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Beautiful Wajima Lacquerware Found Under Market Rubble After Earthquake

Just like the lacquerware that survived the devastating Wajima Morning Market fire, Wajima-nuri artisans can overcome this crisis with the nation's support.

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At the Wajima Morning Market, members of the Japan Self-Defense Forces carefully move the surviving tableware onto the sidewalk. January 11 in Wajima City, Ishikawa Prefecture. (©Sankei by Reina Kikkawa)

Bowls and small plates that survived the Noto Peninsula earthquake and ensuing fire were neatly arranged on the nearby sidewalk. Each had been carefully salvaged from the rubble of the once-vibrant Wajima Morning Market. Among them was beautiful Wajima-nuri lacquerware, with delicate flower patterns on the interior visible through the soot.

The Wajima Morning Market, previously a popular tourist attraction in Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture, was destroyed by the Noto Peninsula earthquake and subsequent fire. On January 11, The Sankei Shimbun reported that members of the Japan Self-Defense Forces and the police were diligently searching the area to ensure no one was left behind. They were also observed moving the surviving Wajima-nuri lacquerware onto the sidewalk.

Japanese Lacquerware

The oldest lacquerware in Japan has been found in archaeological sites dating back to the Jomon period (14,000–300 BC). In the late 16th century, Europeans who arrived in Japan were impressed by the beauty of lacquer used in buildings and tableware. In fact, it became common to use the word "Japan" to refer to Japanese lacquer and lacquerware.

Takahiro Yatsui, the president of the Daisetsu Yatsui lacquerware workshop, and others carry the remaining lacquerware from the workshop. January 29, 2024, Wajima City, Ishikawa Prefecture. (©Kyodo)

The Noto Peninsula gained widespread recognition for its lacquerware production during the late Edo period (1603–1868). Skilled artisans specialized in over 100 processes to complete their products. These were then transported nationwide via the "kitamaebune" shipping route connecting Osaka and Hokkaido. 

To this day, production and sales of lacquerware are overseen by coordinators known as "nushiya." This unique system remains an integral part of Japanese lacquerwork, which is recognized as an Important Intangible Cultural Property by the government.

Preserving Wajima-nuri

During the G8 Summit welcome dinner in July 2008, held near Lake Toya in Hokkaido, leaders were presented with Wajima-nuri cups. The local community had encouraged the Japanese government to promote Wajima-nuri culture. It was an effort to support the recovery of the Hokuriku region, which had suffered significant damage from an earthquake in March 2007.

Leaders admire Wajima-nuri cups at the welcome dinner of the 34th G8 summit hosted by Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and his wife Kiyoko. July 7, 2008. The Windsor Hotel Toya Resort & Spa in Toyako, Hokkaido. (Provided by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs via Kyodo)

Now, Wajima-nuri faces another crisis following the 2024 Noto Peninsula earthquake. Some artisans are contemplating closing their businesses due to the impact of this disaster.

Efforts are currently underway to rebuild the industry, with fundraising campaigns taking place in various regions. This critical time calls for the collective support of the entire nation to sustain and preserve this globally renowned traditional craft.

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(Read the article in Japanese.)

Authors: The Sankei Shimbun

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