The craft has its birth in the Kamakura Period, when Sculptors of Buddhist images attempted to imitate the carving and lacqueringtechniques of Chinese artisans. Over the centuries the craft has been perfected to reflect uniquely Japanese sensibilities and has become a useful and esthetically pleasing art form enjoyed by people everywhere.
THE HISTORY OF KAMAKURABORI
Zen and the Origins of Kamakurabori
|During the Kamakura Period (1192-1333), with the migration of Zen Buddhism to Japan came many kinds of art and crafts from China, and particularly, plates and bowls and incense boxes created using a technique known as “Tsuishu.” These intricately carved wooden pieces were lacquered with many coats of raw tree sap and were highly prized for their beauty and their durability. Buddhists monks of the period attempted to duplicate the technique by carving and lacquering Japanese wood plates and bowls and through their efforts, the art of Kamakurabori was born.|
Imperialism, Architecture and Kamakurabori
|Many of Japan’s greatest artistic and architectural masterpieces were created during the Muromachi Period (1338-1573). Some of these include the large incense containers which can be found at Buddhist temples located in Kyoto, an ink stone desk decorated with lions, peonies, and monkeys at the Kamakura Museum of National Treasure , and beautifully designed camellia flowers carved onto carrier boxes in collections housed at Chuson-ji and Jigen-ji.
The words “Kamakura mono,” literally, “things made in Kamakura,” appeared for the first time in a diary written by Sanetaka, an imperial court noble of the time. This is, perhaps, the first time this term was used to describe this beautiful art form.
The Tea Ceremony and Kamakurabori
|During the Edo Period (1603-1867), the tea ceremony reached a zenith in popularity among the Japanese aristocracy, and along with that, the need for all the utensils and items associated with that pastime. Highly stylized and elaborately decorated Kamakurabori was highly valued and references to it can even be found in textbooks of the day. Toward the end of the Edo Period,
however, tastes began to move toward more understated motifs, as expressed in the words “wabi” and “sabi,” which conjure up Zen-like, ethereal images of perfection, tranquility, and wistfulness. It can be said Kamakurabori changed the esthetic sensibilities of an era.
Meiji and Taisho Periods
An Ingenious Alternative
|During the Meiji Period (1868-1925), the government of Japan carried out a policy promoting Shinto beliefs; a religion devoted to nature worship, and attempted to abolish Buddhism by destroying many of the religious icons and temples venerating that religion. As a result, many of the traditional craftsmen of the day lost their jobs.
In contrast, however, two artisan families, the Mitsuhashi and the Gotoh, both devoted to the perpetuation of Kamakurabori, survived and even prospered by adapting their ancient craft from the creation of religious icons to the production of more practical, daily use and decorative items we know today. Their ingenuity and perseverance preserved the Kamakurabori tradition for future generations.
Flourishing as an Exquisite Art Form
|In modern times, people have shown a renewed appreciation for things traditional, practical and beautiful, and in an era of mass produced items, Kamakurabori stands out as a functional and aesthetically pleasing alternative to the never-ending supply of mundane and generic products on sale in stores today.
In recent years, there has been a rebirth in interest in ancient crafts among Japanese consumers and in 1979, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry designated the City of Kamakura as a Traditional Handicraft Industrial Zone. Today, practitioners of Kamakurabori continue to promote their art form and actively maintain the traditions of the ancient craft.
Preparing the materials
The wood used to make Kamakurabori comes from the katsura tree. After harvesting, it is cured and then line inking, cut, coarse lathed, weathered, and finally, carved and lacquered.
Many raw wood materials are used
Designs and patterns that will later be carved are sketched in ink onto translucent sheets of Japanese paper and then the traced images are transferred onto dampened wood surfaces by rubbing.
Special, flat-headed knives are used to chip away portions of the surface to create a relief pattern, exposing the designs to be created by the artist.
Finish carving is added to the design to produce the trademark gouging effect known only to Kamakurabori art pieces.
A raw sap “Urushi” base lacquer coat is applied to the freshly carved piece, where it soaks into the wood and forms a rich undercoating for the final lustrous finish.
Following repeated coatings of the base lacquer coat, the surface is polished using fine-grained charcoal or other abrasive that creates a smooth surface.
A vermilion lacquer is then applied to create the outer layer ,a reddish, highly translucent finish unique to Kamakurabori.
To temper the finish of Kamakurabori lacquer ware, powdered wet oatmeal is applied to give the finish a unique patina.
Lacquering (final polishing)
At the final stage, a thin layer of lacquer is applied and then wiped off, followed by a final polishing with powdered oat material.
This process is repeated until the perfect finish is achieved.
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Edited by Arlynne Hurley