Lacquerware—Commentary and Impressions Two

The current price of a Joboji soup bowl is about £46 or ¥6800.  Each one comes in its own box—ours are beginning to show their age.  The profile of the bowl even at this angle seems to proclaim its low centre of gravity.  The refections make it difficult to discern the depth of the finish but believe me it is there.  Compared to other wares the finish is not glossy nor matt but satin.
Lacquerware All-sorts Two—Joboji Lacquerware
This series of posts on lacquerware continues with a look at Joboji lacquerware originating from near Morioka in Iwate Prefecture.

It was a friend that introduced me to Joboji lacquerware in about 1995.  I was assured that it had a really modern feel and appearance, while still managing to retain its dignity by having a refined rustic quality that some other lacquerwares I felt seemed to lack.  In fact I think I was complaining to my friend that Wajima lacquerware was “a bit too perfect and somehow had lost any sense of the hands that made it”.  Sorry Wajima!

Unlike the extreme degree of excellence of Wajima lacquerware, which to me can inhibit a dialogue, Joboji lacquerware wanted to communicate with me. It seemed to want to be my friend.  Yes, it is a slightly strange thing to say but that was how I felt on my first encounter with this lacquerware from northern Japan.

A piece of Joboji lacquerware has a presence that can really be felt.  This is especially true when a soup bowl is picked up and the finish is examined closely.

First of all there is a depth to its finish.  Either in red or black the layers of lacquer below the final coat can be perceived.  The more a bowl is used the more this becomes evident.

Then its weight tells us that the core is of wood.  It is thickest towards the base of the bowl.  By placing the thumb on the inside and the index finger on the outside and running them down into the depth of the bowl, that thickness can be felt.

In fact at the lip the thickness is a little over one millimetre but at the base where the sides of the bowl meet the high foot, the thickness is approximately 17mm give or take a hair’s breadth.

Held in the left hand and supported by the right hand, soup can be sipped from the bowl.  This is the refined way a woman would drink from a bowl.  A man is more likely to only use his left hand and to use his chopsticks in his other hand to manage the contents of the soup.
This makes the centre of gravity, rather like that of a sumo wrestler, undeniably low and gives the bowl a satisfying sense of stability.  It also contributes to the distinctive solid sound the bowl makes when placed on a wooden table.

But what of its real weight?  Although there is some variation from one bowl to another, an empty bowl weighs about 118g.  Filled with 150cc of fluid pushes the weight up to 268g depending on the ingredients of the soup.  Nevertheless, the combined weight is not so much.  In fact it is less than a small ceramic mug containing 150cc of fluid—beaker is 156g making a total of 306g.  There are so many variables here but the relationship between the weight of the container and the fluid it can hold is interesting.

The satin finish of some of the Joboji lacquerware is highly appealing.  At least it is to me.  It is a pleasure to the eye and to the touch.  The weight, the low centre of gravity and relatively high foot make one of these bowls easy to hold with confidence.

I was completely taken with the Joboji soup bowls in particular and the ones I bought often grace our table at mealtimes here in England.

I did not realise, however, that my first encounter with Joboji lacquerware would lead to some fascinating discoveries about true lacquer the material as well as the rich diversity of lacquerwares in Japan.

Along with many other traditional crafts, lacquerware is covered in Japan Crafts Source Book, originally published by Kodansha International.  For background information on Joboji access:

Access the Tekiseisha site for more images of products under “Commodity” on the Japanese site.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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