Yamanaka Lacquerware:Beautiful Wood Grain

Ishikawa Prefecture is home to three major lacquerware production areas: “Yamanaka for wood,” “Wajima for lacquer,” and “Kanazawa for makie.” This time, we will introduce one of these, “Yamanaka for wood,” or Yamanaka lacquerware (Yamanaka-nuri).

Table of Contents
1. What is Yamanaka Lacquerware?
2. The History of “Yamanaka for Wood”
3. Characteristics of Yamanaka Lacquerware
_3.1. “Tate-kidori”:Vertical Wood Cutting
_3.2. “Kashoku-hiki”:Decorative Turning
_3.3. “Fuki-Urushi”:Wiped Lacquer
_3.4. “Taka-makie”
4. Conclusion

What is Yamanaka Lacquerware?

Yamanaka lacquerware, also known as Yamanaka-nuri, is produced in the Yamanaka Onsen district of Kaga City, located at the southernmost tip of Ishikawa Prefecture. It was certified as a traditional craft by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry in 1975 and is one of Japan’s leading crafts. It is popular as a tableware for everyday use, and boasts the highest production volume and production value of lacquerware in Japan.
Lacquerware, not just Yamanaka lacquerware, is generally made by craftsmen divided into different roles, such as kiji-shi (woodworkers, who make the vessel), shitaji-shi (undercoaters, who apply the undercoat), nu-shi (lacquerers, who apply the lacquer), and makie-shi (decorator, who decorate). The Yamanaka Onsen area is characterized by having a particularly large number of woodworkers compared to other lacquerware production areas. This is related to the history of Yamanaka lacquerware.

The History of “Yamanaka for Wood”

The origins of Yamanaka lacquerware date back to the Azuchi-Momoyama period, about 450 years ago. It began when a group of woodworkers who made a living by making hikimono (traditional Japanese woodturning such as bowls and trays using a lathe) moved from the mountainous area of ​​Echizen (present-day northeastern Fukui Prefecture) to the Manago area upstream of Yamanaka Onsen. The introduction of the hikimono technique to this area laid the foundation for Yamanaka lacquerware, known as ” Yamanaka for Wood.” At that time, there was no lacquerware technology, and hikimono products were sold as hot spring souvenirs, but in the Edo period, lacquer painting and makie techniques were introduced from Kanazawa, Kyoto, and Aizu, and Yamanaka lacquerware developed.
Until the Meiji period, a hand-powered lathe was used to make the wooden base, but with the appearance of electric lathes in the Taisho period, production volume increased dramatically. In the 1950s, modern lacquerware incorporating plastic materials began to be produced in addition to wooden lacquerware. Although production was suspended temporarily due to World War II, it has continued to develop for over 400 years until the present day, and is now popular as tableware, interior goods, and gifts for bridal parties, and boasts the highest production volume and value in Japan.

Characteristics of Yamanaka lacquerware

The greatest feature of Yamanaka lacquerware is its natural texture that makes use of the wood grain. There are four distinctive techniques to maximize the beauty of the wood grain.

Tate-kidori”:Vertical Wood Cutting

The first is “Tate-kidori” (tate=vertical, kidori=wood cutting). When making vessels, in most cases, the log is sliced ​​into boards and then cut into pieces by using a method called yoko-kidori (yoko=horizontal, kidori=wood cutting). However, Yamanaka lacquerware is characterized by cutting the wood vertically, that is, parallel to the growth rings, and cutting the wood from sliced ​​logs. Compared to yoko-kidori, tate-kidori has the advantage that it is strong and less prone to warping, as it can be cut without going against the direction in which the wood grew. For this reason, they are also good at making intricately made pieces such as “Usubiki (thin cuts)” that are so thin that the wood is visible through them, and “Futamono (lidded items)” where the body and lid must fit perfectly together. Other lacquerware production areas often use yoko-kidori, but tate-kidori is a method unique to Yamanaka lacquerware. It is difficult to make large items using tate-kidori, so Yamanaka lacquerware is known for its round, small items such as bowls, tea saucers, and tea caddies. The materials used are sturdy woods such as domestic zelkova, horse chestnut, cherry, and chestnut.

Kashoku-hiki”:Decorative Turning

Next one is “Kashoku-hiki (decorative cutting)”. Kashokuhiki is a technique that creates patterns by applying a blade to the surface of the wood while turning the lathe. There are more than 50 types and techniques. The following are just a few of the most representative techniques. All of them are very delicate decorations and are the work of a craftsman.

-Sujibiki: Drawing fine parallel lines
-Sensuji: Drawing thin lines of equal width one by one
-Arasuji: Drawing rough random lines
-Kesuji/Itome: Drawing thin and delicate lines with a needle-like object
-Tobisuji: Carving while bouncing the blade of the plane
-Inahohiki: Carving to resemble the pattern of an ear of rice

Fuki-Urushi”:Wiped Lacquer

The third technique is “Fuki-Urushi (Wipe lacquer)”. In this technique, sometimes called “suri-urushi,” the wood is wiped (rubbed) with a cloth soaked in lacquer and dried, and the process is repeated. This method allows the lacquer to be applied very thinly. By applying multiple coats, the lacquer gradually becomes glossier and stronger, and the finish is one in which the wood grain is clearly visible. There are no other vessels with exactly the same wood grain, so the finished product is one of a kind.
Also, to have the wood grain clearly visible requires the technique of finishing the wood. In order to create more complete products, many woodworkers forge their own steel blades such as planes, and use about 30 different blades of different sizes depending on the purpose and shape. However, in reality, no matter how much attention is paid to the tools, each piece of wood has different properties such as hardness and fiber direction. The skilled technique of the woodworker is able to instantly discern the properties of each wood.


As introduced so far, Yamanaka lacquerware is characterized by simple, warm vessels that make use of the wood grain, but the beauty of the elegant makie is also recognized as an artistic value. There are many types of makie, but the one that Yamanaka lacquerware is famous for is “taka-makie“.
As the name suggests, taka-makie (high makie) is a makie technique that raises the makie part higher than the base to create a three-dimensional effect. There are several ways to raise the makie part higher. “Urushi-age” is a thick coat of lacquer applied to the makie part, “Sumi-ko-age” is a method of raising the makie part by sprinkling charcoal powder on top of it, and “Sabi-age” is a method of raising the height by using a mixture of rust and lacquer. In taka-makie, the makie part is raised higher like this, and makie is painted on top of it in the same way as other makie. Therefore, compared to other makie techniques, it requires more steps, high skill, time and effort. Taka-makie, which is made with such effort, has a three-dimensional look and feel, a sense of perspective, and a high-class, heavy finish.


This time, we introduced Yamanaka of a wooden base, or Yamanaka lacquerware, which is one of the three major lacquerware of Ishikawa Prefecture. I hope you learned about the woodworking and lacquering techniques that make the most of the beauty of the wood grain, and the decoration methods. If you visit Yamanaka Onsen, we recommend that you take a look at Yamanaka lacquerware.

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