WA-GA-SHI conveying the form of Japanese celebration on washi
Attractive motifs are emerging on fascinatingly elegant washi.
These are created with washi by carefully shaping them using the wooden patterns that were once used in making wagashi (Japanese confectionery).
A number of works titled KIOKUGAMI WA-GA-SHI Zanmai by Tetsuya NAGATA, an artist, are a modern style that expresses traditional Japanese culture by combining three elements of the excellent design of the wooden pattern craft workers, the distinctive features of washi and the sensibilities of the artist.
The light feeling of the material and the gentle texture of his works take advantage of the ideas incorporated in the wooden patters made by craftworkers in the past and elaborate chisel marks are filled with distinctive memories of the Japanese celebrations from the past that wish for the happiness of loved ones.
Born in Osaka in 1959, Mr. NAGATA completed a master’s degree at the Graduate School of Fine Arts of Tokyo University of the Arts. The main themes of his works are time and space. He produces three-dimensional embossed works that visually and tactilely express the memories and images contained in the realistic surface of things by transforming them into washi. He is expanding the sphere of his activities into art installations, displays and exhibitions, in addition to exhibitions at museums and galleries, and in recent years released the WA-GA-SHI Zanmai series based on the theme of memories of Japan. He continues to propose art that is enjoyed on a daily basis by developing his works into interior coordination and gifts. He received an honorable mention at the 8th Imadate Paper Contemporary Art Exhibition (1988) and the New Face Award at the Exhibition of Modern Best Art.
KIOKUGAMI WA-GA-SHI Zanmai expresses the congratulatory spirit and the heart of Japan cherished by Japanese people, which are used in the two traditional cultures of wagashi and washi.
A collage that combines auspicious motifs such as tai (sea bream), tsuru kame (crane and turtle), shochikubai (pine tree, bamboo and plum tree), Mt. Fuji, daruma (dolls) and Shichifukujin (Seven Deities of Good Fortune) as if they lie on top of each other. These are all molded from the wooden patterns of wagashi (Japanese confectionery). They look like wagashi but are all made of washi. Although we rarely see wagashi such as rakugan (molded dry confectionery) and kinkato (molded sugar confectioner), it used to be customary to offer these kinds of confectioneries at life transitions, such as shichigosan (the seven-five-three festival), marriage and longevity celebrations and seasonal occasions such as New Year’s Day and Girls’ Day. KIOKUGAMI WA-GA-SHI Zanmai is the series by Mr. NAGATA that was created by transcribing the formative designs of the wooden patters that were used for making these kinds of wagashi and combining them with the unique sensibility of the artist.
“What I express is the memory of celebrations in many parts of Japan,” says Tetsuya NAGATA, who is gathering attention in Japan and overseas as a modern artist. “The formative designs and expressions are totally different, even if they are of the same sea bream, aren’t they? They were made in different times and different places by different craftworkers. The wooden patterns have their individual memories, including the materials and use of confectioneries.” The number of wooden patterns Mr. NAGATA has collected totals to about 2,000. Looking at some patterns of sea bream he picked up, their facial expressions, the scale of workmanship and the curved lines of their tails are all different. “Because the wooden patterns are custom-made by Japanese confectionery shops, their geographical conditions and popular culture remain strong. There are also trends in design according to the times.
Because the components of sugar used for wagashi soak through the wooden patterns, some smell sweet and give a faint color to the washi,” says Mr. NAGATA. He received some of the wooden patterns stored in his atelier from Japanese confectionery shops while wandering from Hokkaido to Kyushu, and discovered others in antique markets. The works of Mr. NAGATA shape the memories accumulated in the individual wooden patterns into a story that is filled with historical changes, the memories of people in the past and a bright feeling to celebrate the happiness of their loved ones.
Atelier on a hill shined by the sunlight.
The shape of the same sea bream has many different shades and textures.
There is a confectionery pattern that uses Japanese folk tales such as Momotaro (Peach Boy) as the motif.
Uchiwa fan works using a bamboo-made frame are popular for interior decorating.
It takes at least three months for Mr. NAGATA to complete a single work. It is not uncommon for him to take a year or two if he makes a large work. “When I have become set on a theme to some extent, I go to the actual place where my work will be exhibited. If there is not a wooden pattern that matches my vision, I sometimes search for the right one,” says Mr. NAGATA. The motifs include not only standard good luck charms, but also vegetables, fruit, fishes and shellfishes, people, and even insects such as locusts and cicadas, as well as other unexpected things derived from folk tales. The humorous formative designs and many different ideas in the wooden patterns, which are said to have evolved accurately and variedly from the Edo period, appear to give a small glimpse of the lives of people living in that place.
