Lacquerware using wood as the basic material and then painting with lacquer has been used for typical Japanese containers since ancient times. In particular, Wajima lacquerware is so famous as a traditional craft in Japan that there is probably no one in the country who has not heard of it! However, when it comes to people who actually use it or own it…it is a different story. Making good use of lacquerware techniques passed down over the generations, it is the president of the Wajima Kirimoto workshop, Taiichi Kirimoto, who continues to seek out new possibilities for products that people want to use in their everyday lives.
Mr. Kirimoto works hard every day in the hope that even one more person will realize how good lacquerware is but, surprisingly, he does not think that the opening of the Hokuriku bullet train line is a great opportunity for him.
“It’s simple. Wajima, on the Noto Peninsula, is quite a distance away from Kanazawa and trends are transient. I am aiming to make people understand the true nature of lacquerware and to create Wajima lacquerware that can be used casually at the dining table every day.”
Even if people know about Wajima lacquerware, they don’t use it on an everyday basis. There is a reason for this: it was sold at department store events as a luxury craft item during the period of rapid economic growth, to be used only on high days and holidays…this continued over a long period of time. The baby boom generation and previous generations still have the erroneous view that Wajima lacquerware is highly priced and difficult to handle and care for. In order to rectify this misunderstanding, in other words, to reverse the image of lacquerware products and Wajima lacquerware, Mr. Kirimoto has created coffee cups and business card cases. The business card cases in particular do not scratch even if they are handled a little roughly. Technology has advanced and products are more durable. Properly communicating these facts is one of the important roles that Mr. Kirimoto plays.
Mr. Kirimoto seeks out new possibilities for lacquerware and creates products that have never before been seen, one after the other. Where do these novel ideas and free concepts come from? We asked about their origins.
Mr. Kirimoto was born and brought up in Wajima City, Ishikawa Prefecture, a city famous for its lacquerware. The Kirimoto family started in the lacquerware business in the 1700s and in the Showa period (1926 - 1989) Mr. Kirimoto’s grandfather, Kyuko, established a wood base business which his father, Toshihei, continued. Taiichi, who is of the current generation, set up the wood and lacquerware creative workshop having been brought up in an environment in which lacquer and lacquerware were just a part of life. It seems that Mr. Kirimoto used the workshop where his grandfather and father worked as a playground. “When I came home from kindergarten or elementary school, I went to the workshop and played in among the craftsmen as they worked. At that time, for some reason, I liked the sawdust, I was obsessed with it!” laughs Mr. Kirimoto, looking back on his childhood. It sounds like the fact that he was always around people creating things had a big effect on him after all.
“To be honest, no one ever asked me to carry on the family business. When I was at junior high school, I was vaguely thinking about creating things for a living but this had nothing to do with the family business. However, the business was the reason I ended up in this field.”
The young Taiichi continued to feel the pull of creating things for a living and when he was at senior high school, he attended a design class in Kanazawa every Sunday in order to prepare for art school. In the end, he went to a university where he studied industrial design and this was where an encounter that would get him to where he is today was waiting.
After starting at university, Mr. Kirimoto was strongly influenced by his first design classes. His professor taught him that design had the role of making our current lives more pleasant and comfortable. Art is something that looks great but that no one can use and it is definitely not a design, nor is it a product. When he thought about things that were useful in our current lives or to people, Mr. Kirimoto started to think about what he could do with lacquer.
It is true that Mr. Kishimoto did not walk the usual path of graduating high school and becoming a craftsman. However, it may be precisely because he learned design at university then got a job related to design in an ordinary company and has knowledge of many different fields that he was able to create new value in the traditional craft of Wajima lacquerware.
“Lacquerware has a mysterious power that calms just with its presence. When you touch it, the gentle feel and serenity change not only the piece but also the appearance of the space surrounding it.” These words from Mr. Kirimoto show that he himself is the number one fan of lacquerware products. “I feel that it is almost a waste to hand over lacquerware products that I have meticulously produced to other people!” laughs Mr. Kirimoto and from this we can tell that it is precisely because he loves his products that he is able to take on this role with such sincerity and is always able to think about his work.
Lacquerware products that Mr. Kirimoto has created include not only bowls and everyday items but also new developments. For example, the use of huge lacquerware counters as part of the interior décor of the sushi restaurant and chocolate shop of a certain famous hotel. In addition, Mr. Kirimoto collaborates with various creators and companies and these activities are expanding in a number of different directions.
“OVE has relationships with various concepts and objects such as food, culture and the city with its starting point of bicycles. I feel that these relationships are very pleasant and meaningful. It is still early days but someday Wajima lacquerware will become an existence that creates this kind of value.”
He left us with this parting comment…
“It is not something that protects tradition, nor is it something that destroys traditions. Comparing its true nature and value in the present, it is important to pass tradition on to the next generation while challenging it with innovation.”
We should not get caught up with stereotypes; we should grasp the true nature of objects and pass this on to the next generation. We would like you to see, touch and feel for yourselves Mr. Kirimoto’s lacquerware products that teach us what is essential for we, who are living today, to strive for in the future.
Taiichi Kirimoto Profile
Born in Wajima City in 1962. Graduated from the Product Design course at Tsukuba University School of Art and Design in 1985, joined the Design & Planning Department at KOKUYO and then joined the family business, Kirimoto Wooden Craft Workshop in 1987. He created a network with craftsmen of the same age and became involved in a wide range of creative activities including making lacquerware bowls that can be used in everyday life, small articles for interior décor, furniture and architectural materials. In addition, he holds talk shows and seminars related to lacquerware at solo exhibitions or events. He also gives lectures at high schools and universities about developing cities from the point of view of creating objects. After the death of his father in February, 2015, he changed the company trade name to Wajima Kirimoto.