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”Kenji Suzuki, Urushikaki artisan (drawing sap from ”urushi” tree), Urushi painter” Working with lacquer at Jyoboji Temple in Iwate

”Kenji Suzuki,
Urushikaki artisan (drawing sap from ”urushi” tree), Urushi painter” Working with lacquer at Jyoboji Temple in Iwate

Kenji Suzuki, Urushikaki artisan, Urushi painter
Jyobojimachi, Ninohe, Iwate Prefecture

”If you want to be good, go to Joboji”

When people think of lacquer ware, they often think of ”products such as ”Wajima Nuri ”and ”Aizu Nuri” but Iwate is actually the number one producer in Japan for lacquer itself. Joboji, Ninohe is one of the most famous places. We visited Kenji Suzuki, ”Urushikaki” (drawing sap from lacquer tree) specialist and lacquer painter who harvests lacquer himself at Joboji and produces lacquer ware.

Suzuki was born to a family where his father and grandfather were lacquer painters. He also started working with lacquer but also was inspired to ”make something special”.
He wanted to not only perfect his painting, but also to be selective about the lacquer itself. When he was thinking about that his mentor who had studied in Aizu, Fukushima Prefecture said, ”If you want to be good, go to Joboji”. So he became a long term scholar in the Traditional Folk Skill Trainee System from Japan Lacquer Technique Preservation Committee. That was the beginning of his relationship with Joboji.

What changed after collecting lacquer himself

Suzuki worked at a workshop called Tekiseisha which is run by Ninohe city for 5 years, and is now independent, but he still sells his lacquer pieces at Tekiseisha. As we mentioned earlier, he is also a lacquer sap collector.
Normally the work for drawing the sap and painting lacquer are separate tasks. However, Suzuki wanted to study more about the lacquer itself and started drawing the sap himself. When he started collecting the sap, ”I felt the lacquer became more precious.”
”You can only collect the sap between June to October. You need to find the trees before that and care for it and allow it to grow. So you need to live in the mountain for half of the year. You can only spend the rest of the year creating, and production definitely decreases. But by collecting the sap myself, I developed a greater appreciation for the lacquer.”

Selectively choosing the lacquer tree

Nakata had also tried collecting sap at Joboji in the past. He remembered that when he tried it, he was surprised that the quantity and quality of the sap was different depending on the person who collects it. Suzuki commented, ”Yes, it certainly is difficult”. The lacquer you get will depend on the each tree. It also depends how you grow them. So you have to judge all these things and deal with each tree individually. By being selective of the lacquer, the joy in production increases.

Compared to Aizu Nuri and Wajima Nuri, most of the lacquerware from Joboji are more simple. Suzuki told us, ”They are better at the technique for processing lacquer. But as a result, Joboji established the simple layering technique.”
Layering the lacquer many times produces something quite special. It may not look flamboyant but the real power of lacquer itself comes out. There are many repeat customers. Lacquerware painted with lacquer that Suzuki himself collected from the tree. The charm is a result of the dedication to the process that has been nurtured at Joboji.


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