Lacquer-ware by Shinji Goto
What is Japanese lacquer-ware (urushi)?
Urushi means lacquer and is also the name of the tree from which the sap that composes the lacquer is taken.
In Japan, we have used objects coated with lacquer since the Jomon period, more than 9000 years ago. Urushi
sap is adhesive and has a good gloss. Once dried, it’s a coating resistant to water, acids, and alkalis. The natural gloss is removed to convey an image of silent and casual existence. To create vermilion lacquer, powdered red iron oxide is applied and gives the finish a unique patina. It protects from insects and prevents rotting. For black lacquer, powdered cosmic hemp is applied to create the outer layer. The crude cosmic hemp used does not have any chemicals. This material is utilized to detoxify bowls in Chinese medicine, since the activated carbon absorbs toxins.
In Japan, it is said that the lips are the most sensitive part of the body. So the ancient Japanese produced and used lacquer-ware in their food culture to feel comfortable and to heal through their lips.
About Shinji Goto and his small business
Shinji Goto was born in 1971 in Yamagata Prefecture and currently lives in Fujisawa City, Kanagawa Prefecture.
After having worked for decades for an electronics manufacturer and as an editor in a publishing house, Shinji decided to pursue his real passion: woodworking. He entered a design school and worked as a cabinetmaker for 5 years.
In 2007, he studied the Japanese lacquer craft under well-known Toshiki Ozono, official national artisan of Kamakura-bori, a traditional Japanese lacquer style from Kamakura, characterized by low relief.
Shinji then became an official Kamakura-bori artisan and established his own company, Goto-Shitsugei. The company specializes in creating traditional Kamakura-bori lacquers with original contemporary designs. They also produce many kinds of Japanese wooden crafts and furniture.
Interview with Shinji Goto
Shinji Goto is obviously a passionate and knowledgeable craftsman. When the TAKENOBU team asked him about his inspirations and his design and creation process, he also told us about the importance of using natural materials and handmade techniques, and what makes his lacquer-ware unique.
TAKENOBU: What is your motivation?
Shinji Goto: I’m inspired by the nature and the Japanese traditions. The Japanese lacquer craft is similar to the agriculture. I have to adjust my working plan to the season and weather, because the lacquer is sensitive to the temperature and humidity. I love Urushi-san (Mr. Urushi, as he calls the lacquer tree with respect) who is alive in the nature, even though he sometimes bothers me by getting me a rash from his poisoning.
TAKENOBU: What is your design and creation process?
Shinji Goto: I’m focused on creating shapes that have an intuitive feeling and use, and on the quality of coatings.
When I design the wooden bowls, I always innovate by creating shapes and strong coatings that are confortable to hold and easy to use and wash every day without any concerns. These easy use and finish of conservative and matte colors fit with European table style.
It’s very important to touch and feel the natural materials with our six senses. So we use 100% of natural materials and we keep the handmade techniques because we believe that we cannot make really beautiful products by machine.
TAKENOBU: So you use the Japanese handmade techniques to create new shapes adapted to any kind of use?
Shinji Goto: Yes, but specifically, I do not use the usual technique of mixing lacquer and fine-grained abrasive to coat the base. I make the base by coating lacquer many times, so the quality and strength are much greater. I powder the surface to temper the finish of the lacquer-ware.
I round the border between the body and the foot so that the dust doesn’t gather on the edge of the bottom part. I also make flat rice bowls whose design used to be popular in the early Showa period, approximately 90 years ago.
It’s possible to use the Japanese lacquer-ware from generation to generation, since it’s possible to recoat and repair them if the lacquer peels and chips.