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Lacquerware of Serene Beauty  ”Lacquer Craftsman, Hisashi Kitahara

Lacquerware of Serene Beauty
”Lacquer Craftsman, Hisashi Kitahara

Kitahara Urushi Kobo Hisashi Kitahara
Shiojiri City, Nagano Prefecture

The various quality of lacquer

Kiso is a major producer of lacquerware products. We visited Hisashi Kitahara, a lacquerware craftsman. He came into the world of lacquerware crafts as an apprentice. There, he spent 10 years sharpening his skill. He later set up his own workshop and started making lacquerwares. His works are highly acclaimed for their beauty, and many of them have received prestigious awards.

At the workshop, we were able to hear about the various properties of lacquer. Nakata asked if it is possible to paint the lacquer on the surface of pottery. Kitahara answered that it is possible to paint the unglazed ones.
”Lacquer can be applied to pottery that can absorb it. Potteries coated with glaze don’t absorb lacquer. But this is my own #sake” bottle that I have repaired with lacquer,” Kitahara said, and took out a ceramic ”sake” bottle. It was repaired with lacquer mixed with zinoko (dried clay powder) to replace the chipped part, and shaped to blend in with the rest of the bottle.

”Even if lacquerware gets a little scratched, it can be repaired by polishing the damaged part and reapplying lacquer. So it can be used for a lifetime. If the base lacquer is painted properly, it lasts longer. Nowadays we have dishwashing detergents, so it is easy to take care of lacquerware. Just apply detergent to a soft dishcloth, wash and rinse, and wipe the water. Simple as that.” Kitahara told us.

”Tsuishu Carving” craft

Some of the works Kitahara makes is ”Tsuishu (red lacquer) Carving”. Usually, lacquer craftwork is painting lacquer on something. But ”tsuishu carving” is made by coating layers and layers of lacquer to give thickness, and then carving patterns and reliefs.
Even if one applied lacquer every day, it will take 4 years to bring it to 1 centimeter thickness. The process takes tremendous time and patience. Nakata was shown a brightly colored tsuishu incense container. The rich lacquer in vermillion, blue, white, and black are thickly layered, and its glossy texture gives a novel impression. It is truly an artwork that can only be created with long time and effort.

Lacquer can be used for adhering objects, and also can be used to create various artworks depending on the wooden base and the painting technique. And like Kitahara’s ”Tsuishu Carving”, there are beautiful artworks which are expressed only with lacquer. It was another special opportunity to observe high craftsmanship, helping us realize the charm of lacquerware.


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