Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties Center for Conservation Science
Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems Japan Center for International Cooperation in Conservation
Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage


History and Significance of Raden (Mother-of-Pearl Decoration) Craftwork in Thailand― Seminar Held by the Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems

Workshop hosted by the Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems

 In Thailand in the 18th century and after, exquisite raden craftwork in which an enormous number of tiny seashell parts are finely combined, has developed. If you have already visited the Grand Palace and Wat Pho famous for Reclining Buddha in Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, you may know it. The raden craftwork has been still continued, although not very extensively. However, there have hardly been any studies on the history of Thailand’s raden; its transition and social significance has not been researched not only in Japan but also even in Thailand. At the 9th seminar held by the Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems, Prof. Tomohito TAKATA of Siam University who is specialized in Buddhism art history in Thailand gave a presentation on the history of Thailand’s raden in the early-modern and modern times.
 Mr. Takata, first of all, explained that raden works in Thailand are seen on the doors and windows in Buddhism temples, on the pedestal bowl offerings for monks, and on the sutra boxes and Cabinets, they had been donated closely related to Buddhism, and they had been made rather exclusively with strong relationship with the royal family of Thailand. Further, he chose, as the analysis subjects, the temple doors whose dates of making or construction are accurately known and divided the history of raden from the 18th to the early 20th century into three periods according to the differences in the main motifs, patterns and techniques utilized. The three periods are the 1st period (from the middle of the 18th century to the beginning of the 19th century), the 2nd period (from the first half to the middle of the 19th century), and the 3rd period (from the latter half of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century). Based on this, he further pointed out that, in the 1st period when the patterns and motifs only included tendril patterns and portrait of the deities in which external influences were hardly observed, the Buddhism values such as the three realms of existence were expressed in raden works like in other wooden sculptures and paintings. In contrast, the 2nd period characterized by appearance of the story of Ramayana as well as Chinese decorative patterns reflects diplomatic relations with China and East Asia during this era. Further, in the 3rd period when the patterns that expressed forms of medallions in raden were made, new relationship between Thailand and the West as well as an increase in power of the royal family gave influence over raden crafting.
 The workshop also included participation of Ms. Ayumi HARADA, expert in Thai art history, from Kyushu National Museum and Prof. Norihiko OGURA from Department of Crafts (Urushi-Art) of Faculty of Fine Arts, Tokyo University of the Arts. Ms. Harada gave us comments on the origin of Thai raden, external relations, etc. from the expert’s point of view. Further, Prof. Ogura delivered opinions from a viewpoint of an artist. The workshop also contained active discussion about relationship with Japanese raden works of the 19th century that have been discovered successively in Bangkok in recent years. The workshop could also serve as a good opportunity to recognize significance of Thai raden that had not often been subject to academic discussions.


Research of the Western-style Cruciform Sword Possessed by Fujisaka Shrine in Minakuchi, Koka City, Shiga Prefecture by an Expert from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and an Initial Report at the 7th Seminar Held by the Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems

