An interview with Jun Anzai


Its surprising lightness, matte texture, sharp thin form, and beauty of decoration. We interviewed Jun Anzai, who is exploring new expressions of dry lacquer.

Born in Tokyo, he has liked plants and insects since childhood. He majored in bioscience at university and worked for a food company after graduation. Some time after joining the company, he saw that jobs that had been done by humans were gradually being replaced by machines, and he began to think that he wanted to do analog, craftsman-like work against this trend. On his days off, he began visiting Kyoto and Kamakura to look around at crafts, and one day he came across a lacquer bowl.

"I knew something about lacquer, but this was the first time I had seen it properly. It was expensive, but I thought there might be a reason for that, so I bought one to try it out. When I put rice in it, I was surprised that it kept just the right amount of moisture, and held the softness of rice. It was different from what I had been using until then, and I thought lacquer was amazing. That's when I decided to learn lacquer."

After a while, he quit his job and entered a technical school in Kyoto to learn the basics of lacquer. There he met Yukako, who learned lacquerware decoration technique and later became his wife. When he saw her finished work, he felt that their senses were very close. On the other hand, he felt that the lacquerware for special days that he had made at the college did not fit his senses. He felt a contradiction in the fact that everyone said lacquer was good, but it was not used every day. It was then that he came to know about Akito Akagi, a lacquerware master in Wajima. I was shocked by the fact that he was making lacquerware for daily use, and most of all by the serenity and beauty of bowls by Akagi. Anzai still vividly remembers the time he drove 10 hours one way from Kyoto to Noto in his small motorbike to meet Mr. Akagi.

"From the first time I met Mr. Akagi, I had the feeling that he was totally different from ordinary people. He was very natural, like he was wearing the seasons. It was just one day, but after meeting Mr. Akagi, I felt like I got out of a place that had been bothering me for a long time, and I could see my way forward."

After graduating from the vocational school, Anzai went to Wajima to apprentice under Mr. Akagi. Yukako also entered a training institute in Wajima to learn gold lacquer. Anzai spent the next seven years as his apprentice.

"During my apprenticeship, it was selfless devotion and we made what Mr. Akagi wanted us to make. He did not give me detailed instructions, and the senior apprentices taught me just the basic processes, so I have to think about the tools and how to do the work by myself. So even in the same process, the finished work can vary slightly from person to person. The texture also differs too. Mr. Akagi didn't really ask me to make this texture, but rather to make what I see as beautiful. So I tried to make what I thought was truly beautiful, hoping that it would eventually match what Mr. Akagi wanted. But in the beginning, The self was too strong. I tried to make it good, but I tinkered too much, and it kept falling apart. But as I concentrated on the work for a long time, it gradually became quieter and quieter. Perhaps it was also influenced by the environment. Mr. Akagi's place is filled with old things here and there, and when we saw them, we began to somehow understand the beautiful things that he is trying to achieve. Also, Mr. Akagi would take the seasons seriously, for example, picking wild vegetables in the spring, diving in the sea in the summer, and gathering mushrooms in the fall, and he would let us, his apprentices, experience these things. When we go to pick mushrooms, we can’t understand the feeling of the cold forest air or the damp aroma unless we experience it. As I was allowed to experience these things using all five senses, I felt that Mr. Akagi's senses came naturally to me."

During walks between busy apprenticeships, he often picked flowers and plants and enjoyed arranging them in vases he had made himself using the dry-lacquer technique. At that time, he had no desire to make dry-lacquer ware as his own work; he just liked making it. However, near the end of his apprenticeship, when it was time to think about what he would do after leaving Mr.Akagi's place, he decided to make the dry-lacquer ware he had been making as his own work naturally.

"There was a time when I was really confused about whether I should make wooden lacquerware like Mr. Akagi, or whether I should make the kind of dry lacquer work I wanted to do. One day, I asked Mr. Akagi for advice. I told him that I wanted to do dry lacquer work, even though it was my own style. Mr. Akagi told me to go for what I thought was good. That made me feel much more at ease and prepared me to take the plunge."

How did Anzai's creative works come about?

"I have always liked sharp, neat, thin works, but when I tried to do that with dry lacquer, I had a lot of problems at first, such as warping and cracking easily. Since it is not a common dry lacquer, I had to improve it through my own trial-and-error process. When I use dry lacquer to express the tension and sharp lines of metalware that bulge out from the thin inside, the overall atmosphere is gentle, or sharp but soft. Yukako is in charge of decorating the sake cups, and we both try to do as we please, making slight modifications as we go along, until we get something close to the image we have in mind."

Anzai said he would like to challenge himself to improve the precision of technically difficult pieces and create various atmospheres, while at the same time, he would like to work on simple yet difficult pieces such as plates. When we interviewed Anzai this time, we were dazzled by his genuine personality and his pursuit of ideals by trusting his own senses.

* This article is a compilation of an interview in Sep, 2023.




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