Utsuwa is a lacquer bowl that is layered with wood or paper as the core.
When it comes to traditional Japanese crafts, I think many people think of lacquer first.
Lacquer is a sap collected from a cinnabar tree in the family Rhizopogaceae. This material is useful as a gold patch material for ceramics because it hardens. In other words, in order to use urushi, it is necessary to have something to be the "Core (SHIVER)" of its contents, which is the form of the traditional urushi craft.
Some craftsmen created Utsuwa using 100% lacquer, developed in the role of "adhesive" and "painting" without using anything else as a core, using lacquer itself as a core. Why did he end up with a 100% lacquer craft? In this interview, we will focus on the craftsmanship of Hisayoshi Muto, who is passionate about lacquer.
▲The method is not based on the traditional core but uses 100% lacquer to create a glossy look "thin".
Will you succeed to the father of a lacquerer, or will you find a job?
-What made you decide to become a lacquer craftsman, Mr. Muto? I have seen my father working as a lacquer craftsman since he was a child. As the eldest son, I thought, "I suppose he will take over the family business.".
But when he graduates from high school, his father doesn't say "He started a lacquered family business" when it comes to career options. Rather, he said, "There may be different worlds, so if you want to go to university, you can go.". So I entered the department of science at the university.
When I entered university and became a junior, the bubble economy was coming to an end, but employment was still in a seller's market. I was majoring in electrical engineering, so many of my friends chose to work for an electrical manufacturer, but there were some people who ended up comparing it with company benefits.
I myself wondered if I could get a job like that. There was a family business in the corner of my head. However, I only helped during summer vacation, so I don't know much about how to use lacquer. With this kind of hesitation, I thought about going back to my parents' house where I hardly visited after entering university.
When I went back to my parents' house in Aichi, there was no one because I didn't contact them in advance. But there was a wall board of the Buddhist altar which my father painted. When I tried to change it, I was moved by how beautiful it is. He was a well-known craftsman at Nagoya Buddhist altar, and when he saw his father's lacquered plates, which he thought were truly beautiful, he decided, "What a waste. I will take over this.".
-You saw a wall board just painted, and that was the inspiration. When I told my father that I wanted to work in lacquer, he didn't change his face in particular and it was like that. But my mother is very opposed. I think he was close to my father and knew the world of traditional crafts.
▲Muto Butsudan Lacquer Workshop is located in Gonosan-cho, Yatomi City, Aichi Prefecture. There is a calm and relaxing rural landscape around the workshop.
A lacquered room facing the dirt floor where the foundation work is done. Some of the workshops have been rebuilt, but some of the old building materials remain, partly in response to Muto's wishes. One of them is a sliding door with a newly painted board.
The world of Nagoya's Buddhist altar into which Mr. Fuji stepped
-There are places of production of Buddhist altars all over Japan. What are the characteristics of Nagoya Buddhist altars?
Nagoya Butsudan is one of the 15 Buddhist altars designated as Traditional Crafts, and it differs from the denomination in that each region has its own characteristics. Nagoya Butsudan is relatively large in size compared to other Buddhist altars in Japan and has a high structure with luxurious decorative metal fittings and pedestal. This area is located in the lower reaches of the Kiso Three Rivers, which used to be a flooded area, so the base of the Buddhist altar is raised and the lower part is rebuilt to protect the upper part even if water enters the house.
-Is there a unique way to apply lacquer?
Many of Nagoya's Buddhist altars are unique to the area and have a unique technique called "foil coating" in which powdered gold leaf is mixed in. Nagoya Butsudan is characterized by gorgeous metal fittings rather than lacquering, and lacquer is a powerful existence under the connection. Therefore, as for the basic painting of a Buddhist altar, it is common to stick to the existence of kuroko without applying foundation and painting black.
-In the first place, how long does it take to make a Buddhist altar?