Research by Dr. Pierre Terjanian
Presentation at the Seminar of the Department

 The cruciform sword possessed by Fujisaka Shrine in Minakuchi, Koka City, Shiga Prefecture is a slender Western-style sword, which is said to have been owned by feudal lord Yoshiaki KATO (1563-1631) who served Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI and Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, the founder of the Kato family ruling the Minakuchi Domain in the Tokugawa Shogunate. This sword of excellent workmanship is formed completely differently from those used in Japan or in Asia. A survey conducted by domestic specialists in 2016 revealed that this was a rapier produced in Europe between the 16th and early 17th century and that this is the only Western-style sword handed down to the present time in Japan (reported in TOBUNKEN NEWS No. 65). However, the research conducted at that time did not address some essential problems, such as whether this sword was made in Japan or brought to Japan from Europe, and around which year it was manufactured.
 To resolve these problems, we invited Dr. Pierre Terjanian, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Curator in Charge, Department of Arms and Armor, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which boasts the world’s leading rapier collection. After conducting research in Minakuchi, Dr. Terjanian presented his considerations on this Western sword under the title “European Renaissance Rapiers and the Minakuchi Rapier” at the 7th seminar held by the Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems.
 According to his consideration, the copper hilt was obviously made in Japan, and the sword blade was probably made in Japan or in Asia, not in Europe. The original European rapier, on which the Minakuchi rapier was modeled, would have been manufactured between 1600 and 1630, but closer to 1630. Moreover, this sword displays less practicability.
 His view unveils a new fact utterly unknown so far that Japanese people scrutinized a Western sword from Europe and even manufactured a reproduction of it in the early 17th century in Japan. On the other hand, another fact was also found: that a unique technique was used to connect the hilt to the blade with an advanced screw structure, which has not been confirmed in European rapiers. You can understand that such a unique feature resulted from much effort and ingenious attempts by Japanese artisans of the day who worked hard to accurately reproduce an unfamiliar Western sword with the knowledge and techniques they had.
 Thus, the research of a Western-style sword handed down in Minakuchi reveals various facts about the metalwork techniques of the early 17th century and about the acceptance of foreign culture. We will proceed with further research and study, including the issue of where and how this sword was manufactured and by whom. We are planning to disclose the actual situation of this sword and its historical backdrops.


International Symposium: In Search of the Multiple Origins of Namban Lacquer

Proceedings of the symposium
Discussion during the symposium

 Namban lacquer, which is characterized by its unique style, was made upon the request of Portuguese , Spaniards and others who visited Japan in the latter half of the 16th century and thereafter. It was made in Makie(gold powder lacquer technique) workshops in Kyoto and exported to Western countries up until the first half of the 17th century. Namban lacquer came to be known in Japan around the late 1930s. Quite a few pieces have been brought back to Japan from around the 1970s and found their way into museums and galleries all over the country. Recent investigation has revealed that many pieces are still owned by Christian facilities and other places in Spain and Portugal. In recent years, many exhibitions focusing on Namban lacquer have been held both in and outside Japan, and many of you may have actually seen them before.
 One of the major characteristics of Namban lacquer is its appearance, that is, a Western-style vessel decorated by Japanese traditional Makie and Raden (mother-of-pearl decoration). In addition, based on multiple studies, including art-historical, historiographical, organic chemical, wood antomical, conchological, and radiological studies, of its patterns, materials, and techniques, it has become clear that this object is a characteristic cultural asset strongly reflecting the Age of Commerce by having elements from not only Europe and Japan but also various Asian regions, such as East Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia.
 With the aim of specifically confirming these multiple characteristics of Namban lacquer and sharing the recognition, the symposium was held at the Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties (TNRICP) for 2 days on March 4th and 5th, 2017, where 12 reports were presented by 11 domestic and foreign experts and enthusiastic discussions were held. Further, the number of participants in this symposium totaled 25 persons from overseas (Europe, the US, and Asia) and 160 persons from various places in Japan, reflecting a growing interest in Namban lacquer among people in Japan and overseas.


The 10th Seminar Held by the Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems “Study of the Western Cruciform Sword Possessed by Fujisakae Shrine in Koka City”

