Wajimaya Zenni Two of Two

The planting, rock and lantern at the entrance follow the style and brevity of the other enclosed garden spaces within the plan of the building.
Wajimaya Zenni—Testimony to Culture
In addition to being an architectural gem, the Wajimaya Zenni machiya is testimony to the artistry, skill and dedication of those who have produced fine lacquerware in Wajima over the centuries.

Wajima lacquerware is renown for its durability.  It is equally well known for the artistry of its decorations.  But few people are aware of just how much effort was put into selling the ware.

There are still hundreds of registered traditional crafts in Japan that have been in existence for more than one-hundred years.  Many of these are small concerns employing a few craftspeople supplying a limited and now dwindling market.

Wajima is lucky because while production levels of true lacquerware have regrettably fallen in recent times, it still has an “industry”, which contributes in no small part to the economy of the city and the Noto Peninsula as a whole.  It is the pride of Wajima and of the nation but how long has this been the case?

The old storehouse flanks what is now the main entrance.  The weather boarding helps to protect the plastered finish of its walls.  In the event of a fire in the vicinity, the boarding can be removed, so that the plaster could really do its job—to be fireproof.
Rather than wait for customers to come to them, agents from Wajima lacquerware workshops actively sought buyers.  It began during feudal times when Japan was ruled by a Shogun and the country was divided into fiefs administered by feudal lords.  The countless wealthy nobles, warriors and even merchants with status who occupied the upper echelons of society at the time all needed lacquerware and the market was ready to be tapped.  Tea aficionados, poets, performers and other cultured people too, were always in need of something new and interesting with which to thrill their friends and associates, although the representatives of the lacquerware workshops in Wajima did not have free rein and unrestricted access to this stable market.

Under the eave of the entrance this pierced illustration is a triumph—so much said with so little.
There was actually plenty of competition.  Lacquerware production centres up and down the country, some of which still exist, would certainly have fended off outsiders.  Each one had its own strongly guarded techniques and distinctive designs and patterns but none had the durability to match that of Wajima lacquerware.

Inside the entrance at the front of the building, the glow of the true lacquer and the delicacy of the screen-work is breathtaking.  The rooms to the left are arranged one behind the other, while the passageway leading to the back of the building flanks them to the right.
Sending representatives on marketing trips for two to three months of the year to actively sell the creations turned out by Wajima’s workshops had what was probably an unexpected benefit.  The skilled and very knowledgeable representatives of the workshops became a kind of clearing house for matters of style, culture and fashion among the nobility and intelligentsia of the country, simply because they visited so many people who mattered.  They were trusted and tended to have direct access to the aristocracy and were welcomed by the high and mighty.

The maki-e plaque, the paper on the fusuma screen, and the grill transom set the tone of quality of the first room.  Open transoms are common in traditional buildings, as they allow a much needed movement of air during the hot, humid summer months.

This fusuma sliding screen with its translucent paper and fine screen of wood ensures visual privacy.  It also prevents anyone standing to listen to any conversation beyond the screen.  A shadowy silhouette of an eaves-dropper standing by the screen would alert people beyond of their presence.  There just might have been some need for such secrecy.
It was the highly accomplished and knowledgable nushi, literally “those who applied the lacquer”, who had the skill and knowledge and could therefore take on the job of selling.  It was these men who also found it necessary to at least try to better themselves, so that they might pursue if not actually match the sophistication of their clients.

To describe this kind of decoration as “fretwork” is a mistake, as it is not cut with a fretsaw from a single piece of wood.  It is assembled from many pieces of wood to form a pattern that could perhaps be called “fretwork”, given its delicacy.
The rooms of the Wajimaya Zenni machiya became “classrooms” where staff were tutored.  It was here too perhaps that they passed on information about the needs of the customers they had visited while on their travels, so that the workshop could develop products to better meet their client’s needs.

The intricate fretwork close to the ceiling is almost exactly mirrored by the way that the shade of the lamp is constructed—not immediately noticeable but an indicator of just how much care has been taken with the interior.
And so this pattern of sales and production continued and was copied by other craft producers.  Today there are workshops that have there own outlets, while others sell through departments stores or specialist shops.  Some lacquerware makers sell through galleries and yet still others only make items to order.  All of what these dedicated professionals do is a testimony to culture.  And so is the Wajimaya Zenni machiya.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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