Yamanaka Wood Carving Master Takashi Mizukami 2014 copyright KogeiStyling

< The History>

Yamanaka shikki(lacquerware) has a rich and fascinating history that dates back approximately 450 years ago to the Tensho era (1573-1593 天正年間). It all began when skilled wood lathe carvers from Echizen, located in Fukui Prefecture, migrated to a place known as Manago (真砂), which is situated approximately 20 kilometers above the Yamanaka Onsen(hot spring) Village (山中温泉町) along the Daishoji River(大聖寺川). 

These artisans soon began producing exquisite wooden wares that captured the attention of visitors seeking relaxation and rejuvenation at the Yamanaka Onsen, which was already gaining popularity during that era. 

As the demand for these crafts increased, the artisans began experimenting with various lacquering techniques, incorporating unique designs and patterns into their creations. This led to the emergence of Yamanaka shikki, a form of lacquerware that is renowned for its elegance, simplicity, and refinement. 

Hand Lathe work - Yamanaka Lacquerware Cooperative Association
Hand lathe wood carving work by Yamanaka craftsmen,
Photo courtesy of the Yamanaka Lacquerware Cooperative Association


The wood lathe carving technique was handed down to the artisans of Yamanaka Onsen, who continued to develop their craft over the years. During the Edo period (1603-1868), the artisans began creating vermilion-tame colored lacquerware, following the popular marron color of the time. As the popularity of Yamanaka lacquerware grew, master craftsmen from Aizu (Fukushima Prefecture), Kyoto, Kanazawa (Ishikawa Prefecture), and all over Japan were invited to refine the techniques of maki-e and create tea ceremony utensils, laying the foundation for the Yamanaka lacquerware of today.

In the late Edo period, Minoya Heibei (蓑屋平兵衛), a skilled wood lathe carver, invented the "thread hiki" technique, which enhanced the unique characteristics of Yamanaka lacquerware and distinguished it from other lacquerware. This led to the development of new decoration carving techniques using wood lathe.

Today, Yamanaka Onsen is home to the Ishikawa Prefectural Institute for Yamanaka Lacquerware, a unique public institution that has been teaching wood lathe carving techniques and lacquer manufacturing skills since 1997. The faculty members include current Living National Treasures such as Ryozo Kawagita (川北 良三) in Woodworking, Koichi Nakano (中野 孝一) in Maki-e, and Fumio Mae (前 史雄) in Chinkin, as well as many other master craftsmen who continue to lead the industry.

As a result, Yamanaka Shikki remains at the forefront of Japanese lacquerware manufacturing, particularly in the area of woodworking, and continues to captivate admirers around the world with its timeless beauty and unparalleled craftsmanship. 

Ishikawa Prefectural Insititute for Yamanaka Lacquerware

<About Yamanaka Onsen >

Yamanaka Onsen, as mentioned earlier, is famous for its hot springs. It has been said that the hot spring was discovered 1300 years ago by high-rank priest Gyoki (行基). Gyoki carved a Yakushi-buddha (who cures sickness) into a log and built a small shrine, which was used as a guardian for the hot spring. It is said that many people visited the Yamanaka hot springs and were healed of their sickness and fatigue. However, the place had long been forgotten after many years of wars happened at that time. 

In the late Heian period, around the time of the Jishou era (治承 794-1192), Nobutsura Hasebe, the lord of Noto domain, saw a white heron healing its injured leg with a small stream in the shade of the mountains. When the site was dug out, a five-inch statue of Yakushi-Buddha appeared and beautiful hot spring water gushed out. Nobutsura opened 12 inns in this area, and this was the beginning of the Yamanaka Onsen Ryokan. 

After a longer period, during the Genroku era (元禄 1688-1704). Matsuo Basho(松尾芭蕉), the sage of haiku poetry, accompanied by his disciple Sora, visited Yamanaka Onsen on July 27, Genroku 2, during his long tour of Japan “Narrow roads to Deep North”. Basho praised Yamanaka hot spring as one of the "Three Famous Hot Springs of Fuso" along with Arima and Kusatsu, and wrote, "Yamanaka and Kiku are the three most famous hot springs in Japan. Basho stayed at Yamanaka Onsen for nine days. 

Yamanaka Onsen copyright Kogei StylingYamanaka Onsen

<Master of Wood Lathe Hand Carving>

The late Master Takashi Mizukami (水上隆志) was a true craftsman. He worked as a wood lathe hand carver for his life at Yamanaka Onsen and he is one of the figures that symbolizes traditional Yamanaka craftsman. Unfortunately, he had passed away in 2017, but till then he was one of the most rigorous wood lathe hand carving craftsmen in Yamanaka.

Born in 1936, he started as an apprentice, at the age of 15, to his father Soei Mizukami (水上荘詠), also highly skilled wood lathe hand carving craftsman and who was a prestigious member of the Nihon Kogeikai (Japan Kogei Association). Takashi also became a member of the Nihon Kogeikai at the age of 33, and since then he earned many awards in his life. Master Mizukami’s motto was; “Feeling the warmth of the wood, bringing about the beauty of the grains, and shaping the form to be safe, light, and usable as your daily item.”

Takashi Mizukami 水上隆志 by Kogei StylingMaster Takashi Mizukami (水上隆志) sharpening his tools (2014)

For Master Mizukami, to do his job right, he had traveled every year to the deep in the mountains of Wakayama Prefecture to purchase a whole timber. He would have a huge timber transported back to his house and he would cut it into big chunk pieces as he wants and let it dry for many years. Then he would slice it in a smaller chunk and let it dry for several years. And a little smaller chunk and store it inside your warm house. As you understand by now, the traditional wood lathe carvers are also the suppliers of finely controlled wood. Understanding the wood and taking care of the drying process to minimize the warp of the wood core in the long term, is one of the most difficult and important quality control elements of the Japanese lacquerware that can not be easily checked once after it has been made into owans. This is how the quality of the wood core for lacquerware was assured from the old days.

Takashi Mizukami 水上隆志 by Kogei Styling
Master Takashi Mizukami (水上隆志) working on to form a shallow bowl (2014)

Luckily, many had been taught by Master Mizukami at the Yamanaka Lacquerware Insititute where he taught for 17 years. We hope that the true heart of Yamanaka wood lathe craftsmen is passed on to in the future.

Master Takashi Mizukami of Yamanaka Lacquerware woking on his lathe work

Master Takashi Mizukami (水上隆志) of Yamanaka Shikki (2014)

   * Our line-up of the Yamanaka products are not necessarily the works of Takashi Mizukami.

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