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Lacquerware Towns Architecture in Kiso Hirasawa & Narai

Text: Joanna Kawecki


In two quaint towns, Kiso Hirasawa and Narai, situated along the famed Nakasendo trail (the 17th century route linking Kyoto and present-day Tokyo), find not only stunning mountainous landscapes but a long history of traditional lacquerware craftsmanship that has been passed down through generations of families for over 400 years. In Kiso Hirasawa, the production of high quality handmade lacquerware continues to this day — known as Kiso shikki — created in over 100 surviving, preserved warehouses.

The town itself is classified as an Important Preservation District by the government, designated for its unique architectural features. The kura warehouse structures are made from timber with thick mud walls that help maintain the appropriate temperature and humidity for lacquerwork. For residences, the houses had a triangular space in front of their property called Agamochi, with rooms arranged in traditional architectural typologies in an order of mise (store), okatte (kitchen) and zashiki (tatami room). Lacquerware workshops (nuri-gura) were positioned in the back connected by a tori-doma earthen floor passageway to ensure easy access. 

Joanna Kawecki
Tokyo-based Editor and Journalist specialising in design and architecture. She co-founded Ala Champ Magazine in 2009, and also leads Champ Creative, an international consultancy, editorial production and special projects studio in fashion, art and design.

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