The spread of mother-of-pearl inlay and lacquer in Japan

Are you all aware that the Chinese character "貝"(shell) is often used to signify money or property in Chinese? Of course, Japanese is no exception. For example, 購 (Purchase), 貯 (Saving), 買 (Buying), and 貨 (Treasure), all included the Chinses character "貝"(shell).

In the past, business was conducted through bartering goods, but eventually, people found it cumbersome to carry large items. Therefore, transactions using shells began to take place. Surprisingly, many countries used shells as currency in the past.

In my previous two blog posts, I've delved into the world of lacquer. Yet, amidst my exploration, I've often pondered what is it about lacquerware that renders it such a significant aspect of culture.

Japan has a forest area that covers over 66% of its land. Among the advanced countries (OECD member nations), it ranks second in the world and is renowned as one of the leading forested nations. Many people tend to think that Japan's abundant forests and plentiful timber resources led to the widespread use of lacquer in its culture. If the theory is correct, how about Korea, Malaysia, and Indonesia?

Although I'm not an expert in history, I believe that the development of lacquerware culture may have been closely intertwined with Japanese lifestyle and culinary culture.

In Japan, it is considered customary to lift dishes when eating, and failing to do so may be regarded as poor etiquette. Since the culture of lifting dishes while eating seems to be less common elsewhere, Japanese culture might be considered unusual on a global scale

(The spread of a chabudai known as a short-legged table used in traditional Japanese home began gradually from the Meiji period(1868-1912), and it is believed to have accelerated rapidly from the late Meiji period. )

The custom of Japanese people holding dishes while eating has existed since ancient times. This is said to have originated from the tradition of eating meals on the floor with chopsticks, but due to the culture of cherishing tatami mats, the habit of holding dishes while eating naturally emerged.

Indeed, when dishes become hot, they can be difficult to handle, so wooden dishes with excellent heat insulation properties have become the main choice. It is believed that lacquer developed in Japan to prevent mold and staining from occurring on these wooden dishes.

Commodity to the luxury : Little history of Raden

Radon (螺鈿) is one of the decorations applied to lacquerware and other items. It uses beautiful shells such as abalone to create a gem-like beauty. "Radon" refers to spiral-shaped shells, and "Raden" refers to decorations using shells or metals.

It is said that Raden (mother-of-pearl inlay in lacquer) was first made around 3000 BC in Egypt. Raden is believed to have been transmitted to Japan during the Nara period (710-794), not from Egypt, but from Tang, China.

(Resource: Tokyo National Museum )

During the Kamakura period(1185-1333), the popularity of mother-of-pearl rose to the extent of becoming a trend, and its use in decorating saddles placed on the backs of horses increased. Since horseback travel was prevalent at the time, it seems that people enjoyed fashionably decorating their horses with splendid saddles.

Raden(螺鈿), Mother-of-pearl inlays elevated wooden utensils used in everyday life, spreading lacquer as an art form among people. Long ago, shells served as currency, and thus the art known as mother-of-pearl inlay flourished. Through this blog, I would be delighted if it conveyed that the prosperity of lacquer in Japan was not solely due to the abundance of wood, but rather stemmed from various other factors.