Kanazawa Gold Leaf
Gold leaf and paper
Gold leaf was first made in Kanazawa in 1593, over 400 years ago. The first lord of the Kaga domain, Toshi'ie Maeda, received an order from warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi to make gold and silver leaf at the time of Toyotomi's first invasion of Korea.
Japan's finest gold leaf
The various steps in the gold leaf making process reflect the strength and skill of the craftsman. Before discussing gold leaf, it is first necessary to take a look at paper. "The interleaf paper used for making gold leaf involves about four months of preparation," stated Mr Yoshikazu Netsuno, veteran of 40 years as a master craftsman making gold leaf. "The making of excellent gold leaf starts with the making of excellent interleaf paper. Soft water is also a necessity in making gold leaf, and since the water in Kanazawa is soft, the city became a center of gold leaf production. In the past, many gold leaf craftsmen lived near the Asano and Sai rivers. Today they have all moved into the suburbs because of the noise and other aspects of the craft. " A visit to a workshop made this point very clear--the action of the forge-like mechanical beater produced a deafening noise and made the earth shake.
The surface quality of gold leaf varies with the craftsman.
An old hammer used to beat gold leaf in the past
Old and new methods
The gold leaf making process can be roughly divided into two categories--known as enzuke and tachikiri. In the former, as has been done from times past, the gold leaf craftsman makes special handmade paper use as interleaves. The latter is more contemporary; it involves the use of carbon-surfaced paper as interleaves. Craftsmen of the enzuke persuasion are quickly decreasing in number. Mr Netsuno carries on the enzuke band (beating the metal directly) tradition. Today only 48 enzuke craftsmen are active, and their average age is 68. "The members of gold leaf craftsman's family arise at 4:30 A.M., and they continue working after dinner at night. When I was a child, the entire family worked and quit only late at night, long after dinner. But this profession was my choice and my destiny, and as soon as I graduated from middle school, I joined my grandfather and father as their successor. My family has now been making gold leaf for a century." The calluses on Mr Netsuno's hands evidence his long years in this craft. "My son is going to succeed me, which gives me great peace of mind," he smiled.
A modern mechanical gold leaf beater-capable of 700 hits per minute.
A thickness of 1/10,000 mm
The process of making gold leaf starts with the step known as nobekin, which involves rolling out the metal into a thin band. The second step is uwazumi, which involves beating the metal into a thin foil. The third step is haku-uchi, in which the foil pieces are inserted between the carefully prepared interleaf papers and beaten until the final thinness of leaf is produced. Mr Netsuno himself makes the interleaf paper.
The paper preparation process starts with sheets of Nakajima or Futamata paper. The sheets are repeatedly soaked in a mixture of ash lye, persimmon tannin, and egg white and are beaten and dried after each soaking. The entire process of making this interleaf paper takes from three to four months, and the result is a translucent, smooth paper with a gentle sheen. This paper allows the brilliance of the gold to be expressed in the leaf-making process. "Today, inexpensive gold leaf made with the abbreviated tachikiri process is common. But for uses in shrines, temples, the more luxurious household Buddhist altars, and the repair of cultural properties, mainly gold leaf made by the enzuke process is used."
"The three qualities of gold leaf are nari, kotaku, and toke. Nari is the smoothness and consistency of the final leaf--that is, there should be no irregularities produced by beating. Kotaku is the leaf's physical lightness--how it 'floats'--and way the surface interacts with light, its 'glow.' Toke is the velvety smoothness of gold. The quality of nari is influenced by the proportion of ash lye in the interleaf paper. The ash lye also is responsible for producing the kotaku quality. "
Transferring the leaf
We had no idea that making interleaf paper involved so much effort. When the foil is of the appropriate thinness (3/1,000 mm), each piece is sandwiched between interleaf papers, which are stacked, bound, and the entire stack beaten repeatedly to make the leaf (1-2/10,000 mm). "Each craftsman has his own idiosyncracies, and the evenness (nari) of the final leaf differs with the maker. I still cannot depend on my son to make the interleaf paper alone."
Making interleaf paper
Master craftsman with 40 years experience making gold foil; third generation in the enzuke technique tradition.