Exploring Kuroe Town and Its Lacquer-making Heritage

This little village in Wakayama Prefecture is home to a centuries-old lacquer-making heritage that continues to thrive today.

It doesn’t take a connoisseur to see that lacquerware requires profound craftsmanship and expertise when looking at the glossy luster of polish on a smoothly carved wooden dish. These handcrafted works, known as urushinuri, have a long history in Japan and represent the country’s love for craftsmanship. It’s most typically seen when the finished products include traditional Japanese dishes.

Lacquerware is so closely associated with Japan that it was sometimes referred to as “japan” in the western world, much like porcelain was often referred to as “china.” One of Japan’s four largest lacquer-producing areas is Kuroe in Wakayama Prefecture. This centuries-old artistry is still celebrated in the old-fashioned town today.

 

Make your own memory

Kuroe, a peaceful tiny town 25 minutes from Wakayama City, is remarkably unaffected by the commercial tourist surge. Begin your day at the Uruwashikan (map), the Kishu Lacquerware Cooperative’s industry hall, where you can learn about the art’s rich history and even paint and take home some of your own.

This shows an example of makie.

This structure holds a lacquer museum and a lacquer shop, showcasing the town’s historic ties to this ancient art form. Original tools and details on early lacquer work procedures in Kuroe are on display. The ground-floor shop has a lovely selection of chopsticks, serving bowls, platters, and display pieces to choose from.

You can paint, or rather, create, your souvenir here. Makie is a technique for painting motifs and decorations on lacquered dishes using gold and silver powder. Choose a tray or a lunchbox, then choose your powdered colors and paint the outlined motifs. An experienced craftsman will be on hand to assist you. Workshops run around an hour and are best reserved in advance.

 

Taking a stroll

After you’ve finished your artwork, take a stroll through the Uruwashikan neighborhood to see the historic merchant houses and shops that are nestled among them. Ikeshoo is one such establishment. This store features a variety of inden leather products as well as exquisite lacquer pieces. The traditional Japanese craft of inden involves the application of ornamental lacquer patterns to deerskin.

 

The lacquer layers

Kuroe town is still well-known as the birthplace of Kishu lacquerware. Every year on the first weekend in November, it hosts the Kishu Lacquerware Festival, a popular event that draws thousands of tourists.

While you’re at Kuroe, make sure to check out negoro shikki, one of the region’s more unusual lacquer techniques. Through a vermillion top coat of lacquer, pieces of a black underlay of shine can be seen.

Buddhist monks from Negoro Temple invented an unique method for making red lacquerware for their temple in the 17th century: they only used red for the top coat of polish. With time and use, the black layer of polish on these pieces began to peek through. The rich red shine of the topcoat contrasts beautifully with the smooth black strokes of polish found on some Kishu lacquers.

 


 

What You Should Know

KISHU LACQUERWARE COOPERATIVE

Address: 222, Funao, Kainan, Wakayama, 642-0001. The phone number is 81-73-482-0322. The event is free to attend. Hours of operation: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

CRAFT CLASSES IN MAKI-E

Individuals and small groups can attend a weekend class; large groups can attend weekday classes. Reservations are necessary. The cost varies depending on the lacquer item you choose, ranging from ¥1,000 to ¥2,000.

 

Getting There

Address

931 Kuroe, Kainan-shi, Wakayama-ken 642-0011, Japan

By railway

The JR line stops at Kainan station. Tennoji station is 50 minutes away, Shin-Osaka is 70 minutes away, and Kansai International Airport is 40 minutes away.

By vehicle

Wakayama City is 25 minutes away, Osaka (Matsubara JTC) is 50 minutes away, and Kansai International Airport is 30 minutes away.

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