Raden (螺鈿?), also known as "Japaning" in the UK, is a Japanese decorative craft used in the creation of lacquerware and woodwork, though it can be applied to metal and other surfaces. The basic underpinnings of raden consist of variously applying the cut linings of mother-of-pearl, abalone, ivory, and other shells into the surface of the target lacquer or wood.
Techniques of production
There are many ways that raden is produced, with all techniques classed under three main categories: Atsugai (using thick shell pieces), Usugai (using much thinner pieces), and Kenma (the thinnest application of shell pieces).
In Atsugai raden, the shell is often cut with a scroll saw, then finished with a file or rubstone before application. In Usugai raden, the thinner shell pieces are usually made using a template and a special punch. Kenma raden is fashioned similarly to Usugai raden.
Methods of application are varied. Thick shell pieces may be inlayed into pre-carved settings, while thinner pieces may be pressed into a very thick coating of lacquer, or applied using an adhesive and then lacquered over. Other methods use acid washing and lacquering to produce different effects.
Raden was imported to Nara period (710-794) Japan from Tang Dynasty China (618–907) and was used in mosaics and other items in combination with amber and tortoise shell. Raden developed rapidly in the Heian period (794-1185), and was used in architecture as well as lacquerware. In the Kamakura period (1185-1333), raden was a popular saddle decoration and in the Muromachi period (ca.1336-1573), highly valued Chinese raden greatly influenced the Japanese style.
Raden experienced rapid growth through Japan's Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568-1600), when Japan's borders were still open to the outside world, until the early 1600s, before the isolationism instituted by the Seclusion laws of the Edo period (1600-1867). The technique was often used in the creation of European-style items, such as chests of drawers and coffee cups, and was very popular in Europe, as the mother-of-pearl covering the items contributed to their status as a unique luxury. The Japanese referred to these goods as "Nanban lacquerware," with Nanban meaning "Southern Barbarians," a term borrowed from the Chinese and, in 16th century Japan, meaning any foreigner, especially a European.
In Japan's Edo period, raden continued in popularity despite the closing of the European market. Craftsmen necessarily focused on Japanese items. The raden works of a number of famous Edo period craftsmen are still celebrated, namely those of Tōshichi Ikushima, Chōbei Aogai, and Saiku Somada.
Raden is widespread in Japan today, and is made for many applications, modern and classic.