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Herald Tribune asahi
Japanese People Do Not Know Japan
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Honkin Maki-e Wineglasses
Have you ever seen "Honkin Maki-e wineglasses" (gold lacquered wineglasses)? Using a Japanese maki-e technique, patterns are painted in gold on wineglasses by an Austrian company, RIEDEL. Unlike conventional European decoration, gold maki-e wineglasses are painted with real gold powder, achieving a luster and weight never seen before. Maki-e is one of Japan's traditional forms of lacquer craftwork and has a 2000-year history. The maki-e technique was originally used to decorate urushi lacquerware, ceremonial tea sets and furniture such as cabinets.
 
Maki-e is painted on Japanese urushi lacquerware; patterns are painted onto the lacquerware with urushi (a kind of lacquer produced from a special tree sap) and gold powder is sprinkled on the patterns before the urushi dries and hardens. This technique is similar to a sand picture that is produced on paper by sprinkling colored sand over a pattern drawn in glue. Substitute gold powder for the sand and urushi lacquer for the glue and you have maki-e. That said, maki-e production is not as simple as it sounds. Maki-e requires time and knowledge of a lot of different techniques and processes, many of which need to be repeated in order to achieve the finished product.
See this page for more details.
 

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Maki-e Glasses
Until recently it was said that urushi lacquer could not be fixed to glass. However, our shop developed the technology to fix lacquer to glass and succeeded in producing the world's first gold maki-e wineglasses in 2005. We even showed that they are dishwasher proof, provided a non-abrasive detergent is used!
 
The lacquer design used on the curved surface of a wineglass is similar in design to Japanese paintings and expresses unlimited space. In addition, due to the transparency of the glass, the design can be seen from all sides. We are pleased to say that the technique has been highly praised as marriage of Austrian and Japanese craftwork and is the only contribution to wine-related culture made by Japan. We say that these wineglasses are artwork but they are also suitable for daily use. They have also been highly praised by Joel Robuchon, a charismatic figure of French cuisine. This may sound like an advertisement for my shop's product. However, gold maki-e wineglasses are not just a new product for our own profit. They were produced for larger purpose.

 
Maki-e?
During a planning meeting, I heard an interesting story from a young Maki-e craftsman. When he told his girlfriend that his job was maki-e, she thought his job was chumming (introducing food to the water to attract fish) at a fish firm. The Japanese for "chumming" has the same pronunciation as "maki-e" and the young girl couldn't imagine traditional lacquerware from the world of maki-e!
 
Sadly, it is not just a joke for those in the lacquerware industry. It is proof that lacquerware has become so far removed our daily life that most Japanese do not know even the word "maki-e." I wonder how much lacquerware Japanese readers have in their homes.
 
If you are not Japanese, please ask your friends and colleagues about how much lacquerware they own. I believe the answer will reveal a decline in the demand for lacquerware, a large turnover of craftsmen and decrease of successors to continue the trade.
 
The theme of the third term
It's not just lacquerware, Japanese people have been using fewer traditional craft products. I believe that's because, as I wrote in my first article, "Japanese do not know about Japan". (Herald Tribune / Asahi Shimbun, November 29th, 2006) Due to their own indifference to Japanese traditions, Japan has been losing its traditional culture and skills. Furthermore, the underlying Japanese conscience has been disappearing.
 
As readers are no doubt aware, the true purpose for producing gold maki-e wineglasses is to protect the traditional beauty and technique of maki-e, by creating the designs on wineglasses which fit into modern life, not on old-type plates and tea ceremony utensils which are rarely used these days. My previous article, "The Fact and Cause of Disappearing Japanese Culture" attracted a lot of attention from readers. In this and the following 3 articles in this series, I intend to dig deeper and provide the reader with a wealth of concrete examples showing the decline of traditional Japanese culture in Japan.
 
Please send your comment or opinion to H-ADV@asahi.com
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