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Ryukyu Shikki Lacquerware for Every Day Use. [Kakuman Shikki] (Naha) is the Longest Standing Business of Ryukyu Lacquerware
post : 2019.12.31 19:00
When we think of lacquerware, many of us may have the notion, “they’re hard to maintain,” or “they’re for special occasions,” or perhaps “they’re not fit for everyday use”.
“Actually, lacquerware is very practical and they’re quite useful for daily use,” explains Gou Kadena, the sixth generation operator of Kakuman Shikki lacquerware shop situated in Maejima, Naha City. Established over 120 years ago, Kakuman Shikki is the oldest Ryukyu lacquerware business in Okinawa. With changes in lifestyles, the demand for lacquerware has been declining over the years, and looking at the level of lacquerware production across Japan, we can see a decline of up to 80%. Despite these hard times, Kakuman Shikki continues to preserve its longstanding history and at the same time, taking on new challenges.
Lacquerware is a craft made by painting layers of sap extracted from lacquer trees onto containers made of wood or paper. It is lighter compared to ceramics or glass and the smooth texture of its surface in your hand is one of its allures. Some of the famous lacquerware in Japan are Wajima-nuri, Aizu Shikki, Echizen Shikki among others. The lacquerware pieces by Kakuman Shikki are known for their high quality and have been presented to Ise Jingu and Meiji Jingu Shrines in the past, and pieces were also donated for display to the Akasaka State Guest House.
The major differences with Ryukyu Shikki in comparison to lacquerware produced in other parts of Japan are in its brilliant vermilion color, the unique Tsuikin technique which applies raised overlays of designs, and the containers themselves are made of wood found growing in Okinawa.
At Kakuman Shikki, most of the pieces are made with Deigo (Indian coral trees) that is said to be the lightest wooden material in Japan, and the very valuable wood, Shitamagi, also called Egonoki or Japanese snowbell tree.
There are certain types of wood that are fitting for certain pieces, depending on the shape of the containers. The Deigo is light and strong against deformations and is used for Jubako food boxes, Jikiro food and drink containers, and Tundabun trays. The Shitamagi are strong against shrinkage and cracks when dried well, and so they’re often used to make bowls, dishes and confectionary containers.
Some people think that lacquerware isn’t good to use for foods like Sunomono vinegar dishes and foods prepared with oils, but actually, lacquerware is very strong against all sorts of moisture, alkaline, acidity, alcohol and others. It is said that no other natural materials can handle these types of foods, and they are in fact, very easy to maintain. Just use your everyday neutral detergent and wash with a sponge with water or lukewarm water, and dry well with a towel. If left moist, traces of chlorine in the tap water will leave white stains on the lacquerware, so be sure to dry it off well. As long as they are used properly, lacquerware lasts a lifetime.
Kakuman Shikki also launched its jewelry brand, Nui Mun in 2014, producing and retailing lacquer accessories. Nui Mun means “painted objects” or “person who paints lacquer” in the Okinawan language. Kadena-san says, “There may be preconceptions that lacquerware is expensive and other factors that make people think twice about purchasing them. That’s why we are presenting various items that meet today’s lifestyles. We felt that for people who have never used lacquerware, a great gateway into this wonderful world was through accessories that anyone would enjoy wearing.”
Lacquer accessories really have a strong presence even if they’re small in size. They’re strong against moisture and the material has a wonderful warmth in its gentle appearance. It’s also very light to wear that you’ll forget that you’re wearing it. For those hesitant in purchasing Ryukyuan lacquerware, which in general, people tend to think are very expensive, accessories are certainly more affordable. Customers who purchase lacquer accessories at Nui Mun and see and feel the charm of lacquerware have said, “I can only afford to buy accessories now, but some day, I’d like to purchase various Ryukyuan lacquerware pieces.”
Ryukyuan lacquerware that saw great advancement during the period of the Ryukyu Kingdom, in collaboration with Nui Mun, which has introduced new ideas to cherished traditions. How about seeing and getting to know the items offered at Kakuman Shikki that connect the past to the present, and into the future?
Address: 2-1-6 Maejima, Naha City, Okinawa
Hours: 9:00 to 18:00
Closed: Sundays, Holidays, New Year’s, Kyu-Bon (Obon according to the lunar calendar)
Okinawa CLIP photo writer, Sachiko Tachi