As soon as we finished making Mikado, we created another large pen with a straight barrel. We deliberately made this pen to be as large a size as possible for a hand to hold; we call it Genkai. This pen also uses the eye‑dropper system. The nib is size #8, as is the nibs for the Mikado pens.
Kogaku was born into a family of Urushi artists. His father painted mass-produced “Maki‑e”, but Kogaku doesn’t like working on mass-produced products. He was apprenticed to his master for five years and subsequently learnt Sado from the Omote School. Before I met Kogaku, he was already one of the most renowned Maki‑e artists in Japan; he had been painting Maki‑e on Citizen’s highest range of watchfaces for many years. He had already painted Maki‑e on my Takumi and Grand Trio Pens and also created high‑end designs for big pieces such as our Mikado and Genkai Pens. He started with GK-1001 Shuten‑doji, followed by GK‑1003 Sakura Beauties, Kawanakajima-no Kassen and GK‑1011, Horaisan. He painted many other great pieces, including the MK‑37 Double Dragons, MK‑39, Wind‑god vs. Thunder‑god, MK‑40, Peacock and MK‑41, No Evil Monkeys, to name a few.
Kogaku kindly explained to me how to appreciate Maki‑e pieces.
Shuten‑doji is one of three famous stories related to Minamoto‑no Yorimitsu (944‑1021) commonly known as Minamoto‑no Raiko, the general of Gen‑ke (the Minamoto clan).
Japanese have many Oni (demon) stories, and one of the most famous is Shuten-doji, the red‑faced drunkard who abducted women, stole treasure and ate humans at Mt. Oe of Tamba. When he abducted Ikeda Chunagon’s daughter, Ikeda asked Mikado for help. Minamoto-no Raiko was ordered to kill the Oni, and the Oni was beheaded by Raiko and his followers, the Shitenno (Four Devas), Watanabe‑no Tsuna, Sakata‑no Kintoki, Urabe‑no Suetake, and Usui-no Sadamitsu.
In daytime, Shuten‑doji disguised himself as a drunkard, but he would appear in his true aspect, fifteen feet tall, with a red head and red body, his left leg in black, his right leg in white, his left arm in blue and his right arm in yellow, covered with spots in five colors. He had fifteen eyes and five horns. When the Oni was beheaded, the head fell and bit Raiko’s helmet. Fortunately, Raiko’s head was protected by three helmets, as he had foreseen this and had borrowed the helmets from Sakata-no Kintoki and Watanabe‑no Tsuna.
On this piece, the Oni’s head is raised and painted with Urushi. The dimension was effectively achieved with different‑sized gold foils: #6, #8 and #10 gold powders were heavily sprinkled on the red Urushi surface. Two different shells were used for the eyes, and the hairs were Tsukegaki (drawing with more gold to make the lines appear raised) using #6 gold powder and Keuchi (additional gold lines drawn on the surface) using #4 gold powder.
The details on Raiko are amazing. To begin, many layers of silver mixed powders and gold powders were used before using Kirigane (rectangular gold foils setting); colored Urushi was painted on the surface and Raden were used on the sword, the eyes. #8 gold powder was used for Tsukegaki. The ground was made with a gradation technique and Kirigane. The little Oni on the pole was done by Tsukegaki.
I would like to take this opportunity to talk about Kogaku, one of our Maki‑e master craftsmen who has been working for us for almost 20 years. The Sakura Beauties were painted between his GK‑1001 Shuten-doji and the following Kawanakajima‑no Kassen. Each design took him almost a whole year to complete. The details are meticulously layered upon layer, point on point. The woman in the Kimono is absolutely gorgeous. The fingers are raised clearly and beautifully with gold lines. It is evident that it took him a long time to create this design; each one of the fallen petals is carefully pasted on each Sakura.
The duels between Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen at Kawanakajima are amongst the most famous fights in Japanese history. The most famous duel was their fifth meeting, when Uesugi Kenshin charged into Shingen’s camp, alone on his horse, and swung down his Katana at Shingen’s head. However, the Katana was stopped by Shingen’s iron‑ribbed fan. The design was drawn by Kogakku and has become one of our best sellers in recent years.
