Lacquerware has been a part of the Japanese dining table for centuries. Lacquerware is constituted by vessels and utensils made of wood or paper coated with layers of vermillion or black lacquer (URUSHI). Lacquerware is sometimes referred to as "Japan" in English and is one of Japan's representative traditional crafts. While collaborating with creators from different industries, Lacquerware Kunimoto is promoting the appeal of lacquer as a material to the world.
The challenge of planning, manufacturing, and selling new lacquer products
Lacquerware Kunimoto is a store that manufactures and sells Takaoka lacquerware and other traditional crafts in Takaoka City, Toyama Prefecture, one of Japan's leading lacquerware production areas.
The store is run by Kotaro Kunimoto, the fourth generation of a long-established lacquerware store with over 100 years of history in Takaoka. Even though he was aware of taking over the family business someday, after high school he first jumped into the design sector followed by the motorcycle mechanic career not only in Japan but in Australia and Italy.
Despite the rewarding work at that time, he decided to return home with a concern about the future of traditional crafts in Takaoka at the age of 30. There he realized that the old prosperity had been lost so he started to share and take initiatives for the turnaround with his peer successors of other craftsmen.
In the past, "a high-quality product would sell well" but nowadays unless the products meet the customer's needs, they will not even be picked up. He determined to create what he would want to use and be proud of, detaching himself from the view that "it's a traditional craft, so it's good”. Sharing his ideas and taking inspiration from his peers, he has been exploring the new possibilities of lacquer as a material, creating more free and flexible lacquer products that blend in with modern life, such as drinking cups, SDGs badges, wooden bow ties, and smartphone covers.
It is Kunimoto’s wish that the entire city of Takaoka flourishes where is known for its thriving manufacturing industry, including lacquerware and copperware. Although he once left his hometown, Kunimoto is now a key person in the future of the city promoting its value to the world. His initiatives include operating “Takaoka Craft Market Street”, one of the largest craft events in Japan with 186,000 visitors in 10 years, as the chairman of the executive committee, as well as launching the “Takaoka Craft Tourismo”, a tour of traditional craft factories for appealing their value to the world.
Lacquerware loved by Marie Antoinette
Lacquer is the sap from the poison oak tree, a deciduous tree. It has waterproof, durable, antibacterial, and adhesive properties, and is tougher and better than ordinary chemical paints.
Taking advantage of these characteristics, lacquer, or URUSHI, has been used as a natural coating in Japan for over 10,000 years. It has a wide range of uses, from serving utensils for food, stacked boxes for celebrations, and sake cups, to interiors, furniture, and buildings of shrines and temples.
In Japan, the deep, glossy black color is called "urushi-black", which no other paint can produce. When Japanese lacquerware was exported to Europe from the 16th century, its unique color immediately attracted royalty and nobility. Among them, Queen Maria Theresa of Austria and her daughter, Queen Marie Antoinette of France, are known to be avid collectors of lacquerware.
Today, black is the main color of pianos and the color of lacquer is said to have influenced this. Originally, wood grain pianos were common in Europe, but they were not suitable for the hot and humid climate of Japan, so the surface of the piano was covered with lacquer to protect it from moisture. The black lacquered pianos became the talk of the town as they were beautiful to look at and made the performers more attractive and spread throughout the world.
The combination of beauty and practicality of lacquer still attracts many people today.
Enjoy the unique soft texture and warmth of lacquer
The history of Takaoka lacquerware dates back to 1609, when Toshinaga Maeda, the first lord of the Kaga domain, built Takaoka Castle and had armor, chests, tables, and other daily necessities made.
There are three typical lacquering techniques of Takaoka lacquerware: Aogai, Yusuke, and Chokoku. The "Quilt Tray," an original product of Kunimoto, is finished with Chokoku (engraving)-lacquering.
Chokoku (engraving)-lacquering is a technique in which the wood is carved and painted with lacquer, resulting in a three-dimensional effect and a unique gloss. As the name suggests, the Quilt Tray is carved in a way that reminds one of quilting, creating a soft and warm texture that makes one want to touch it.
It can be used not only as a tray for serving food and drinks but also as a luncheon mat, organizing small items, displaying accessories, etc. The simple design blends in easily with any interior, so don't keep it tucked away on a shelf. The more you use it, the more you will love it.
Founded in 1909. In Takaoka, Toyama, a foremost lacquerware production area, Kunimoto develops lacquerware for daily usage and continues to challenge the new possibilities of lacquer, while leveraging traditional techniques.See the works of "Lacquerware Kunimoto