Japan has 70% of mountains and forests with very narrow areas for growing crops. They even grow vegetables in 2 x 2 SF at the front streets and live in a house extra small by our standard. And yet, they are living well with full of gifts from the nature and they also fully admire the nature by return. Their rich
sources of wood supply enough daily fuel, to make tools, furniture and all kitchen wares, inspired them to create their wooden manual lathes, which are the most incentive creation of all for the Japanese hand crafts in wood. The lathes shape wood to be all kinds of containers, for dinner wares, Chado’s tools, all kinds of boxes, etc., since thousands of years ago. Their precisely made wooden house, temples or shrines are built without a nail still stand tall after hundreds of years.
Thanks to the Rokuro, the handmade wooden manual lathes, all the Wan,
bowls for rice or soup, boxes, furniture are made and painted with Urushi, and then also with Maki-e till today. Japan is one of the most advanced industrial countries, while their Tezukuri, hand crafts is still next to none in the world. We feel instantly the fine work of the wood in their houses when we get into there.
All craftsmanship were established by Totei-seido, Japanese special apprenticeship since the handcrafts were needed for living covering all kinds of jobs, wood workers, Sushi chefs, barbers, lathers, Urushi and Maki-e and so many others. The most famous man from this apprenticeship in Japan was the late Matsushita Konosuke, the founder of Matsuhita Electric or known as Panasonic Co. He grew from an apprentice at a bicycles store instead of going
Totei-seido began to disappear after WWII. The learners go to master’s house daily instead of living at master’s house. And larger vocational schools also built all over the country to educate all kinds of craftsmen today. Maki-e shi needs to learn at least 5 years before he or she can be independent. They have to learn not only how to paint, but also learn the literatures, Haiku, history of fine art,
so that they can create their own designs, even though the art is traditional.
But now the numbers of Maki-e artists are also decreasing, fewer and fewer
want to learn hard and time consuming art like Maki-e. For instance, there is
only one of our three major Maki-e masters, who has one successor from his family, and probably even worse among other Maki-e shi today. One of our
Maki-e shi told me that he believes that the numbers of Maki-e shi will be even fewer and fewer till then Maki-e shi becomes species in danger, but won’t be extinguished! Why? The art is too great to be abandoned by Japanese.
The quality of machine made is the best when it comes out, and then it will lose its quality when time goes. But “imperfect” Urushi is different, when the painting
is finished, there is always “something missing”, and then the touch of feeling is becoming better and better, the colors are becoming clearer and better when
time goes. Its value should be appreciated because it is 100% coming from the nature and we can return it back to nature still 100%. One of our Maki-e shi, Kosetsu san said that he could never paint a perfect Urushi work in his life