【Introduction to Traditional Crafts】 ~Kawatsura Lacquerware (Akita Prefecture)~

【Introduction to Traditional Crafts】 ~Kawatsura Lacquerware (Akita Prefecture)~


Kawatsura lacquerware



【Production area of Kawatsura lacquerware】

Kawatsura Town, Yuzawa City, Akita Prefecture



【What is Kawatsura lacquerware?】

Lacquerware produced in Kawatsura-cho, Yuzawa City, Akita Prefecture.

Lacquerware that is often used in everyday life, such as bowls, trays, and multi-tiered boxes, has been widely popular among people.


There is a specialized craftsman for each process, and each has a division of labor system.

It is not uncommon for it to take up to a year to complete, as there are many processes involved in completing it.


Currently, about 60% of the products produced are bowls.

While preserving the traditions that have been handed down over the years, craftsmen are also actively working to develop new products such as hand mirrors, accessories, and floor lights.


In December 1976, it was designated as a traditional craft.



【Features of Kawatsura lacquerware】

The feature is that it is very sturdy while being reasonable.

The reason for its robustness lies in the “undercoating” process, which is an important process for making the bare wood durable.

The trick is to do the following iteratively:



It is the work of applying a mixture of “Kakishibu”, which is a liquid obtained by squeezing astringent persimmons, and “charcoal powder”, and polishing after drying.

The use of persimmon tannin and charcoal powder leads to cost reduction, so it can be sold at a reasonable price.


・Persimmon sharpening

After applying the charcoal, apply persimmon tannin and polish.


・Base coating

The work of applying unrefined lacquer


The craftsmen use a technique called “hana-nuri” for the finishing work.

After drying, a brush is used to smooth the surface of the lacquerware without sharpening, so a very skilled technique is required.

It can be said that Kawatsura lacquerware is characterized by its luster and softness even without polishing.



【History of Kawatsura lacquerware】

The history of Kawatsura lacquerware began about 800 years ago in the Kamakura period.

It is said that Minamoto no Yoritomo’s vassal, Michinori Onodera, used abundant wood and lacquer to make his vassals work as a side job to apply lacquer to weapons such as bows and armor.

Kawatsura Village is a heavy snowfall area, and during the snow season, it was not possible to make a living with agriculture alone.

So as a side job, they started lacquer painting.


In the mid-1600s, lacquerware production began in earnest as an industry that supported the local economy.

At that time, there is a record that 26 bowl makers made a living selling lacquerware.


During the Edo period, it was protected by the policy of the clan, and many items such as bowls that were essential to daily life began to be made.

In addition, decoration techniques such as Chinkin and Maki-e were added, and sales channels expanded throughout Japan, solidifying the foundation as an industry.


It continued to develop steadily even during the recession after the war, and even today, its unique techniques and traditions have been handed down from generation to generation.



A technique in which a pattern is carved on the surface of lacquerware coated with lacquer with a knife, and gold powder is pushed into it.



A technique of drawing patterns on the surface of lacquerware with lacquer and sprinkling metal powder before it dries.



【Production process of Kawatsura lacquerware】

①Raw wood


The material used depends on what the craftsman makes.

Beech and horse chestnut are used for round objects such as bowls.

Hiba, cedar, magnolia, etc. are used for square objects such as multi-tiered boxes and curved objects such as trays.

Originally, the land is blessed with forest resources, but only trees over 200 years old are used for Kawatsura lacquerware.

By carefully managing the wood they use, the craftsmen are protecting an important resource.


②Cutting wood

First, cut the raw wood into rings.

After that, it is a process to avoid the painful part, cut it according to the approximate size of the product, and form a block.


③Coarse grind

In the process of shaving into the shape of the product, the procedure is as follows.

・Attach a block of wood to the potter’s wheel

・The inside of the tree is hollowed out, and the outside is roughly shaved.

・Boil the processed wood


By boiling, the effect of “prevention of wood distortion” and “insect repellent” is demonstrated.




To prevent the wood from warping, it is smoked and dried for about a month.

Smoke-drying is a method of removing moisture evenly with smoke to alleviate distortions that cause twisting.

In addition, adjust the moisture content of the wood to about 10%.


⑤Finish grinding


After drying, attach the solidified wood base to the potter’s wheel.

The surface of the lacquerware is ground with a plane to make it beautiful and smooth.

Finally, after shaving off the bottom part, the bowl is complete.


⑥Applying charcoal and sharpening persimmons

This is the process that produces the aforementioned “sturdiness”.

A mixture of persimmon tannin and charcoal powder is applied with a straw brush, dried and then sharpened.

After that, apply persimmon tannin and then perform “drying → polishing” in the same way.



Using a brush made from a horse’s tail, the unrefined lacquer is applied in a rubbing motion.

“Kaki Togi” and “Undercoat” are repeated about 6 times.

This process prevents water from penetrating into the wooden base, resulting in a sturdy lacquerware finish without warping.


⑧Undercoating, middle coating, top coating, flower coating


From undercoating to overcoating, the craftsman adjusts the color of the lacquer to bring it closer to the finished color.

The process of applying lacquer and polishing is repeated seven times.

The lacquer must be completely dried before being applied again, and the properties of the lacquer will change depending on the temperature and humidity of the work environment, so it is necessary to accurately judge the condition at each time.


For the final finish, craftsmen use a technique called hana-nuri, in which lacquer is applied and then dried without polishing.

“The craftsman must paint so that there are no brush strokes” and “the craftsman must not cause unevenness in the coating”, so a high level of skill is required.

Also, dust must never be attached, so it is a work that must be done carefully and carefully.


Depending on the item to be produced, decoration techniques such as the aforementioned ‘chinkin’ and ‘maki-e’ are applied.





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