Lacquerware—Commentary and Impressions Five

Lacquerware All-sorts Five—Beyond Civilisation
I was born and brought up in the UK.  From an early age, therefore, I was used to cups, mugs, glasses and other pieces of tableware being heavy.  Not so heavy that they could not be picked up but nevertheless heavy.  And in many cases they were thick, too.

Bone China was an exception.  Being a type of porcelain, cups especially were thin and good to drink from.  Nevertheless a handle was essential—the body of the cup was just too hot to handle.

A certain weight and thickness of ceramics and glass were almost a give requirement and something completely normal.  For one thing it also signalled value.  I believe I have noted before that for many people in the UK, weight especially is important as it indicates value not only in financial terms but also in terms of worth and merit.  Simply speaking heavy=good, light=cheap and poor in quality.

But it was not until I went to Japan that I began to notice just how light some pieces of tableware were.

The lightness of some bentwood tumblers and saké cups, however, come as a real surprise.  They were made by Hideaki Tezuka in Narakawa.  This small community in the district of Kiso, nestles between densely wooded hillsides on the Nakasendo route that once bustled with travellers making the inland journey between Edo and Nagoya or beyond to Kyoto and Osaka.

It was the total impression of these vessels that intrigued me, an impression that is greatly enhanced by the thinness of their walls, the simple black ink decorations and semi-transparent, high gloss finish.  Handling one for the first time was more akin to picking up a piece of fine quality, and very light glass.

The bottom of the saké cup is also so smooth and flat that if an empty one is given a nudge, it will slide across a flat shinny tabletop like a puck on ice.

Chris, a good friend of mine, was especially struck not only by the lightness of the saké cup but also by its finish.

When I handed one to him, he was silent for a moment as he turned it around in his hands and studied it in some detail, before stopping momentarily to weight it in one hand with a characteristic up and down motion.

“Bill, this is beyond civilisation!”

Chris was not the only person to respond to this fine piece of bentwood lacquerware.  Nevertheless, some people dismiss it for being too light.  A slight sneer gives away the fact that they feel it to be cheap and not worthy of any verbal accolade, simply I suppose, because it is not heavy.

One of the saké cups weighs 23 g.  If you are wondering how heavy that is, it is roughly equivalent to four and a half A4 sheets of 80 GSM copy paper.  Try it and see.

The tumbler weighs 40 g, or roughly the weight of eight sheets of the same copy paper.

By the way, the wall of the saké cup is around 1 mm thick and in the case of the tumbler a little over 2 mm.  Both are made of split Kiso Hinoko, a locally grown cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa).

A saké cup in close-up
What really interests me is just how much the weight and finish of a drinking vessel influences our appreciation of its contents, be it saké, water, wine or some other beverage.  One thing I can say for certain is that wine drunk from a turned and lacquered wooden vessel does not seem right.  Is it simply due to the unfamiliar combination of wine and wood, the temperature of both or something else entirely?

There is no doubting the fact that I for one am a confirmed fan of Hideaki’s bentwood vessels.  I even feel a little more civilised using one.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

See more of Hideaki Tezuka’s work at Chigiriya:

Click on English to access the headings in English or Japanese.

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