Mokume gane is the name of a unique Japanese metal crafting technique (and works),
which consists of layering different-colored metals and then painstakingly carving
and forging them to create beautiful wood grain patterns. The technique was developed
about 400 years ago, at the beginning of the Edo period, by Shoami Denbei, a
craftsman making sword fittings in Dewa Akita (present-day Akita Prefecture).
Mokume gane was also called “Tagayasan-Ji” for its patterns resembling the Tagayasan (Rosewood) wood grain. During the Meiji Era, it was known as “Kasumi Uchi” (mist metalwork). Today, the names, “mokume gane” and simply “mokume”, areknown around the world. The roots of mokume gane are said to date back to a guribori sword guard created at the beginning of the Edo period by Shoami Denbei.
Believed to be the predecessor to mokume gane, Guribori is a metal-smithing
technique where different-colored metals are layered to carve arabesques and spiral
patterns. It is still possible to discern the beautiful layering of metals on the existing
guribori sword guards, even those that are several hundred years old.
The technique known as guribori is said to have originated in Chinese lacquer carving. “Guri” is a type of lacquer carving in which multiple layers of red, black, yellow, and other colors of lacquer are applied successively and then carved down to represent arabesques or spiral patterns. Such works were produced during the Song and Ming dynasties and imported to Japan from the Muromachi period on. Their use as tea ceremony utensils can be seen in tea ceremony records of the time.
Once Shoami Denbei had developed the techniques of mokume gane and guribori, the
craft moved down to Edo (present-day Tokyo) where Takahashi Okitsugu perfected
the technique of mokume gane.
In the middle of the Edo period, Takahashi Masatsugu, the founder of the Takahashi School, was active as a skilled craftsman in guribori. One of his disciples, Takahashi Okitsugu, brought new forms of expression to existing mokume gane techniques, creating works such as the Yoshino River tsuba (sword guard) and the Tatsuta River tsuba. These are thought of as the pinnacle of the mokume gane technique as it evolved from guribori.
Ultimately, due to events such as the Haitôrei Edict (banning the possession of private swords), the tradition of mokume gane craftsmanship was temporarily lost, and became known as a “phantom” technique. However, thanks to the efforts of those drawn to this craft, mokume gane and guribori were revived.
Many people have subsequently embarked on the study of mokume gane, and they are leaving their mark on its history. In addition, restoration studies on guribori have led to greater understanding of mokume gane, and so it has now begun to find its place once more as a modern-day technique.
Copyright(C) 2003-2005 Masaki Takahashi All Right Reserved.