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Ishikawa - Kingdom of Crafts (Part 2)

In this second part, we visit Kanazawa, capital of Ishikawa Prefecture and Yamanaka, a town with a rich woodwork heritage.

After Wajima, we headed to Kanazawa which literally means "stream of gold". It is home to 99% or more of Japan's gold leaf production, and 100% of silver and brass leaf. Apparently, the unique qualities of Kanazawa gold leaf is that it never becomes discolored or oxidized, making it ideal for use in a wide range of items such as the production of arts and crafts as well as interior accessories. Some facts for the history buffs out there - "Although the history of Kanazawa gold leaf dates back to the Azuchi Momoyama Period (1568~1603), it was the Meiji Period (1868~1912) that saw the rapid rise of Kanazawa’s country-wide reputation for gold leaf production due to the superiority of its leafing technology and the excellent quality of Kanazawa's water used in the manufacturing process." Now for the simplistic process..(I’m skipping a ton of steps here as even how the washi paper is made is another lengthy process by itself) - The first step is melting. The liquid gold (mixed with 10% of silver) is poured into a mould and cast into a bar. A rolling mill is used to lengthen the gold before cutting into workable smaller pieces. The next step is beating and this is done by placing the gold pieces between sheets of the film-like paper…sort of like making a multi-layer gold sandwich (too rich a diet I hear?).

A machine (as in the image) is used to beat the paper and gold to enlarge the gold. When the gold pieces become thin and large, it is sized down again and then (you guess it) it’s back to beating. This process continues several times until the gold pieces become leaves that are a thickness of around 2/10,000 mm.

I love the description of a gold leaf or "kinpaku" being likened to "a veil of light", whose thickness can measure a mere 10,000th of 1 millimeter (0.0001 mm). It incredibly light and fragile. Here bamboo tools are used to cut and handle the leaf. It is almost impossible to handle the leaf by hand as it will stick.

Handling the unbelievably thin sheets of gold requires a light touch and a steady hand. Always good to be able to hold your breath too.

The gold leaf is so fragile that rubbing would make it disintegrate into nothingness.

More history.."Kanazawa haku production, however, is thought to have started in 1593 by Toshiie Maeda, the first lord of the Kanazawa Domain, at the command of daimyo Hideyoshi Toyotomi. Maeda was said to be fond of sporting suits of armor decorated with gold leaf."

Fancy an indulgent snack? Well, we couldn't resist...apparently, it is widely believed that gold has health benefits too.

A stroll in the Kanazawa Castle Park and Kenrokuen Garden, one of Japan's 3 most beautiful Japanese gardens. It has an area of 11.4 hectares located on the heights of the central part of Kanazawa and next to Kanazawa Castle.

Words alone just can't describe the beauty of this scenery.

Meal time! A nice meal to look forward to after the brisk walk in the Garden. All that exercise has made us hungry!

Next, we visited another company specialising in Kaga Yuzen. Kaga Yuzen is the traditional method of shading patterns on kimonos and other cloth-based accessories. It consists of 5 basic natural colours: Indigo, Red, Yellow, Green, and Purple, which are usually extracted from plants. Most designs on Kaga Yuzen are based on the beauty of Nature. Sceneries of landscapes, flowers, birds are often drawn and hand-painted with elaborate details. Due to the painstakingly long process of production, hand-painted Kaga Yuzen are very limited in quantities, and high in value.

A handpainted pattern on super organza fabric

Leaving Kanazawa, we journeyed towards Yamanaka, a town famed for its woodturned bowls and lacquerware. With a history of at least four centuries, the manufacturing process is as delicate and detailed as the pieces themselves.

We visited a production facility and got to witness some wood turning in action. While most lacquerware uses horizontally trimmed wood, Yamanaka-styled wood turning involves carving the wood from end-grain slices. This results in less warping and gives the end product more strength and durability.

You may have noticed that a much younger generation have taken up the mantle and have continued this age-old tradition and method of production. It is also heartening to know that they do not just come from the area but from other parts of Japan as well. How many more from this digital age will choose the path of becoming a true craftsman?

Tools of the Trade. Each craftsman has their own unique set of tools.

Sadly, not all objects see their true potential. This only highlights the balance of strength and delicacy needed in order to turn (literally) a wood block into a bowl with sides thin enough such that light can shine through. The artisan may take decades before acquiring the skills to achieve that level.

Interested to see the crafts of Ishikawa youself? From now till 23 Jan 2017, Foundry will be showcasing a selection of these remarkable crafts at our showroom. Be sure t0 drop by!

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