Let’s talk about another traditional hand-craft from the Tsugaru region!
This is Tsugaru Nuri!
Tsugaru Nuri is the traditional lacquer ware of the Tsugaru region (Aomori prefecture) and is centralized in Hirosaki city. The craft has an extensive history that dates back to the Edo period (1603~1868).
There are currently four styles that are still practiced today: Kara-nuri, Nanako-nuri, Monsha-nuri, and Nishiki-nuri.
This craft was officially named Tsugaru Nuri after the lacquer ware was showcased in an exhibition at the Vienna World Exposition in 1873 with the intention of locating the origin of the craft .
Tsugaru Nuri is the only traditional craft in Aomori prefecture to be considered an established industry since it is designated by the Japanese Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry.
Kara-nuri is the most popular style of Tsugaru Nuri and has the longest history. Kara-nuri is characterized by the speckled spots made using a special pallet knife with multiple circular holes. The lacquer is applied using a special tool, it is then dried, and polished. This process is repeated over and over again.
Each product is a one-of-a-kind item due to the intricate and time-consuming nature of the craft. This uniqueness is one of the highly valued features of Tsugaru Nuri.
The word “kara” of Kara-nuri stands for something that is unique and exceptional.
Nanako-nuri is made using togidashi kawarinuri, a method in which the pattern design is made with rape blossoms. When the first layer of colored lacquer is applied on the base, rape blossom’s seeds are scattered across the surface to make small circles while the lacquer is still wet. The seeds are removed once the lacquer dries. The lacquer is then polished thoroughly to bring out the elegant circular shapes in the Edo komon style (designs with small elaborate patterns used for kimono during the Edo period). The term “nanako” originates from the resemblance of the circular shapes to nanako, or fish eggs.
“Sha” in Monsha-nuri comes from the word used for rice husks in the Tsugaru region. Black lacquer is used to draw patterns on the base coat, it is then dried, after that ashes from the burnt rice husk are scattered across the surface. The ware is then polished using a whetstone or coal to expose the black design. This method of polishing is used exclusively in the creation of Tsugaru Nuri. The design of black patterns on a black base features a modern appearance that gives life to the ware.
The highlight of Nishiki-nuri is the impressive lavish gold and silver lacquer that covers the surface. Nishiki-nuri is a variation of Nanako-nuri and it is the newest style among the four styles currently in practice.
On top of the base, which is made using the Nanako-nuri style with yellow and red colors, black lacquer is used to design classical patterns of scrolls or sayagata patterns of diamonds or lightening shapes. Then, a layer of vermilion is applied with a brush. After polishing, the circular design of the base softens the patterned design. This style of Tsugaru Nuri requires a high level of expertise, which significantly limits the number of Tsugaru Nuri artisans who are able to craft it. Consequently, Nishiki-nuri products are extremely rare and valuable.
The crafting process of Tsugaru Nuri involves about 48 steps. The base of the lacquerware is made out of wood, most commonly the Japanese cypress. A sheet of cloth is applied to the wood base and covered with urishi (a type of lacquer) base coat for durability. Colored lacquer is then applied over many coats and polished after every single coat. The final step involves top quality Japanese lacquer and polishing, creating a durable and refined lacquerware.
If you are interested in making Tsugaru Nuri, if you visit Hirosaki you can join a workshop and do the final step to make your own lacquerware chopsticks. Here is a picture of some chopsticks that I got to make:
The beginning of Tsugaru Nuri, as mentioned above, can be traced back to the mid-Edo period. In Hirosaki it was during the reign of the 4th leader of the Hirosaki clan, Tsugaru Nobumasa (1646~1710). Nobumasa gathered many artisans from across the nation in order to develop industries within the Tsugaru region. Among these artisans was Genbe Ikeda and his son, Gentaro. They developed a new technique in creating lacquerware, which is said to be the origin of Tsugaru Nuri. Over the generations, Tsugaru Nuri evolved as an array of new designs were developed. The lacquerware became an important craft for the Hirosaki clan as it was often presented as gifts to the Daimyos and lords of the Shogunate Government, as well as the Imperial Court.
All of my information and pictures came from here:
If you want to learn more be sure to check them out~