The origin of Tamamushi lacquer ware is tied to the recovery of Sendai
In 1928, the National Tohoku Craftworks Institute was founded as the very first instruction organization for traditional craft arts. The purpose of its establishment was to accelerate innovation and modernization of Japanese industrial art. After The Great Depression, the economic situation in the Tohoku region was at the point of poverty and becoming a social problem. To remedy this situation, the Japanese government decided to create new products by developing local traditional crafts.
Emerging designers and craftsmen were invited to the National Tohoku Craftworks Institute. Among these rising talents was the influential German architect Bruno Taut. His idea to make craft arts not only ornamental but also useful everyday items, became the basis of later modern industrial design. The National Tohoku Craftworks Institute produced many talented people including world-renown interior designers Isamu Kenmochi and Katsuhei Toyoguchi, pioneers in the Japanese designing industry.
Tamamushi lacquer ware has silver dust applied underneath clear Urushi Japanese lacquer. This technique was developed by Urushi lacquer artist Shun Koiwa (aka Komei) to suit the taste of foreigners from western cultures. The most difficult part was to create bright colors. Foreigners usually live under indirect lighting sources, so bright colored table ware was desired. Koiwa tried multiple times before finally succeeding in perfecting his technique. The technique involved applying Urushi Japanese lacquer, wiping off it and letting it dry. This process was repeated several times. He then layered silver dust and dye. This technique began a new epoch in the history of craftwork. The first president of Tohoku Kogei Inc., Motojiro Saura, brought the rights to produce Tamamushi lacquer ware as a representing craft of Sendai. Tohoku Kogei Inc. got the patent license in 1935, and accomplished further development in their plans to mass produce the product for consumers. Unfortunately, World War II prevented further production because of the bombing.
After World War II, Motojiro restarted his workshop to produce Tamamushi lacquer ware for American soldiers of the Occupation Army. He made lots of western table ware including candle stands, coffee cups, knives and forks, and American customers loved them. His works sold like hot cakes and in 1949, even Mrs. MacArthur, wife of American General Douglas MacArthur visited his workshop to buy the lacquer ware.
After the Occupation Army withdrew, Motojiro continued to sell everyday items to foreign visitors and Japanese people. Since Tohoku Kogei Inc. Tamamushi lacquer ware was designated traditional industrial art object of Miyagi in 1985, the demand for the lacquer ware as a gift or souvenir has increased.
Tamamushi lacquer ware and other local crafts have contributed to the recovery and development of Sendai after the crisis like The Great Depression or World WarⅡ. We believe that continued development in the future will bring more success to Sendai after Great East Japan Earthqwuake.