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Wakasa is a lacquer technique from Fukui prefecture near Kanazawa which started in the early Edo period (17th century) in which the beauty of the sea floor was depicted using layers of lacquer. This tray is hon-nuri; true multiple layers of lacquer and inclusions over a wood base polished down to reveal the pattern; a laborious and time consuming process. It is 15 inches (38.5 cm) diameter, just over one inch (3.5 cm) high at the rim and in fine condition, wiht only minor surface abrasions from use.
In the middle of the 17th century, a method, which is still used to this day and is apparent in this tray, was perfected for applying decoration using eggshell and gold or silver leaf. According to the official wakasa homepage “The marine elements are depicted using such things as eggshell, mother-of-pearl, pine needles, Japanese cypress needles and rape seed. Added to this, gold leaf glitters among them like stars or jewels and being an almost exclusively hand-made craft, no two objects are ever the same.”
According to Furukawa Kosaku, 3rd generation lacquer artist, the amazing surface decoration which manifests after many layers of lacquer have been sanded and relacquered, is made possible by implanting foreign matter once a smooth base has been created. "It is the process that requires the most thought and care," explains Mr Furukawa. "We do it by applying pine needles and other bits and pieces before the lacquer hardens and if the lacquer hardens too quickly, it fails to gather around the foreign object, so the pattern does not emerge clearly." For this reason, Mr Furukawa says, they can only do the work of embedding the foreign objects in the cold winter months when the low humidity and low temperature slow down the hardening process.
After the pattern-material has been applied, it is just a matter of repeating the process of lacquering and sanding over and over. He explains that they call it "idiot's lacquerware" because you end up going crazy with all that work. It takes a year to finish one piece.