Horaisan is an imaginary island that is the Buddhist equivalent of “heaven”. After death, anyone who had lived his or her life loving and caring for all people would live peacefully on Horaisan, forever.
Spring with Sakura, Summer with firecrackers, Autumn with a Deer and Winter with a Tancho (crane) in the mountains. Sakura, Hanabi (firecracker), Deer and Tancho are all Kigo (symbolized seasons in Haiku); this is a very special Four-Season Design by our master Kogaku (real name Koichiro Okazaki).
There was a Phoenix who helped millions of birds in times of disaster, famine and plagues; when they were finally saved, they were very grateful to the Phoenix and regarded it as their angel.
Some likes birds, some do not. In Asia, birds are bveloved as symbols of good luck or happiness.
At present, there are four major Maki-e artists working on our Maki‑e. All four were students of Masanori before they became freelancers. Masanori’s most recent work is the Maki‑e on the walls in the main hall of the well-known Kissho-in temple in Chita City of the Aichi prefecture. Omote-san has made Maki‑e for us for more than 5 years, and his masterpieces, such as the Tokaido series, have been very well received. His recent works include “Fixed Stars”, “Miyama Enreiso”, “Four Seasons from Ise Monogatari” and of course, “Kirin.” He will appear at the upcoming Washington DC Pen Show with these remarkable works. After more than 50 years of working with Maki-e, he is now one of the very few artists whose works are deemed “collectible” today.
Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion, was built in 1397 in northeast Kyoto, by the third Shogun of the Ashikaga clan—Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. The temple was burnt down several times, the worst time being in1950 when a young monk set fire to the building and reduced it to ashes. The building we see today was rebuilt in 1955 and renovated in 1987. The story was fictionalized by Mishima Yukio in later years. The pavilion, a three-story temple, represents three different architectural styles from the Heian, Kamakura and Muromachi eras. The second and third stories of Kinkakuji are actually gilded with around 100 lbs of pure gold. Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion, was built by Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436‑1490), the 8th Ashikaga Shogun and grandson of Ahikaga Yoshimitsu in the late 15th century; it was inspired by the Golden Pavilion. Yoshimasa lived in the temple and staged Noh plays and tea ceremonies until he died in 1490. The temple has been renovated, its original facade lost—yet the temple is still very impressive.
Shoki was worshipped as the god of Taoism in China and Japan. His pictures were hung on the wall as talismans. Many different stories were told about Shoki, dating back to the Tang Dynasty (618‑907). When the sixth emperor, Shien-Tsuong, was bedridden, he had a dream: the palace was overrun by mischievous imps but they were all easily eaten by a large devil. When the emperor interrogated the devil, who said that his name was Shoki. He tried to apply for a position as a government official, but failed the examination. He felt such shame that he killed himself in the palace. The emperor, Kaotsu, kindly took care of his funeral and came here today to repay him for his kindness.
When the emperor woke up, he found his illness was gone. He was so moved and asked a famous artist to draw Shoki’s picture; this portrait was the exact image of Shoki in his dream. Today, Shoki is still celebrated by both the Chinese and the Japanese as a spirit to ward off devils. Almost every family in China has a picture of Shoki in their house, as do many Japanese, though the images of him are rendered differently.
The Great Wall is one of seven Wonders of the World (New 7 Wonder Foundation). The original wall was built by the first Chinese emperor, Qin Shi Huan, more than 2000 years ago. It was extended by the Ming Dynasty and other regimes, and is now 13,171 miles long. The artist, Mr. Masanori Omote, worked for more than 5 months on this very good piece.
Japan is a mountainous island country. These large mountains between the Pacific Ocean and Japan Sea give the country four colorful, contrasting seasons. The Japanese sing praises for each season, as well as each major river, mountain, lake, flower and other aspects of nature. This design by Masanori is Ryusui Shunju Soka, “Stream in Spring” and “Autumn with Flowers”. His work is very heartfelt and touches me deeply.
Nihon Sankei, the three most famous sceneries in Japan, Amano (from top) Miyajima, Matsushima and Ama‑no Hashidate.
