Lacquer Research Association
Founded 2008

For some decades there has been an emerging crisis in the lacquer world of Japan. Young people are increasingly reluctant to take on the arduous years of apprenticeship required to achieve mastery. Modern Japanese have ceased to appreciate the refined aesthetic of lacquer utensils, swapping them for utilitarian plastic. In this climate, contemporary lacquer master Unryuan Kitamura Tatsuo and a group of senior lacquer artists in Ishikawa Prefecture, home to lacquer artistry for centuries, created the Shikokenkyukai (SKK).

The SKK aims to provide a platform for the preservation and dissemination of traditional lacquer techniques; for the research and experimentation with new techniques; for the sharing of ideas amongst lacquer artists, and for the regeneration of lacquer as fine art. With over 40 young members, the group have most recently been involved in a ground-breaking project to reproduce an 18th century incense game set in the collection of the famous Date clan.

Works pictured are by some of the younger members of the SKK, all of whom exhibit the potential for mastery: Son Miao, Akao Mai, Matsuda Takumi and Inami Hiroyuki. Son Miao is a post graduate fellow from the Beijing Seika University Art Institute who has been studying lacquer art in Japan for over ten years; Akao Mai and Matsuda Takumi are recent graduates from the Wajima Lacquer Research Institute. Each of these young artists expresses an individual approach to lacquer art in both design and technique.

Akao and Matsuda were recently awarded major prizes in a significant competition exhibition for watch face design – part of the resurgence of interest in adapting lacquer to wider applications. Akao is fascinated by wood and its texture and incorporates it into her lacquer work- a small incense container reminiscent of Mt. Asama in her home town; Matsuda uses exquisitely delicate techniques in a bamboo-lined incense box, the natural texture of wood contrasted with the sensuality of a folded lotus leaf in an unusual olive green stippled lacquer…the image enhanced by tiny falling blossoms in vibrant shell inlay. Son Miao has created an original image of the Great Barrier Reef in a small tea container using the natural grain of bamboo and inlaid shell.

Inami Hiroyuki exhibits characteristics of genius. An extremely reticent, sensitive man, Inami’s creativity stretches to encompass a variety of materials and technique, and his conceptual approach sets him apart. Many years in the creation, the work illustrated is a tour de force of mastery of technique and material – wood, metal, makie decoration and shell inlay. Inami has chosen to represent the traditional Japanese incense box in the form of a nineteenth century European building, thus expressing the long history of the appreciation of Japanese lacquer art in the West and the importance of cross-cultural currents. Words cannot represent the finesse and refinement of the construction of the form of the building, of the finish of the grained timber, the detail of the gold lacquer, the precision of the ribbed interior tray and its hand-beaten copper insert, the surprise of the ebony and shell inlaid chess-board floor.

Lesley Kehoe