Last week, I had an interview with the head of the Gotoh family, Gotoh Keiko. This family is one of the two families left who have been sculpting Buddhist images since the Kamakura Period and is heir to the craftsmanship handed down from father to son for 28 generations. But now for the first time, the 29th generation is headed and succeeded by Gotoh Keiko, the oldest daughter of Gotoh Shuntaro, the 28th master in descent of the family. In 1976 Gotoh Keiko Graduated at the Tokyo National University of Fine Art & Music, the Technical Art Department. She is the Chief Designer of Hakkodo. She has three sisters, from which the 3rd oldest also is a Kamakura Bori artist carver and her 2nd oldest sister is a textile artist.
At this interview I was assisted by Sally Tamura, who I met at the Kamakura Bori Museum where we had taken our Experimental Kamakura Bori Course and she organized this appointment with Gotoh Keiko-san. Sally Tamura studied Buddhist art religion at a university. She translated where ever necessary.
We had our meeting in the store of the family: “Hakkodo”, which means “studying old objects in history”. During the Meiji Era, which began in the latter part of the 19th century, the production of Buddhist sculpture decreased. Gotoh Itsuki, the 26th master head of the family and Gotoh Unkyu, the 27th, and their fellow craftsmen developed the art form as a means of creating handicrafts and works of industrial art that are familiar to this day. In 1900 Gotoh Unkyu opened a shop and studio named “Hakkodo” in front of the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine in Kamakura.
First, we went upstairs where there is an exhibition of Kamakura Bori works by Gotoh Itsuki and Unkyu. They each have their own style and they create their own designs. Gotoh Itsuki’s work is beautiful and the Kamakura Bori color has almost a little of an orange shine (see the picture to the left of the “Phoenix Bird”). Gotoh Unkyu, the 27th master, developed “a deep cut” in his work specific to him. It also showed some small wooden statues. The ones in the picture are carved by Kamakura Bori artists in the Edo Period (1603-1867). Then there were some books showing some of the templates they would use as drawings, copy it on the wood and then carve it out. Also, some cabinets showed Kamakura Red Bori. The left side shows work from artists working under the 26th master Itsuki and the right side shows work from Bori artists under Unkyu, the 27th head of the Gotoh family.
Then we sat down for some talk about the history and technique.
The beginning of Kamakura Bori Art started from Zen Buddhism with the sculpting and lacquering of Buddhist images, furniture and lacquered incense cases modeled after those brought from China in the Song Dynasty style for the newly build temples. Gotoh Keiko was not really sure if her fore-fathers had been monks themselves, but they may have had some high rank of monk. In the picture are real life wooden statues from praying monks preserved behind glass in the art gallery in the “Sanmon”, main gate of the Komyoji Temple.
During the next centuries the techniques and styles stayed the same. The Buddhist statues are incredibly finely carved, especially the folds of the clothing are just like real and all the lines are so straight. Every piece was related to religion. Incense boxes repeat certain designs of flowers like the Peony(see to the right the picture of an Incense case from the Muromachi era of the Kamakura Kokuho-kan) or the “Guri” designs, a kind of deeply carved arabesque, suggesting a flow of water (see to the left the picture of the Incense case GURI from the Kamakura Bori Material Museum).
An anti-Buddhist movement started in the beginning of the Meiji Period in 1868 and this gave rise to the destruction of Buddhist temples all over the country. This is where they had to reinvent themselves and started making functional ware for all day life like trays, teacup holders, reading desks and mirror stands.
The biggest change in the technique was a different layer of lacquer style, called the “Hikuchi nuri” process, created by the masters Itsuki and Unkyu . In order to temper the shade of lacquerware and deepen the red color, Makomo (water oats powder obtained from a special plant) is applied (“nuri”) on the entire surface while the final layer of lacquering is half-dry (“hikuchi”). The red color also still deepens in time. They get the red pigment from lava rocks, because Japan is a volcanic island. Japan doesn’t have many minerals to make colors from. They imported them mainly from China. But they had this red from the Lava rocks.
So, because of this beautiful red pigment, the wonderful historical background and because I live here, I call my red glaze “KAMAKURA RED”!
In the future, Gotoh Keiko-san will see change in color for a deeper color research. Also, they may have to find other trees than the Katsura trees and the “urushi” sap, which is also used by other people as lacquer, may run out and needs to be replaced by another resource.
She showed us a beautiful ” Wave” plate from Kamakura near the sea, designed by her.
Then she showed a big plate she designed of grasses appropriate
for this time of year. It has a silver layer of lacquer in between.
That is why it looks so silvery!