True lacquer is a natural product tapped from the lacquer tree (Rhus verniciflua). In Wajima a mixture of unrefined raw lacquer, rice paste and baked diatomaceous earth are used to form what becomes a ground, a primer and undercoat, which contributes greatly to the robust and durable nature of Wajima lacquerware. It is the use of a fine baked diatomaceous earth powder called jinoko, which really characterises the ware. Its use became established during the 1720s and has helped to foster the worldwide reputation of Wajima true lacquerware as one of the finest made anywhere.
Among the large number of lacquerwares produced in Japan, Wajima true lacquerware is the only one to be designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Property by the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs.
The lacquering process begins with an undercoat, including a base or ground reinforced with an open weave cloth charged with lacquer. This is applied to the weaker parts of an item such as the lip of a bowl. All this contributes considerably to improving the durability and strength of the ware as well as defining its shape. This process alone can take between three to four months as each layer must be allowed to harden before being rubbed down and recoated.
Next a middle coat is applied to make the surface smoother and to provide a key for the top coat. It is said that the ground and undercoat will determine how good the final finish is. The middle coat is only true lacquer and can take a month to complete.
The final application is the top coat. In order to prevent specks of dust spoiling this final finish, a great deal of care is taken not to generate any. This usually means that only the person applying the final coat is allowed in a dedicated area in the workshop. A number of applications creates a thick top coat, which contributes greatly to the distinctive soft glossy appearance and warmth to the touch. This whole process also takes about a month.
20 Hisumi, Oisemachi, Wajima City, Ishikawa Prefecture, 928-0032
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