A simple Japanese bowl which hides an exceptional work of craftsmanship

30 May 2016 in So Design

We all have already held in our hands this famous object which symbolises Japan : the small lacquerware bowl. But did you know that it represented centuries of skill?

Homemade Japanese bowl

Craftsmanship is extremely well developed in Japan: it is the knowledge of passionate and meticulous people, who are attentive to skill, accurate, and keen to pass on and uphold tradition, and who above all are gifted with great talent.

Bowl for Japanese food

We all have already held in our hands this famous object which symbolises Japan – and its cuisine – the small lacquerware bowl, often red or black, used to serve the traditional dashi soups.
Beyond the wonder that you feel on seeing the beauty of these bowls, it is hard to imagine all the work that lies behind them and the number of techniques available for making these works of art.

Traces of this craft were found very long time ago in China, but it seems obviously that Japan is established as the pioneer in this technique. An older piece of lacquerware was in fact discovered in Fukui prefecture – on the East coast of the island -, and it may date back to 12 600 years BCE. So you could say that the Japanese have had the time to work on and refine their technique!

Design plate for food

These bowls – and other lacquerware objects – made from wood or paper are then covered with a varnish from the sap of a tree rightly called the “ lacquer tree” or “Japanese varnish tree” (Toxicodendron Vernicifluum); a specimen of about 20 metres whose toxic sap has been used in Asian craft for millennia. As for the technique, it is unique to each region where it is applied. We could almost say, with regard to lacquering, that there are as many techniques as there are regions in Japan.

Modern Japanese design art

The Tsugaru region in the Aomori prefecture, right in the far North of the island, has four. But one of theses techniques requires not less than 48 steps before the making of a single piece is completed. Imagine the time spent, and the patience and attention paid by these craftsmen when practising their art. The uniqueness of the “Tsugaru-nuri” lacquerware is the result of a covering, polishing, and engraving process which gives the final object an incomparable depth and intensity of colour. You will be able to admire and shop some of theses lacquerware traditional objects, during your stay at Hoshino Resorts Aomoriya, which is also located in the Aomori prefecture.

Japanese traditional bowl

The “Aizu-nuri” technique practised in the Aizu region in Fukushima prefecture is also unique. The design is firstly made in the lacquer, and then it is coloured with pigmented or gold powder. This technique gives objects a very chic and luxurious appearance.

In the Kyoto region, the “Kyo-shikki” lacquering technique is practised, which is certainly one of the most popular in Japan, and the only one to use the concept of “wabi-sabi”, which combines refinement in aesthetics and spirituality. In fact, the objects produced are considered as fine works of art rather than everyday objects.

Finally, the most popular is the “Wajima-nuri” lacquer. This technique amounts to 124 layers of lacquer, and the thickness provided by multiple applications, makes each object very resistant and almost indestructible. It is even said that these items of lacquerware can be handed down from generation to generation.

Decoration design in Japanese style

Depending on the region that you visit, you can find one of these fabulous lacquerware objects to bring back from your trip. Whether it is a tray, bowl, plate, bento or small piece of furniture, this souvenir is truly representative of Japan, and will simply be useful or decorate your home, but it will allow you above to tell its amazing history…

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