[re:new tohoku] Creators

Hiraizumi -- its temples, gardens, and archaeological sites -- was recognized in 2011 by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage site.

One key Buddhist structure, Chuson-ji, was the chief temple of the local ruling family in the 11th and 12th centuries, when Hiraizumi was the administrative centre of northern Japan and rivalled Kyoto as Japan’s most powerful city. The only surviving building in Chuson-ji from that era, Konjikido, is lavishly adorned in gold, silver, lacquer and mother-of-pearl.

These flourishes are the basis of the motifs that decorate the Hidehira lacquerware products of Ochiya. The chief craftsman and producer is Yuya Sasaki. His studio is located just across the street from the entrance to Chuson-ji. From the window of his studio, you can even catch a glimpse of part of the temple, sitting on a hilltop. Sasaki uses materials and designs that are true to the centuries-old spirit of Hiraizumi.

The traditional crafts of Hiraizumi, and the city’s fortunes in general, suffered a critical blow after Japan's defeat in the Second World War. In recent years, however, the efforts of a younger generation of artisans, including Sasaki, have led to a craft renaissance, including lacquerware. Sasaki himself has planted lacquer trees in his garden, and is experimenting with its production, although his products currently use lacquer produced by a neighbour. Hiraizumi got a big boost from its UNESCO designation. Sasaki hopes that the Hiraizumi lacquerware industry, too, will once again thrive.

In addition to more traditional items such as bowls, plates and chopsticks, Sasaki has been making highly contemporary items such as iPhone and iPad covers, as well as fountain pens and wine glasses. When asked if these products are an attempt to attract a new generation of fans, Sasaki says yes, but that it’s not really an unusual goal. Historically, lacquerware products were made to fulfil a need for attractive, durable and quality products used by the people of that era. Samurai lacquered swords and armour, priests adorned their temples and religious objects with lacquer, and tradesmen used lacquerware in their tools and living environments to show their appreciation of quality and beauty. Sasaki’s contemporary wares are not a diversion from the traditional craft, but a natural extension of it.

This, ultimately, may be the most important lesson of Hiraizumi and the vision of Ochiya. Drawing from history, but not idealising it, Sasaki is continually renewing his craft.

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[re:new tohoku] Creators

Adam Fulford Business

VIDEO CHANNEL GUIDE renewtohoku.org/videos
CONTACT
a.fulford@japanesegreats.jp

This channel features some of the creators of products that were presented at "re:new tohoku" at Asia House, London in July, 2012. We are eager to identify…


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VIDEO CHANNEL GUIDE renewtohoku.org/videos
CONTACT
a.fulford@japanesegreats.jp

This channel features some of the creators of products that were presented at "re:new tohoku" at Asia House, London in July, 2012. We are eager to identify buyers, designers and other partners who can help us make these products successful in markets outside Japan.

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