Baby Spoons 1/4

Baby Spoons
When a devastating earthquake struck the Noto Peninsula in 2007, a number of lacquerware workshops were badly affected.  Stock was damaged, equipment was broken and in some cases workshops and storehouses collapsed.  It was a depressing time as it only added to the troubles that lacquerware makers were already confronting.

Despite being one of Japan’s most prestigious lacquerware production centres, the demand for fine items of Wajima lacquerware had been falling for sometime.  Partly fuelled by rising costs, the situation was exacerbated by cheap imports and hastened by the general change in life style of the people, a trend which had been gathering pace over the past twenty to thirty years.

Something had to be done.  There needed to be a focus, something to bring people together to overcome the general predicament that the lacquerware makers found themselves in.

A group of twenty makers of all ages, abilities and skills banded together.  What were they to do?  After long discussions and much encouragement from Yuko Yokoyama—a dedicated supporter of Japan’s traditional crafts and lacquerware in particular—it was decided to hold and exhibition in Tokyo.  What were they to make?  Baby Spoons.

In Japan since the eighth-century it has been a custom to celebrate when a baby’s milk teeth come through, which is generally around one-hundred days after birth.  Called Okui Hajime, this custom marks a mile stone in a baby’s life.  The making of a baby spoon seemed appropriate, especially as it was not only a feeding spoon but also a symbol of new life, a new beginning and the beginning of something to look forward to.

Below are the first five of the twenty Baby Spoons which were made and exhibited in Tokyo and Europe.  They are an expression of something that Wajima needed.  A new hope.

Hitomi Yoshida:  Grapes and Squirrels—Budo Risu
The symbolism of the title is simple—grapes grow in abundance on a vine and the number of off-spring squirrels have are considerable.  Both are therefore seen as auspicious and enhance the idea of abundance and hence not wanting.  Can you see the squirrel?

The motifs are rendered with a maki-e technique using gold powder and a limited use of pigments.

Etsuko Osaki:  Cherry and Acer—Sakura Momiji
The joy of being a child born in Japan where the ever-changing pageant of the seasons is so glorious is celebrated on this spoon.  The design and rendering is as sensitive as it is hoped the child will become.

Maki-e techniques predominate along with the use of flat gold slivers and mother-of-pearl.

Ryuji Ikehata:  I Love You—Ai Rabu Yu
The message here could not be more simple—just the mere mention of a child instils feelings of love and something to be adored.  “It was the first thing that came into my head” says Ryuji, “and to use an image of an angle (cherub) seemed fitting”.

The pigments mixed with true lacquer are applied with great delicacy while the lettering is slightly raised in gold powder and true lacquer.

Koushi Kado:  Phoenix—Fenikkusu
The spoon is emblazoned with a symbol of life and immortality—an arabesque based on the phoenix plant.  For the child it also represents a cry of encouragement with which to send them on their way in life.

The finely rendered maki-e arabesque is embellished with small pearls.

Yoshinori Shibayama:  Dragonfly—Tonbo
Because a dragonfly always flies forwards and never retreats, it can be found on samurai helmets and is regarded with a great deal of respect in Japan for its tenacity and strength.  It is hoped, therefore, that a child will possess the same steadfast nature and not fear whatever task with which he or she is confronted.

The dragonfly wing is chased and the bowl of the spoon is aglitter with chips of mother-of-pearl.

All photographs courtesy of the Wajima Urushi Tanteidan—The Wajima Lacquer Study Group

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