Kuzunoha means “White Fox.” This particular fox was saved by a nobleman, Abe No Yasuna, who fought a hunter and was wounded. Soon after, a beautiful woman called Kuzunoha helped him return to his home. The nobleman didn’t know that she was the White Fox and married her; she later bore him a child. Her son figured out that Kuzunoha was indeed a fox and believed that she should return to her home, Shinoda. She bid farewell to Yasuna and her son and told him that he could always find her in the Shinoda forest. Later on, they went to the forest and saw a beautiful white fox and discovered that she was the spirit of Shinoda shrine, which is still in the Shinoda forest today. This story is also played in Kabuki theater.
This painting of the Rooster was originated by Ito Jakuchu (1716‑1800), who is still regarded as a unique and fantastic artist. His works were initially influenced by Ogata Korin, but he eventually created his own style with Doshoku Sai‑e, paintings of animals and flowers. He created over thirty masterpieces of Doshoku Sai‑e, contributing to Japan’s abundance of Kachoga, birds and flowers designs.
The artist Kosetsu gave me some design ideas inspired by Jakuchu’s original paintings. Three years ago, we decided to work with these ideas. We finally finished “Nanten Yukeizu”, Nandin and Rooster today, and expect a few more to be completed this year. The work is very complicated but is worth it!
This design mainly uses Shishiai Togidashi Maki‑e, creates dimension with layered Urushi, sprinkled with powders of pure gold, gold mixed with silver, and gold Hirame foils. Colored Urushi was painted for Kona‑Gatame, to protect the surface. Kona‑Gatame is a technique requiring that Urushi be painted atop layers of powders that have completely dried. Kona‑Gatame is used on quality Maki‑e and requires burnishing to create a finished effect.
Parts of the birds are created by layers of charcoal powders and finished with Urushi. The feathers on the birds were applied piece by piece. Gold powder was sprinkled on the hen and Wakogin (silver) on the rooster. The eyes are gold sheet metal. The faces of the birds were carefully painted with colorful Urushi.
The birds and the leaves and branches of nandin were painted; gold powders were sprinkled atop different colors of Urushi and finished with Kona‑Gatame to protect the piece’s surface. The red berries are made from the red part of Turban shells, pasted on. The birds are carefully burnished and finished. The artist admitted that he has tried his best to faithfully follow Jakuchu’s ideas.
Unlike the Chinese, the Japanese like Karasu (crows) and have always been very friendly to these birds. Crows are also loved in the western world. There is a Maki‑e box decorated with crows painted by Shibata Zeshin (1807‑1891), one of the greatest Maki‑e shi in Japanese history. I saw the box and immediately asked our Maki‑e shi, Kosetsu (Tatsuya Todo) to create these Maki‑e pens for me (pictured above). There are 40 Karasu in total on each pen. This is one of my favorite Maki-e pieces.
This is a similar story to Kuzunoha Kitsune (GK‑1035); this story is about a Crane (“Ongaeshi”) that was trapped and saved by a farmer and his wife. The crane disappeared and suddenly a beautiful girl appeared at the couple’s home and voluntarily offered them her help. The farmer and his wife were delighted to let her stay with them. One day, the girl asked the farmer to buy some cloth for her to make some warmer clothes for the couple because the season was about to change. However, the girl also asked them never to open the door to her room while she was working. She presented the couple with some very finely‑made heavy clothing and they were very pleased.The couple grew curious as to how she made such fine clothes and could not help but open the door to her room as she worked. They were surprised to see a crane using its feathers to make the cloth. The crane said that since they knew her secret, she had no choice but to leave them and return to her own home. This story about Ongaeshi is still very popular in Japan.
Totetsu in Japanese or Taotieh in Chinese is the name of a mythical creature widely depicted in bronzeware for more than 1000 years, as early as the Chinese Shang Dynasty. The creature possesses the head of a human, the body of a sheep or cow, the horn of a goat, eyes on the side of his chest, a tiger's teeth and the nails of a man. It makes a sound similar to that of a crying human baby. The bestial face of this man-eating devil was popularly regarded as an extremely avaricious creature that robbed people and bullied the weak. The Totetsu was greatly feared and disliked, but the Chinese used this design as a charm against devils, in the belief that it would ward evil-minded people off their property.
The artist Kenji was inspired by a Totetsu design on a 1000‑year old piece of bronze ware when he visited the Taiwan National Museum; he recreated this creature on his Maki‑e.