One of the specialty products of Matsue is 八雲塗 (Yakumonuri), aka Yakumo Laquerware. Laquerware has been popular in Japan since the Edo era, as the craftsmen typically were hired to make speciality dishes and utensils for the samurai (the top of the social food chain–though not always the most wealthy!). Around the start of the Meiji Era (1868-1912), one such craftsman named Sakata Heiichi invented the Yakumo method (named after a town south of Matsue, which has since merged with Matsue).

This method requires a series of applying laquer layers and decorative powders (such as gold or silver), and polishing said layers. It requires about ten years to learn. One of the things that makes Yakumo laquerware special is that with time, the gloss becomes more translucent and the colors become more vivid. In 1982, it was designated as a Shimane Traditional Local Craft.

Not that I can tell you much more than that! I’ve found that my talents lie more in 2D art than in 3D art, so I’d best leave this to the masters. While I can’t tell the difference between someone who has mastered the art of laquerware and someone who is simply much better than I am, there are plenty of laquerware artisans in the area.

On an outing to Hirata (an old town facing the Sea of Japan that has since merged with Izumo), I stumbled upon the Shitsugei no Watanabe monthly art show. While Mr. Watanabe himself has been producing laquerware since he was a youth, Mrs. Watanabe gathers works from several local artists and hosts these shows from their home/workshop.

The entrance and welcome sign

The garden in late November

This is the true meaning of an open house, isn’t it?

A selection of chopstick rests

Lots of art to welcome the Year of the Snake

Watanabe-san even had coffee, tea, and a few fine dishes to serve her guests! Sweet red beans, daikon radish, konyaku (a gelatin-like block made from potatoes), fish cakes, and orange peels might not sound appealing to Western palates, but I found it rather nice and a step above everyday fare.

There were more dishes to be found in Hirata than just that! All around the neighborhood, there are lifesize displays of scenes from the Kojiki, sculpted out of dishes!

Look! It’s Izanagi and Izanami being creative!

That’s enough about dishes for now. For now!