what is Mokume gane?
Mokume-gane is Japan’s own metalsmithing technique in which beautiful wood-grain patterns are created by layering many different colour metals and painstakingly carving and forging them. This technique is said to have been devised by Shoami Denbei, a sword mounter in Akita in the Northern part of Japan, at the beginning of Edo era, approximately 400 years ago.
Mokume-gane was also called “Tagayasan-ji (Tagayasan woodgrain),” comparing its pattern to the precious wood of the same name, or in the Meiji era, “Kasumi-Uchi.” The name “Mokume gane,” or “mokume,” has become widely known abroad as well.
Mokume-gane is considered to have been developed from guribori sword mounts also invented by Shoami Denbei.
what is Guribori?
Guribori is generally recognized to be the origin of Mokume-gane. Guribori is the metalsmithing technique that involves layering many different color metals and carving arabesque and spiral patterns.
Existing guribori sword mounts still show us today the beautiful layers of metals after several hundred years.
This technique originated in Chinese Guri. Guri is a lacquer carving technique where arabesque and Warabi-te patterns are carved into the layers of red, black, yellow and other colour lacquers. Works using Guri had been created from the Sung to Ming dynastic periods in China. In Japan, they started to be imported around the Muromachi era (mid-14 century) and they were much prized as tea utensils according to tea ceremony records from that time.
Mokume-gane and guribori Rebirth of the Lost Techniques
The scene for the Mokume gane and Guribori techniques later moved from its origins in Akita to Edo where Takahashi Okitsugu completed the techniques.
During the middle of the Edo-era (1603-1868), Takahashi Masatsugu the founder of the Takahashi School, was known as a distinguished master of guribori. Subsequently, one of his disciples, Takahashi Okitsugu created such works as sword mounts with designs of the Yoshino and Tatsuta river, adding new expression to the Mokume-gane that previously featured the patterns naturally created in the production process. These works can be said to be the most complete form of Mokume-gane techniques originated in guribori.
Later, due to the edict banning the wearing of swords in the Meiji era in 1876 and other factors, the handing down of these techniques was disrupted and they came to be referred to as a “lost techniques.” However, as a result of the ardent endeavour of people attracted to these traditions, Mokume gane and guribori have been revived today.
Today, Mokume-gane is making new steps in its history after continual research by many people. Also, more and more has become known about guribori, Mokume-gane’s predecessor, through restoration projects. Guribori has now started to be re-established as a traditional technique that is still relevant today.