“Kinkato is a wagashi made by pouring melted sugar into a pattern and cooling it to harden. Two wooden patterns are put together with the ingredients to make kinkato, and ingredients and the volume to pour into them had been accurately determined. The accuracy of the details will decrease slightly if you make kinkato using sugar, but you will understand the sophistication of the wooden patterns if you use a cast with washi. I think that this is because wood and paper fit together well.” It goes without saying that Mr. NAGATA himself is fascinated by the advanced skills of the wooden pattern craftworkers during that time who carved the patterns by reversing right and left and concavity and convexity while imaging the completed shape of the confectionery, but he says he sometime sees wagashi confectioners who saw his works and are surprised to notice how accurately and beautifully the wooden patterns have been made. The wagashi culture that has colored Japanese life has been revived in the modern world as art and appeals to our distant memories.
Nishinouchi-shi. Sarashi is white because it is bleached in the sun. Misarashi is brown because the fibers of kozo remain.
A confectionery pattern and washi are glued together using a brush and shade-dried for half a day to one full day.
Single parts peeled off from the wooden pattern. Details of the wooden pattern are cleanly transcribed.
Sticking roughly cut blank spaces together and shaping them into a single work.
Washi that is used for shaping with the wooden patterns of confectioneries is hand-made, known as Nishinouchi-shi, which is designated as an intangible cultural asset of Ibaraki Prefecture. “The feeling of its material is so glamorous that it is compared to silk. Still, it is so strong as to last for 1,000 years. These are the reasons why I have chosen this washi as the material for my works,” says Mr. NAGATA. He says that the texture of his works with sense of strength that is created only because it is made by hand and can be expressed only by washi, which can exist beyond time and space.
His works are all made by hand. The process of molding the design of a wooden pattern with washi also requires great care. “If it is sakura-dai (cherry anthias), I first place gold washi for the eyes and put Nishinouchi-shi stained red for the body and one stained light pink for the side. After putting white bleached washi on top of it, I entrench them on the wooden pattern. Then, I line the inside with washi made in Shikoku, and throughout these processes, a single part is completed. In the case of a lobster, I lay eight sheets of washi with colors of different gradations, one on top of the other.” Each motif is beautifully colored in white and red shows a special kind of shading and shadow according to the light shone on it.
Tamatebako Sankai-no Koryutenzu (2015), a work displayed in the entrance on the mezzanine of Kyoto Kowa Building. Other works of Mr. NAGATA are displayed in the elevator hall on each floor.
Tetsuya NAGATA’s New Year’s Day (2011) exhibited at Gallery le bain (Tokyo)
WA-GA-SHI Hyakkei (A Room with an Aquarium)_ (2007) exhibited at Gokan De Art Ten held in Nagano Prefectural Shinano Museum (Nagano).
Mr. NAGATA provides many works for displays and exhibitions at department stores and hotels and the front covers of catalogs and magazines, in addition to displays and exhibitions at museums and galleries. His works are highly regarded in Japan and overseas as art that decorates a variety of spaces, as demonstrated by his works that are adopted by the foreign-affiliated hotel in Toranomon Hills and for the interior of commercial complexes such as Kyoto Kowa Building. In recent years, his works have been actively developed into ceremonial envelopes, message cards, small boxes, uchiwa fans and interior goods to decorate a room in the WA-GA-SHI Zanmai series. Warmth and grace unique to washi and beauty generated by the cutting edge embossing effect are popular among highly sensitive people. “A culture that incorporates art into life has yet to spread in Japan. Art is a value, including its scarcity, and I feel that the national character of preferring the same things as everyone else and the art education at elementary and junior high schools also stands in the way. I will continue to create a culture that is able to enjoy art on a daily basis by adding new endearing twists to my works,” says Mr. NAGATA. Wagashi is the fruit of Japanese aesthetics, with an embedded congratulatory feeling, and washi is fostered by a rich tradition. Why don’t you decorate your New Year’s Day with art that expresses a new interpretation of the three traditional cultures?
Shugibukuro (gift envelope)
Okazari pochi bukuro
Piku-piku series Iki iki tai; Hamaguri
Okazari kobako (small boxes)
Stores handling small items of WA-GA-SHI Zanmai
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