Wajima-nuri - The Most Trusted Name in Japanese Lacquerware -
If a Japanese person were asked to name a brand of lacquerware, most of the people would name the "Wajima-nuri" as their answer, even many those answered may have very little knowledge about lacquerware. The "Wajima-nuri" is the most prestigious name in the Japanese lacquerware, where there is a total of 23 traditional lacquerware brands are still officially recognized by the government.
We believe that the "Wajima-nuri" in the world of Japanese lacquerware is like the "Meisen" in the world of porcelain.
What made "Wajima-nuri" the most famous lacquerware was the outstanding durability and the quality that is historically proven, which surpasses others with by far the most complicated manufacturing process of 124 and therefore the price also being the most expensive.
Competitiveness of the Wajima lacquerware "Wajima-nuri（輪島塗）" from the quality standpoint is, that it is the most durable and made to be repaired lacquerware with highly skilled beautiful decorations. It requires a very rigorous manufacturing process that is extremely long and complex totaling 124 individual processes. The technical foundation of Wanima-nuri started to take shape in the mid-1600s of Edo era(1603-1868) with the invention of the use of Diatomaceous earth collected in Wajima "Wajima Jinoko（輪島地の粉）" in its base coating, which highly increased its durability than before. And following fine refinements in the content, the technical structure of Wajima-nuri is said to be completed during the 1700s.
On top of it, the value of Wajima-nuri was further heightened by a unique industrial system to Wajima during the 1800s. Wajima lacquerware industry standardized their manufacturing process with the highly detailed division of labor, thereby increasing the quality control and productivity of the product, enabling the flexibility in the look of the item at the same time. (This was way much before Henry Ford introduced mas manufacturing system). And with their unique Wajima marketing and sales system, they realized continuing growth of Wajima lacquerware with everlasting and highly regarded brand value till this day. Therefore, all other lacquerware producers in Japan have never come close to emulate both the quality and the productivity of Wajima-nuri until today.
At Wajima you would normally have “Kiji-shi（木地師）” for woodwork and “Shitaji-shi（下地師）” for base coating, ”Nakanuri-shi（中塗師）” for middle coating, ”Uwanuri-shi（上塗師）” for top coating,"Togimono-shi（研物師）”for intermediate polishing,"”Roiro-shi（呂色師）”for superfine polished finishing, ”Makie-shi（蒔絵師）” or “Chinkin-shi（沈金師）” for gold decorations and “Nushi-ya（塗師屋）” for the total coordination for the order. （”-shi(師)” or "-ya-(屋)"stands for an individual professional）
In the Wajima-nuri manufacturing, among the above functional professionals, the most distinctive and unique function is the coordinator; Nushi-ya who would have sales, marketing and planning responsibility. In the early days the Nushi-ya of Wajima traveled and visited their customers’ doors directly all over Japan once every year and they listened to what their customers say; what is good or bad with their product, and then they will get repair orders or realize new orders for next year by understanding the customer’s real needs.
This seems like ordinary marketing and sales in today's context. However, in the old days, the real difficulty was totally different from the societal hierarchy in place. The key was that the Wajima-nuri Nushi-ya were, not well known though but, actually one of the most culturally sophisticated groups of people at the time.
If you think that their customers, those who purchase the most expensive and gorgeous lacquerwares at the time were the most affluent merchants or landlords and such, that are enthusiastic in cultural activities such as gorgeous tea ceremonies or big parties that require expensive or large sets of lacquerwares. Therefore, Wajima Nushi-ya inevitably had to be at the forefront of the cultural trends, so that they could be ahead of their customers and capture their heart and minds for new and latest trend items.
This task seems tough with Wajima being the very remote area from a cultural center such as Kyoto or Edo(now Tokyo). However, the very clever Wajima-nuri sales system sustainably enabled Wajima Nushi-ya to be at the forefront of cultural matters of the time. It worked like this; all the Nushi-yas of Wajima would visit their customers all over Japan at the same time once a year (so that there are no duplication and cannibalization) and come back with the latest news and trends with their own eyes on cultural matters of the visited place(therefore the reliability of the information was very high). The group shares that information so they knew what, where and who is the point of the trend and come up with a comprehensive view on cultural trends of Japan. They, of course, will use this information for the planning of their new products and in their customer talks. As a fact, Wajima Nushi-ya was not regarded just like a salesperson to their customers, but believe it or not, they were welcomed as a respected cultural guest from those affluent merchants and landlords and were enchanted with a feast. One symbolic fact that is told is that the Wajima Nushi-ya would visit their customers from the main gate of their customers mansion and was guided to the main guest room of the house,at the time when most of the ordinary sales merchants would only be allowed to visit their mansions only through the back gate and talk at outside, proving Nushi-ya's highly regarded social status.
This system worked most effectively during the 1800s and till Meiji-era(1868-1912) when ”Kitamae-bune（北前船）”; the established periodical shipping trade route that went from the ports in the Sea of Japan side of Hokkaido(北海道）, Tohoku（東北）Hokuriku（北陸）and arrived at Hyogo（兵庫）and Osaka （大阪）, was the main transportation media and enabled large volume transportation of the Wajima lacquerware and the dispersion of the information was slow enough.
Even though Wajima Lacquerware has historically been the most expensive lacquerware of its kind in Japan, they have flourished more than any other lacquerware product in all over Japan for more than 200 years. Of course, the key factor of the success is the highest quality and durability actually proven by the customers, but interestingly the marketing and sales system run by the Wajima Nushi-ya was one of the important the key factors that kept the trust to the Wajima Brand by the affluent customers all over Japan.