The gold laid into the grooves of these lacquerwares isn’t painted, but etched.
The result is a showpiece that isn’t just for decoration, but also practical use.
“Wajima-nuri” is a traditional lacquerware craft practiced at the tip of the Noto Peninsula where it takes many craftsmen and 124 stages to finish a single piece.
I press a fine chisel firmly on to a beautifully varnished plate.
It squeals as it drags a vertical line across its face.
To etch a circular line, I have to rotate the lacquerware while carving into it.
Even though I’m rotating the plate correctly, the chisel doesn’t properly follow the lacquerware’s spin.
But the sensation of shaving the clay feels good in my hand.
I apply varnish to the etched portion, then apply gold powder. It sinks to the bottom of the groove.
It takes years upon years of doing this before you can become a master lacquerer.
Painting, varnishing, carving, etching--
Your life becomes the craft.
And once the line is etched, it can’t be erased.
Modern-day Wajima-nuri is built on the life experiences of many master craftsmen.
The future proprietress of Urushitoho Araki told me that this traditional handicraft is not for decoration. She said I should use my finished piece after a week or two.
This is because the traditional charm of Wajima-nuri handicrafts shines through best when you actually use them.
The heiress was born in the town of Yamanakamachi in Ishikawa Prefecture. Her family home is actually the Yamanaka Onsen in the city of Kaga.
While working in Nanao, she married into the Urushitoho Araki fold at 21 years old.
Back then it wasn’t convenient to commute from Kaga to Noto. Therefore, she stayed at Wakura Onsen the night before the ceremony, made her preparations, then went to her new home from there.
The heiress’ home region does not practice the hanayome noren custom. However, her family still prepared a noren for her wedding as a gesture of respect for her in-laws’ traditions. She’s kept the cherished curtain, patterned with Chinese phoenixes and paulownias, as well as the family crest, at her home to this day. Young as she was, she never asked what any of those things meant, and simply crossed the noren on her wedding day as she was told.
It wasn’t until the start of the Ipponsugi Street noren exhibitions that she started studying about the tradition. As the heiress learned more, she gradually came to understand how the noren carried her parents’ hope that she live an eternally happy life as part of her husband’s family.
She’d give birth to her own daughter before long. Her daughter married into a neighboring town, ten years ago.
“I’ll give her a hanayome noren.”
So thought the Urushitoho Araki heiress, as naturally as anything. She requisitioned the bridal curtain from a kimono fabrics shop, and as she perused through the different patterns, she decided on something flashy and cute. Ultimately, she settled on a pattern of an ox cart carrying flowers.
Since early childhood, her daughter has seen her mother engaging with the hanayome noren of Ipponsugi Street. Urushitoho Araki’s heiress told me that her love went with her daughter through the “Curtain of Resolve” as she crossed - that there was no need for explanations.
As a custom, hanayome noren remains widely unknown outside this prefecture. But the Araki heiress wishes to pass the tradition down to the next generation.
With that wish alive in her heart, she teaches her visitors to this day about Wajima-nuri and the hanayome noren.