Tradition in Every Stroke: A Journey into Yamanaka Lacquerware with Two Local Artisans

Tradition in Every Stroke: A Journey into Yamanaka Lacquerware with Two Local Artisans

Join us on a journey to discover the exquisite world of Yamanaka Lacquerware, an ancient craft rooted in the verdant landscapes of Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan. In this blog, we will embark on an adventure through time and artistry, exploring the rich history, traditional techniques, and contemporary innovations of Yamanaka Lacquerware. 

Unveiling the stories of two master artisans from this region, we will delve into their unique approaches, signature styles, and the cultural impact of their creations. From the crafting legacy to the challenges of preserving tradition, join us in celebrating the unparalleled beauty and craftsmanship of Yamanaka Lacquerware that continues to captivate hearts worldwide.


1. Crafting Legacy: Origins and Evolution of Yamanaka Lacquerware

Nestled in the lush surroundings of Ishikawa Prefecture, Yamanaka Lacquerware or Yamanaka-shikki has deep roots tracing back centuries. The origins of this revered craft can be linked to the late 16th century when a group of artisans migrated from Wajima, bringing their unique lacquering skills to the Yamanaka region. Over time, Yamanaka Lacquerware evolved into a distinct style, marked by its intricate designs and the use of locally sourced materials.

As the craft matured, Yamanaka Lacquerware garnered royal recognition during the Edo period, becoming a favorite of the Kaga Domain's ruling Maeda family. This patronage played a pivotal role in elevating Yamanaka's lacquerware to new heights. The evolution continued through the Meiji era, adapting to changing tastes while preserving traditional techniques. 

Today, the legacy lives on, with Yamanaka Lacquerware standing as a testament to the enduring artistry and cultural significance embedded in each meticulously crafted piece.

2. Meet the Artisans: Profiles of Yamanaka's Master Craftsmen

Here we’d like to introduce you to two of our master artisans on omakase. First, we’ll meet Asada Lacquerware, whose hands bring life to exquisite pieces with a heritage spanning generations, and then YUIYU, a visionary brand pushing the boundaries of tradition with innovative lacquerware creations. 

Together, they encapsulate the rich tapestry of skill, passion, and ingenuity that defines Yamanaka's lacquerware legacy.

Asada Lacquerware

Asada Lacquerware prides itself as a producer of lacquerware suitable for everyday life. Founded in 1912 by Kyosaku Asada, Asada Lacquerware embodies the rich legacy of Yamanaka craftsmanship. Initially, a woodworker in Ouchi Village, Yamanaka Onsen, Kyosaku trained ten apprentices. His son, Takao Asada, carried the mantle, steering the company through economic growth. Takashi, Takao's son, and current president, transformed the family legacy, establishing the Asada craft of Japan, inc. in 1977. A pioneer, Takashi ventured into retail with "Urushi no Utsuwa Asada" in 1998. 

The Asada journey unfolded through generations, introducing innovative concepts like Western lacquerware by Haruhiko in 2013 and earning accolades like the Utsuroi Cup's Good Design Award in 2018. Upholding tradition with advanced Yamanaka potter's wheel techniques, Asada Lacquerware offers exquisite pieces like "Fuki-Urushi" and "Murakumo lacquerware," blending artistry with everyday utility. The scenic backdrop of the countryside adds to the allure of Asada's craft.


YUIYU, situated in the Yamanaka Onsen of Kaga City, Ishikawa Prefecture, seamlessly weaves traditional craftsmanship with contemporary living. The brand's name, "YUIYU," reflects its mission to connect by transcending barriers like genres and positions. Yamanaka lacquerware, a 450-year-old legacy, flourishes with exceptional wood spinning traditions, producing exquisite textures. Craftsmen, specializing in various stages, meticulously shape the wood base, employ unique techniques like "Tategidori," and adorn pieces with delicate stripe patterns and "maki-e" artistry. 

YUIYU, inspired by a floral designer's perspective, introduces botanical lacquerware—a fusion of tradition and modernity. By preserving the wood's natural grain, YUIYU crafts lacquerware that evolves in color over time, enriching daily life with a touch of nature. YUIYU strives for customers to explore the passion and skills passed down through generations, inviting Yamanaka's timeless art into your everyday moments.

3. Traditional Techniques: The Art of Yamanaka Lacquerware Craftsmanship

The entire production process of Yamanaka Lacquerware is a symphony of specialized craftsmanship. Wood craftsmen meticulously forge their own planes and blades, shaping the wood base with precision. Synonymous with Yamanaka lacquerware is the rokuro-hiki technique, distinguished by soft curves and rounded forms. "Tategidori," a unique method in Yamanaka, involves grinding the wood parallel to its rings, enhancing the grain's beauty. 

With 40 to 50 distinct techniques for decorated woodwork, the craft exhibits not only visual allure but also exquisite tactile sensations. From the hardening of wood to meticulous lacquer application, each stage is handled with skill, culminating in the intricate "maki-e" artistry that gives the lacquerware its final form.

