Mitani - how their products are created


(日本語はこの後にあります)
MITANI is based in ‘Shikki-danchi ‘(Urushi Lacquerware Industrial Estate) in Kaga-city, Ishikawa-prefecture. Facing the Sea of Japan, winter in Ishikawa is notoriously harsh. However, blessed with dozens of superb hot springs and freshly caught seafood, the Ishikawa region is widely renowned for its picturesque scenery.

Ishikawa holds three famous places for urushi lacquerware production in Japan-‘Wajima’, ’Kanazawa’ and ‘Yamanaka’ –, of which ‘Yamanaka urushi lacquerware’ boasts the highest production volume nationwide.

Embraced with an array of urushi lacquerware manufactures in the ‘Shikki-danchi’, MITANI has been in business for 180 years as one of the leading urushi companies and nowadays mainly produces ‘modern urushi lacquerware’.

‘Modern urushi lacquerware’ is a plastic based product that is finished with synthetic resin, which was introduced in the early 30s of the Showa-era (in the late 1950’s), in order to meet the high demand of consumers, who were looking for urushi lacquerware in a wide variety of designs and styles at more affordable prices.

It is suitable for modern life style due to it being microwavable and dishwasher-safe as well as having gorgeous patterns with an alluring hint of traditional virtues, the ‘modern urushi lacquerware’ has become extremely popular for ‘Hikidemono’, which is a gift from the bride and groom to the guests who came to their wedding reception. This new trend in the market has been a turning point for urushi manufacturers, which has contributed to a massive increase in production.
Although there was a time when some companies relocated their production to China, they have started bringing it back to Japan in recent years.

After finalizing the style and design, metal molds are prepared and then forms that are used for applying patterns onto a body are created. The next two steps in the manufacturing process are called ‘Nuri’ (*1) and then ‘Maki-e’ (*2) before finishing.
(*1) Nuri: Literally, it means ‘coat’ or ‘paint’ and implies ‘coat urushi lacquer’.
(*2) Maki-e: This is a technique of sprinkling metal flakes, grains or powder on the surface to create patterns using the adhesiveness of urushi.

All of the ‘modern urushi lacquerware’ produced at MITANI are made in Japan and their high standard can’t be achieved without a dedicated workforce of experienced craftsmen, who live in the surrounding district of the ‘Shikki-danchi’. The process of producing ‘modern urushi lacquerware’ is divided into many different steps that is handled by skilled craftsmen, who specialize in each step of the process, in the same way that traditional urushi lacquerware is manufactured.

The following photographs show the process of how modern urushi lacquerware is created by the masters.

Upon receiving an un-lacquered plastic body, the first process is ‘Nuri’. At this workshop, a method of coating using an air-brush and a traditional manual coating is used as well.


Coat is being applied using the air-brush equipment.


It may look easy to do, but it requires a number of years to master the technique of applying coats perfectly to deliver an immaculately smooth finish.
Whenever applying coats in colors which are different from the one inside or on the rim of the bowl such as traditional Japanese confectionary bowls, it has to be carefully done by hand using sponges or sponge–like materials to achieve a perfect finish.


After this ‘Nuri’ process, the products are dried thoroughly and then go through a quality check before being shipped.


If coats are applied over dust, no matter how small the particle of dust, it makes a bubble which can be seen or felt on the surface. This product won’t be good enough to ship. The woman in the picture is checking each product in detail before shipment.


This is ‘Nuri’ master with his wife.
It is said that, at the age of 60 years old, a craftsman is considered a junior, who is still on his way to becoming a real ‘master’. Although this couple are both over 75 years old, they are still at work. The passion for their work may be the secret that keeps them going and in good shape.

At this workshop, patterns are printed onto the surface of coated products and gold flakes are attached. Patterns are applied using this rubber balloon-like equipment.


The products are dried and then gold or silver flakes are attached by hand one at a time. What fascinated me was the precision of work and the family’s work ethos, which I observed at all the workshops I visited.




This is the method of printing patterns onto the product using a silkscreen.


The silkscreen frame needs to be carefully and accurately placed before the paint is applied, in order to create these beautiful patterns.


After the process of drying, the products are polished and sent back to MITANI as completed pieces.


Even the drying process requires many years of experience. To estimate the drying time, many small factors such as the temperature and humidity etc. on the day need to be taken into consideration. I was so impressed by the craftsmen who were diligently focused on their tasks in the workshops. This pretty Obento-bako is available at AttA.

Finally, this is the studio of a ‘Maki-e artist’. He has 40 years’ experience and used to draw patterns directly onto the surface of products. With an artistic atmosphere, his studio looks like a real artist atelier.


