to Wajima)
Airplane / Tokyo (Haneda)-Noto Airport: 1 hour
From Noto Airport
Bus or shared-taxi: Approx. 20 minutes
Car / Using Noto toll road: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Hokuriku railroad / Okunoto Express bus: 2 hours