4. Yamanaka's Cultural Impact: Lacquerware in Everyday Life

Yamanaka Lacquerware has woven itself into the fabric of everyday life, leaving an indelible cultural impact on the region. For centuries, these exquisite lacquerware pieces have adorned homes and dining tables, becoming integral elements of daily rituals. The craft's evolution, rooted in the natural splendor of Yamanaka Onsen, reflects a harmonious relationship between artistry and practicality. Families have passed down cherished lacquerware pieces through generations, each carrying a story of the region's rich history and the artisans' unwavering dedication.

The influence of Yamanaka Lacquerware extends beyond aesthetics, with the craft seamlessly integrating into various aspects of Japanese culture. From tea ceremonies, where lacquerware vessels play a vital role, to the broader spectrum of culinary traditions, these pieces are both functional tools and artistic expressions. The tactile experience of handling Yamanaka lacquerware, with its smooth surfaces and intricate designs, adds a layer of sensory richness to the daily rituals of meals and gatherings.

5. Preserving Tradition: Challenges and Opportunities in Yamanaka Lacquerware

Preserving the tradition of Yamanaka Lacquerware faces a delicate dance between honoring centuries-old techniques and embracing modern opportunities. The challenge lies in maintaining the authenticity and craftsmanship intrinsic to this art form while adapting to contemporary demands. Artisans in Yamanaka navigate this delicate balance with a profound respect for their craft's legacy. The shift towards mechanization and mass production poses a threat to traditional methods, emphasizing the need to safeguard the handmade intricacies that define Yamanaka Lacquerware.

Despite the challenges, opportunities are emerging in the form of innovative collaborations and a growing global appreciation for traditional crafts. Makers in Yamanaka are exploring ways to merge ancient techniques with modern aesthetics, creating pieces that resonate with a broader audience. Collaborations with contemporary designers and international markets provide a platform for these artisans to showcase the timeless beauty of Yamanaka Lacquerware. The challenge is not merely to preserve a craft but to ensure its vibrant evolution, adapting to the currents of the present while remaining rooted in the enduring legacy of Yamanaka's lacquerware heritage.

6. OMAKASE Recommendations: Asada Lacquerware and YUIYU products

We’d like to introduce four meticulously crafted pieces, each bearing the legacy of centuries-old craftsmanship. These artisanal creations not only showcase the mastery of traditional techniques but also reflect the innovative spirit that propels Yamanaka's lacquerware into the contemporary

Suwari Wooden Cup

Behold the Suwari Cup, a testament to Yamanaka Lacquerware excellence by Asada Lacquerware. Its rounded silhouette is crafted with precision, ideal for gracefully "swirling" your whiskey or wine, enhancing the tasting experience. Meticulously crafted, this cup undergoes an intricate lacquering and polishing ritual five times, resulting in a resplendent and durable finish. 

What sets it apart is the exclusive "Murakumo-Nuri" technique employed by a singular Yamanaka craftsman. This distinctive method involves applying soot from burning Japanese candles before the lacquer fully sets, creating a captivating pattern on the exterior.

Utsuroi Wooden Cup

This exquisite Utsuroi Cup seamlessly blends modern aesthetics with traditional craftsmanship - so much so it won a Good Design Award in 2018. The metallic exterior exudes contemporary elegance, while the interior boasts the timeless "fuki-urushi" finish, revealing the intricate beauty of the wood grains and infusing the piece with a warm, natural touch. 

Aptly named "Utsuroi," a Japanese term signifying the passage of time, this cup captures the essence of each season through carefully selected colors.

Yae Bowl and Plates Set

Delight in the exquisite double-flowered design of this Yae Bowl and Plate Set, where the petals gracefully transform into a serving dish, elevating your dining experience. The rim, embellished with the intricate 'sen-suji' striped pattern, adds a touch of elegance. Versatility takes center stage as the cleverly designed lid doubles as two separate plates, while the body seamlessly transitions into a functional bowl. 

Every aspect of this piece reflects YUIYU's commitment to craftsmanship and aesthetics. Embrace the evolving beauty of lacquerware, as the colors mature with time, ensuring that each use adds a unique patina to this remarkable creation.

Kyukon Lidded Bowl

Indulge in the allure of the Kyukon Lidded Bowl, a true work of art crafted by YUIYU in the heart of the Yamanaka lacquerware tradition. This versatile masterpiece effortlessly transitions from a captivating decorative piece with the lid adorning its top to a practical bowl, ideal for storing smaller items when the lid is removed. Elevate the experience by turning the lid upside down, offering an additional storage option for cherished items like cards or keys. YUIYU's commitment to excellence is evident in every detail, ensuring this lacquerware gem seamlessly combines functionality with sophistication.

In Conclusion

In concluding our exploration of Yamanaka Lacquerware, we unveil the profound artistry embedded in each piece, a testament to the enduring legacy of Yamanaka's cultural heritage. Through the hands of skilled artisans, the lacquerware not only preserves tradition but also evolves with contemporary aesthetics, offering a bridge between the past and the present. 

As we celebrate the resilience and innovation within Yamanaka's craft, let these exquisite creations serve as an invitation to weave the beauty and tradition of Yamanaka Lacquerware into the fabric of our modern lives. May the rich history and timeless elegance of Yamanaka Lacquerware continue to captivate and inspire generations to come.

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