Lacquerware for the Modern Age with Jun Anzai |
Modernizing the Traditional Art of Lacquerware with Jun Anzai

Modernizing the Traditional Art of Lacquerware with Jun Anzai

Functional lacquerware for the modern era

Written by –
Jess Ng
on October 12th 2018
Born and raised in the UK, Jess is NONAGON’s resident historian turned marketer turned writer, drawn to Hong Kong by the lure of dim sum breakfasts and bustling city life. A foodie who loves to cook, food occupies 70% of her brain 90% of the time. When not eating, Jess can typically be found buried in a book or obsessing over making NONAGON’s Instagram #feedgoals.

While innovation and technological evolution are part and parcel of the modern world we live in, have you ever stopped to think about the survival of tradition in the face of this dizzying rate of change? After witnessing first hand the transition of manual intensive industrial production to automated machinery courtesy of his job in a food production factory, Jun Anzai did – and it troubled him deeply. The dilemma ultimately sparked Jun’s ten year journey into the world of lacquerware.


In the past decade, Anzai has made remarkable progress from art novice to professional lacquerware artist. Along the way, he’s arguably revolutionized the lacquerware game completely with his modern minimalist take on the centuries-old craft. Intrigued to discover more, we caught up with Anzai on the eve of his first ever international solo exhibition in Hong Kong.

Lacquerware artist Jun Anzai at 'The Art of Lacquerware' exhibition at SOIL Gallery, Hong Kong |

Jun Anzai

Despite having no formal training in art, Anzai’s nostalgia for tradition led him to seek out artisanal craftwork across Japan. Of all his discoveries, it was the art of lacquerware which struck him the most. Anzai recalls his experience with eating rice from a lacquerware bowl for the first time. “The rice I ate tasted very special and different. The lacquerware had evaporated all unnecessary liquid whilst still keeping enough moisture in the rice.” Having become accustomed to using daily products made from plastic his whole life, lacquerware was a revelation for Anzai.

Minimalist lacquerware plates by Japanese artist, Jun Anzai |
Simple and minimalist lacquerware vase by Japanese artist, Jun Anzai |

A Change of Direction

Fueled by this new found passion for lacquerware, Anzai eschewed his Applied Biology degree and quit his job in the food factory to enroll in the Kyoto Traditional Crafts College. Here, he received a rigorous introduction to traditional handcrafts. However, it was the school’s unique approach to teaching which has influenced Anzai’s work the most – and not in the way you’d expect.

Burnished copper and silver lacquerware vase by Japanese artist, Jun Anzai |

“What is unique about this school is that they encourage students to spend a lot of time to produce just one piece of art, rather than many,” explains Jun Anzai. “For me however, lacquerware pieces are supposed to be daily, functional objects. Not precious, inaccessible artwork.”

Japanese lacquerware artist, Jun Anzai |
Delicate lacquerware vases by Japanese artist, Jun Anzai |

Modernizing Lacquerware

With this in mind, Anzai’s design ethos revolves around making lacquerware functional and appropriate for daily use. In this, he has been especially influenced by his time working with lacquer master Akito Akagi. Akito is renowned for his unique blend of traditional artistry with a progressive, contemporary aesthetic, and this is something that comes across in Anzai’s minimalist designs.

'The Art of Lacquer' exhibition by Japanese artist, Jun Anzai |

“Traditional lacquerware was invented for use in rituals and ceremonies. But of course, our lifestyle is different now. While this type of lacquerware may have lost its function, I think we can always invent new uses for lacquerware.”

— Jun Anzai

Lacquerware dinnerware by Japanese artist, Jun Anzai, displayed at the SOIL Gallery, Hong Kong |
'The Art of Lacquer' exhibition by Japanese artist Jun Anzai at the SOIL Gallery, Hong Kong |

The Art of Lacquer

For his first international solo art exhibition, Jun Anzai turned to nature for design inspiration. “For this collection, I started with creating these delicate vases. I wanted a vase for the smaller flowers native to the countryside of my home, but everything I found was too big.”

Handcrafted lacquerware vase by Japanese artist, Jun Anzai |

What’s interesting about Jun Anzai’s work is the juxtaposition between the look and actual feel of his pieces. Visually, his pieces look robust and sturdy, as if made from bronze or clay. However, physically-speaking, they’re incredibly light weight.

Handcrafted lacquerware dinnerware by Japanese artist, Jun Anzai |

To achieve this, Anzai has used a dry lacquer technique called Kanshitsu. Traditionally used to produce Buddhist statues brought from China to Japan in the late seventh century, it involves lacquering layers of hemp cloth around a clay core. The result is an agile yet durable object, which he has fashioned into a range of beautiful dinnerware and vases. For the final touch, Anzai’s pieces feature a decorative layer of mixed copper and silver for a naturally burnished look.

Japanese artist, Jun Anzai and his 'Art of Lacquer' exhibition at SOIL Gallery, Hong Kong |

A New Era for Lacquer?

Whatever your preconceptions of traditional handcafts may be, you can rest assured that Anzai’s work will blow your assumptions right out of the water. There’s no sign of old-fashioned, fussy, decorative pieces here. Nor do Anzai’s designs look impractical for daily use. Overall, in its simplicity and modesty, his collection is the epitome of minimalist modernity. And that’s perfectly in keeping with Anzai’s goal of modernizing the art of lacquerware. “I hope people become interested and want to know more about lacquer after seeing my work,” reveals Anzai. “I want to bring lacquerware to a new audience”. How do you think he’s done?


*All interview answers have been translated from Japanese.

For more like this, make sure to check out our ‘Features & Interviews’ page. Recent favorites include chats with ceramics artist Kei Kawachi and new media artist Liat Segal.


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