A Scene from the 10th Seminar

 Fujisakae Shrine is located in Minakuchi, Koka City, Shiga Prefecture, the predecessor of which was Yoshiaki Reisha Shrine founded in the early 19th century in order to enshrine feudal lord Yoshiaki KATO, Founder of the family, governing Minakuchi area in the Edo period. The shrine has a variety of treasures, which are said to have been possessed by Yoshiaki. The Western style sword with a black lacquer sheath, which is said to have been granted by Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI, is one of them. Mostly intact in form, this sword is in no way inferior to the rapiers produced in Europe from the 16th to the 17th century. Although it seems to be the only Western sword handed down to the 21st century in Japan, the rapier has been stored at the Minakuchi Museum of History and Folklore in Koka City for many years without attracting much concern so far.
 In September 2016, the rapier was investigated from art historical and physicochemical perspectives by the five members of Ms. Akiko NAGAI (Board of Education in Koka City), Mr. Toshihiko SUEKANE (Tokyo National Museum), Ms. Motoko IKEDA (Kyoto National Museum), Prof. Kazutoshi HARADA (Tokyo University of the Arts), and me, Koji KOBAYASHI. The summary and the outcomes of our study were reported at the 10th Seminar Held by the Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems held on February 24th, 2017.
 The presentations made by the members are “Historical Background on the Western Cruciform Sword Stored at Fujisakae Shrine” by Ms. Nagai; “Study of the Substantiality and Age of the Rapier Handed Down to Fujisakae Shrine – Reconnaissance with Museum Collections, Excavated artifacts and eary modern genre paintings” by Kobayashi; “Regarding the Western Sword Housed by Fujisakae Shrine” by Mr. Suekane; “The Western Sword Possessed by Fujisakae Shrine: X-ray CT Scanning and Fluorescent X-ray Analysis” by Ms. Ikeda; and “The Western Sword Belonging to Fujisakae Shrine – Comparison with Overseas Materials –” by Prof. Harada. The outcomes of our preliminary study were presented from diversified perspectives, including the reference to historical backdrops on swords and related artifacts, the study of hilt patterns and production techniques from the viewpoint of the metalworking history, the report of the data obtained through CT scanning and fluorescent X-ray analysis, and comparison with rapiers stored overseas, in addition to topics on Fujisakae Shrine and Yoshiaki KATO.
 Furthermore, whether this Western sword was produced at home or abroad is an important issue in considering the craftsmanship in the Momoyama period and its historical evaluation. We discussed the issue by exchanging various opinions and views after the presentations, which did not result in any consensus. We recognized the importance of this sword and the necessity of its further research anew.


The 6th Seminar Held by the Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems

On-going Seminar

 At the 6th seminar in 2016 organized by the Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems on October 25th, 2016, Koji KOBAYASI, Head of the Trans-Disciplinary Research Section, made a presentation titled “Japanese Lacquerware Motifs and Techniques Prevalent during the Late Keicho Period to the Early Kan-ei Period – Dialog between Painting Materials and Lacquerware Passed Down” from the perspective of material culture history. At this presentation, he compared and studied the contents drawn in the picture of “Maki-e Craftsman” composing a folding screen depicting various craftsmen possessed by Kitain Temple in Kawagoe City as an important cultural property and the same picture shown in one of Maekawa family’s books owned by Suntory Museum of Art as an original picture depicting various craftsmen of Kitain Temple’s so as to reconfirm the conventional view that these pictures were painted in the early 17th century. Then, he regarded it as reasonable to consider the landscape age of “Kabuki Picture Scroll” and “Picture of Play in the Residence (folding screen of Sououji Temple)” stored at the Tokugawa Art Museum as important cultural properties as the 1610s (between the late Keicho period and the early Genna period) and around 1630 (around the early Kan-ei period) respectively from several perspectives not referred to in past theories. In addition, he pointed out the possibility that you may recognize the living conditions of those days drawn fairly extensively and accurately in these genre paintings.
 As lacquerware having large vine and wisteria patterns and painted lacquerware using silver powder are often depicted in these pictures, he suggested that these lacquerware patterns and techniques were prevalent in the early 17th century (between the late Keicho period and the early Kan-ei period). He also suggested that the pained lacquerware, lacquerware made for trading with Europeans who visited Japan, and painted lacquerware using silver power with large vine and wisteria patterns passed down to today may be produced in this period.
 The relation between the contents/expressions of genre pictures in the early modern period and the historical reality is an unsolved issue due to the diverse views posed by scholars in art history and history. During the argument after the presentation of this research, that issue was referred to, leading to active discussion among the participants.


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