The Shozo Izuishi Selection No. 5 – A black-japan ring

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Ring (garnet, black japan, mirror coating) garnet, K18YG, black japan 1,050,000 yen incl. tax


Transparent Black –The Ultimate in Elegance

The earliest use of the word “japan” to mean Japanese lacquer in English is circa 1688. Yet foreigners visiting Japan knew of the beauty of lacquer long before then.

Lacquerware was produced in Japan as far back as the Early Jomon period (6,000-5,000 BCE), as exemplified by a vermillion lacquerware comb discovered at the Torihama ruins in Mikata, Fukui Prefecture. The bold design of this approximately 6,000-year-old piece of lacquer work has horn-like protrusions rising up on both ends. Some teeth are missing, but the vermillion lacquer shines like new.

Lacquerware shines black, and is strong and impervious to acid and other chemicals, vulnerable only to ultraviolet rays. Thanks to this the comb still looks alive after being buried for 6,000 years. The main component of lacquer is urushiol, and good-quality lacquerware contains 70% urushiol. While various types of lacquerware can be found across Asia, pieces of this quality are only found in Japan, where the hot and humid climate is perfect for creating lacquerware.


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Decorative ring (gold lacquer, mother- of-pearl inlay, black lacquer, mirror coating) K18YG, black japan, limpet, K24YG 2,100,000 yen incl. tax


“But in the still dimmer light of the candle stand, as I gazed at the trays and bowls standing in the shadows cast by that flickering point of flame, I discovered in the gloss of this lacquerware a depth and richness like that of a still, dark pond, a beauty I had not before seen. It had not been mere chance, I realized, that our ancestors, having discovered lacquer, had conceived such a fondness for objects finished in it.” (In Praise of Shadows, Junichiro Tanizaki)

In Praise of Shadows is a rare and unparalleled classic on Japanese aesthetics. In this essay, Tanizaki likens the beauty of lacquerware to “a depth and richness like that of a still, dark pond.” Is there much more I can add to that?

Showzi Tsukamoto is the leading expert in Japan for kintaishitsugei, the technique of applying lacquer on the surface of precious metals. Once, Tsukamoto was fortunate to encounter a giant garnet of a size he will probably never see again. Upon seeing it, he realized the appealing contrast of crimson on black – the transparent black lacquer unique to Japan and known as ‘black japan’, applied 20 times in repeated layers.

His works have an undoubted “depth and richness like that of a still, dark pond.” If Tanizaki were alive, he would most definitely have chosen one of Tsukamoto’s pieces as a gift.


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(from left) Ring “Tortoiseshell” (emerald, gold lacquer, mother-of-pearl inlay, black japan, mirror coating) K18WG, black japan, limpet, K24YG 892,500 yen incl. tax/Decorative ring (vermilio n lacquer, black japan, mirror coating) K18YG, vermilion lacquer, black japan 1,155,000 yen incl. tax/Ring (vermilion lacquer, mirror coating) K18YG, vermilion lacquer 210,000 yen incl. tax/Ring “Tortoiseshell” (gold lacquer, mother-of-pearl inlay, black japan, mirror coating) K18YG, black japan, limpet, K24YG 525,000 yen incl. tax


●Enquiries: Zivaco Inc.


Shozo Izuishi
Born 1944. Izuishi has forged a career as a fashion designer, consultant, and critic. Author of numerous books including Bruu Jiinzu no Bunkashi (“Blue Jeans: a Cultural History”) (NTT Shuppan). His recent work Suutsu no Hyakka Jiten (“An Encyclopedia of Suits”) (Banraisha) lecturing males on how to wear a suit properly has attracted favorable reviews.

Photography/Satoru Naito

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