Nowadays, the size of the Buddhist altar is getting smaller, and the budget, size and place for the Buddhist altar are also getting smaller. So it's like half a year to a year. In the past, there was a voice from a grandmother who lived nearby saying, "WHAT'S GOING ON?" and customers also made it looking forward to making a Buddhist altar.
After the wooden base was completed, the process of lacquering did not start right away, so the Buddhist altar was made slowly for about 2 years, leaving enough time for drying.
when you've learned to think of all failures as experiences,
-What kind of training period did Muto choose as a craftsman? I didn't get this job as soon as I graduated from high school, so when I looked back, there was an environment where I could do many things early. For the first two years, the foundation of the lacquer was applied, and from the third year, the lacquer was applied once every six months. I've become a perfect foundation! I thought so, but when I apply lacquer, the rough foundation looks better. I think the reason why he let me do it early was because he thought it would be better to know the finish by himself.
▲Currently, he is involved in the lacquering of the Japanese sword "aikuchi" designed by Mark Newson, a world-famous product designer. This is the scabbard of the sword.
What is the expression that makes the lacquer look beautiful? The reason behind the new 100% lacquer "thin"
-How did Muto come up with the 100% lacquer product "thin" when he painted the Nagoya Buddhist altar?
I was under pressure not to be called "My father is good, but my son is not." until about 10 years after my training and independence. However, the burden on my shoulders gradually came down, and I started to have a desire to spread lacquer more widely.
I have come to repeat experiments in my daily life, such as making lacquered sake cups because I like sake, or applying lacquer to everything.
lacquer applied to a cluster of grapes. It is entirely coated with black lacquer and its tip is red. It takes time to dry the stone that gives it a matte texture and see how it goes.
▲"Temaribako and lacquer ware" written by Muto. They use hemp cloth as the core and dare to create beautiful fluctuation like pottery. "Lacquer is very flexible and has a beautiful shape."
In the first place, lacquer itself has started to be used as an adhesive or waterproof material rather than being applied with gloss. If you apply the lacquer tree juice to a wooden bowl, it will be waterproof, or if you apply it to the bottom of a ship, it won't stick to barnacles. We use Tono powder and lacquer as the base coating material, and it works as an adhesive. The use of urushi has shifted to coating as a decoration since the refining technology of urushi improved and it became possible to make urushi in a state where it can be applied.
-Muto thought that he wanted to break away from the existence of lacquer which says that you cannot paint without something.
That's right. The texture of the lacquer is dignified but gentle. I also felt the charm of something like tolerance, and I came to pursue the expression that makes lacquer look beautiful.
At that time, my child was looking at a plastic cup of jelly, and I tried to peel it off by coating the inside of the cup with lacquer. When I was thinking about the material that peels off with the idea of reversing, lacquer without a core "thin" was born.
-The product of 100% lacquer was created from lacquer that needed a core. What do you think about the thin design and the bumpy shape like the handle?
When the light hits the curved surface, the reflection of the bumpy part is beautiful, so we shape it by considering how the light hits. Lacquer is called sure-urushi (slack) and is originally a transparent amber color.
Also, on the frame of the Buddhist altar, there is a beautiful line that is neatly painted so that the lacquer does not accumulate on the edge of the corner, but I really like the beauty of the lacquer that I felt when I painted the Buddhist altar, and thin is connected to the delicate design that makes use of the line's thinness of 1mm thickness.
Japanese lacquer craftsman Hisayoshi Muto
Born in Aichi Prefecture in 1969. After graduating from university, he went on to become a lacquerer for the Buddhist altar in Nagoya, his family business. In 2005, he became interested in making lacquer works other than Buddhist altars, and in the following year he started to exhibit at events. After 2012, he pursued monozukuri using only lacquer, and invented a unique lacquer technique without a core without a foundation. Commercialized 1 mm thick sake bottle "thin" made of 100% lacquer. In order to convey the appeal of urushi, he continues to challenge the ideal form of urushi that no one has ever tried.
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