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Kyo-nuri Lacquerware: Japan's finest

Due to the traditional knowledge possessed by the many skilful craftsmen centered around the imperial court, Kyoto prospered as the center of Japan's lacquer ware industry from the Muromachi period (1333-1568) onwards. Kyoto lacquerware has always been regarded as the most exquisite in all of Japan.

Applying extraordinaly fine gold powder using a special bamboo tool.

During the Muromachi period, the Imperial court began to hire individual Kyoto lacquer craftsmen. Examples of artists from this period are Koami and Igarashi, who made tea utensils under the direction of Shogun Yoshimasa Ashikaga.

The era, known as ''Higashiyama Makie,'' brilliantly reflects the splendor of the Kyoto lacquerware, which exquisitely expressed the subtle aesthetic ideas of wabi (rustic simplicity, freshness or quietness) and sabi (patina or the beauty or serenity that comes with age) that are so important in the Japanese tea ceremony.

Soup Bowls, Sun and Moon: The circles represent the sun and the moon. Urushi is applied over the gold and silver foil; it will fade over time and the gold and silver underneath will appear more clearly.

In the Azuchi Momoyama Period (1573-614), Kyoto lacquer ware strongly reflected the tastes and preferences of the affluent and dominant warrior class. The gorgeous rich effects of Kodaiji Makie are particularly noteworthy. Beginning in the Edo Period (1600-1868), despite the popularity for brilliance and glitter, works started to reveal increasingly delicate and elaborate aesthetic preferences.

Today, Kyoto lacquer ware is not limited to only ornamental objects, but also includes ordinary tableware, furniture, as well as a number of different household effects. Kyoto lacquer ware has been designated as a ''traditional Japanese handicraft form'' by the national government.

Hand Mirrors with Grapes: Traditionally, grapes are a symbol of longevity and they have long been a popular motif in Japanese arts. Shell inlay has been used on some grapes to add a feeling of luxury.

At one time, as the convenience of plastic and bakelite products rapidly changed the market, Kyoto lacquerware experienced a down turn. In recent years, however, consumer tastes are reverting back to the idea of quality over convenience or price considerations. A wide appreciation of genuine traditional lacquerware has returned. One problem that remains is that there is a shortage of lacquerware craft masters. Efforts have intensified in the last few years to train and cultivate young artisans.

How to Care for Lacquer Ware

To properly maintain lacquerware take the following precautions.

1) Do not soak in hot or cold water for a long time. Wash with warm water and dry with a soft cloth.

2) To maintain a good gloss, wipe gently with a soft cloth after washing. Avoid excessive force.

3) Avoid putting in the refrigerator, the dishwasher, under direct sunshine, or in extremely dry places. This could lead to discoloration.

4) Do not use with direct heat, in a microwave, or in an oven.