These are some of his previous artworks – what a stunning piece of beauty! He showed me dozens of items in different designs and it was such a pleasure to hear the story behind each treasure.


Each of his words made me realized how accomplished he was as a craftsman and artist.


The process of creating ‘modern urushi lacquerware’ is often misunderstood. Having the word ‘modern’ in its name doesn’t mean that the process itself has been modernized or automated. Each product is carefully hand-finished by a specialized craftsman using the traditional techniques.

When you have a chance to own a product from MITANI, remember how dedicated, passionate and skilled the craftsmen were. Now you know how your MITANI obento-bako is made, I believe the obento-bako will become more than just a bento-box.
It is a piece of Japanese art that you will treasure for a long time.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

ミタニは、石川県加賀市の漆器団地というところにあります。石川県は、日本海に面しており、冬の気候は厳しいですが、良質の温泉と海産物に恵まれた風光明媚な県として知られています。石川県には輪島、金沢、山中の三つの漆器産地がありますが、中でも山中漆器は全国一の生産高を誇っています。
漆器団地には山中漆器の製造卸が軒を並べています。ミタニは創業180年という由緒ある会社で、現在は近代漆器を主に扱っています
近代漆器は、昭和30年代初めから、廉価かつ多様なデザインを求める消費者ニーズに応えるために生産されるようになったプラスチック製の漆器のことです。電子レンジ、食器洗い機が使える利便性と伝統を踏まえた華やかな絵柄を兼ね備えた近代漆器は、ブライダルの引き出物等として人気を博し、飛躍的に生産が伸びました。一時中国などに生産拠点を移した時代もありましたが、近年はまた国内での生産に戻ってきているようです。
漆器は形・デザインが決まると金型が製作され版が作成されます。そしてその後塗・蒔絵という工程を経て出来上がります。

ミタニの近代漆器はすべて国内産で、漆器団地周辺に住む多くの職人さんによって支えられています。伝統漆器と同様、その工程は分業化されており、各々の工程に特化した職人さんの手を経て漆器は出来上がるのです。

以下、職人さんによる製作風景を紹介します。

プラスチックの型が出来上がってくると、まず塗を施します。こちらの工場では、機械を使った吹き付けと昔ながらの手作業双方のやり方で作業をしています。


機械による吹き付けをしているところです。


簡単そうに見えますが、均一にむらなく塗るのはやはり経験がいるとのこと。
菓子鉢の縁など内側と違う色を塗る場合には、スポンジ等を使って丁寧に手で塗っていきます。


塗が終わると乾燥・検品という作業を経て、出荷されていきます。


塵・埃が塗装する前に付いていると、空気が入ってしまい表面が滑らかにならず、その製品は不良品になってしまいます。こちらの工場では奥様が一つ一つ出荷前の検品をされていました。


塗り一筋の職人さんと、その奥様です。お二人とも75歳を超えていらっしゃいますが、山中漆器の職人さんは60歳で若手と言われるそうです、まだまだ現役という気概がご夫婦の元気の秘訣なのですね。

こちらの工場では、塗が終わった製品にデザインを写し、金箔を載せる作業を担当しています。上部からぶら下がっているゴム製の型に塗料を付け、模様を付けていきます。


そして乾かしたのち、金箔や銀箔を手で一つ一つ貼っていくのです。どの工場でも、家族が一緒に働く姿が大変印象的でした。




こちらは、シルクスクリーンで製品に模様を付けているところです


シルクスクリーンの版の位置を慎重に決めた後、色を載せていくと、


このような愛らしい模様ができてきます。


乾燥させたのち、磨きをかけて製品としてミタニに届くわけですが、乾燥ひとつとっても、その日の気温・湿度で乾く時間が違うため、経験が必要です。職人さんは皆、お忙しそうに黙々と作業をされていました。このデザインのお弁当箱はAttAでも扱っています。

最後にご紹介するのは、蒔絵を担当する職人さんの工房です。こちらの職人さんはこの道40年、昔は手書きで漆に模様を描いたりもされたとのこと。お仕事場も画家のアトリエのような雰囲気でした。


こちらが以前に手がけられた作品の一つ、綺麗ですね。いろいろな作品を見せて頂きましたが、職人さんの言葉一つ一つに自分の作品に対する誇りを感じました。


近代漆器という言葉の響きから、工程が機械化されていると思われがちですが、専門の職人さんが手でひとつひとつ丁寧に仕上げています。みなさんもミタニの製品を手に取った時、こんな職人さんの元気な笑顔を思い出してみてください、そのお弁当箱がもっと大切に感じられると思いますよ。