Chased, Engraved—Chinkin

Of Cats and Monkeys
Kazutaka Furukomi and his partner Sachiko live in a residential area on the outskirts of Wajima.  A number of modern houses sit squarely on terraced plots with engagingly framed views of the surroundings and small gardens boarding the lots.  Many of the true lacquerware workshops and other old buildings in the centre of Wajima on the other hand, stand cheek by jowl and are sometimes separated by the narrowest of spaces, through which an enterprising cat or dog—and it has to be said—rat may pass.

Kazutaka’s working conditions are somewhat different from those “urban workshops”.  As he is almost solely engaged in the job of decorating pieces of fine true lacquerware, all he needs is a comfortable room where he can sit on the tatami matting at his worktable and focus on his work in comfort.  As long as the room is well lit, clean, cool in summer and warm in winter he is happy.

Sachiko is very supportive and keeps an eye on the business side of things and does her best to keep their beloved cats out of Kazutaka’s workroom.  An eager attention seeking cat is the last thing Kazutaka wants breaking his concentration.  Keeping the cats at bay is not easy when there are four felines roaming the house courting a human or searching for a comfortable place to curl up for a sleep.

Easter Egg Photo Courtesy of Kazutaka Furukomi
So what is Kazutaka’s work?  He does chinkin—the engraving and chasing of true lacquer.  It is one of the main decorative techniques used, the other being makie, although it is essentially different.  Makie involves various surface treatments whereas chinkin is in simple terms just like engraving—the scratching of a hard surface to express a decorative feature.

It is a craft but since he first started work Kazutaka admits that it has become much more of an art and, fortunately for him, is recognised as such and has a following.

Chased panel.  Photo Courtesy of Kazutaka Furukomi
Many department stores all over Japan have galleries for artists and craftspeople to exhibit their work but it took Kazutaka some time to actually get a foot in the door and to be asked to exhibit his work.  So now he has a fan base and for someone in his 30s he is lucky enough to be supporting himself and Sachiko from what he sells at exhibitions or through orders.

Having spent some time manning exhibitions he has learned much about the psychology of the gallery hawks, most of whom are female.  In fact 90% of those who visit his shows are women and, not only that, they are the ones who buy his work, but not immediately.

“Women who come to my shows will sometimes spend two or three hours in the gallery, sometimes talking to me or just mulling over a purchase before taking the plunge.  Men, on the other hand, see a piece they would like then go out of the gallery to consider things before returning to make the purchase.  It’s all over in thirty minutes”.

Women clearly carefully consider how they might use a purchase and that is perhaps why it takes so long.  Whereas men are either taken by a piece or not.  It seems to be as simple as that.

Although Kazutaka concentrates on chinkin he is not incapable of making a wooden carcass or core of a piece.  The division of labour in Wajima is generally seen as being quite strict but not universal.  It did, however, strengthen during the latter half of the 1980s when business was booming—the so-called “bubble economy”.  It has, nevertheless, been a corner stone of the true lacquerware trade in Wajima for many hundreds of years.

The engraving or chasing of true lacquer is carried out when the lacquer is hard, not just on the surface but deep down.  True lacquer which has been allowed to harden for two to three years however, is too hard to work easily.  Ideally it needs to be about a year old.

The surface is chased with fine engraving tools and the hardened lacquer spins away for the surface like the zest of lemon peel.  Different engraving tools produce different marks, although some of the most effective work is done in lines.

True lacquer is rubbed into the design.

When a design is complete, some true lacquer is rubbed over the engraving to fill the grooves.  The excess is then wiped off before the motif is dusted, for example, with very fine gold or silver powder on a wad of cotton wool.  The powder fills the wet lacquer charged chased lines and any excess is wiped off—something to recycle!

In a similar way finely powdered pigment can also be used to bring out a motif and a degree of grading is also possible.

In Kazutaka’s case the hair of a cat or a monkey is ideally suited to chinkin.  Or is it chinkin is ideally suit to the rendering of the hair of a cat or a monkey.  In whichever case his work is some of the finest to be found in Wajima.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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