Baby Spoons 3/4

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 third 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.

Hidetaka Wakashima:  An Egg from which Dreams are Born—Yume wo Umu Tamago
The birth of a baby is a blessing.  And, just like a child, an egg is a beginning, a symbol of what can be achieved as well as being expressive of limitless possibilities.  To symbolise life-giving power and energy, Hidetaka used countless small chips of a quail’s eggshell to decorate his spoon—a mind-boggling piece of work full of meaning and suggestive of boundless possibilities—just as is a baby.

Kunikatsu Seto:  Handmade Paper and Lacquer—Washi to Urushi
Nothing more or less than a spoon.  Handmade Japanese paper was pasted over a mould.  With the mould removed, the paper was then coated with lacquer a number of times. Using tin powder and lacquer Kunikatsu produced an effect echoing Japan’s liking for neutral colouring way back in the past.  He was looking for a new combination of materials.  Not the usual wood and lacquer.  The result?  A spoon of honest and utter simplicity.

Mikio Wakashima:  With Chrysanthemums—Kiku Zukushi
By shortening and thickening the handle of the spoon it made it easier for a child to grasp and increased the area available for decoration.  Chrysanthemums are known as the source of an elixir to ward off evil and danger as well as being associated with longevity.  Drinking the liquor produced by steeping a chrysanthemum in saké brings all kinds of benefits even the blessings enjoyed by that of a hermit—never ageing and eternal life.  This glorious flower is imbued with good, pure and simple.

Masao Matsumoto:  Phoenix—Houou
Partly symbolising Wajima’s regeneration after the 2007 earthquake, this mythical bird is a classical emblem of new beginnings and therefore highly appropriate on a baby spoon.  The Phoenix leads the way to the realm of the gods and opens the path to a good life.

The maki-e work is slightly raised and extremely fine in its detail.

Taichi Kirimoto:  Temari and Fan-work—Temari to Senmen
Having worked in industrial design, Taichi’s approach is functional and highly considered.  The long handle makes the spoon easy to use for mother and baby.  The magnolia wood was seasoned for more than ten years and carved by a highly skilled craftsman.  The decoration is associated with good luck and well-being.  Traditionally a temari—a ball of thread in patterns—contained a message of goodwill from a Mother to her child.  This spoon brings its own message of hope and good fortune.

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

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