The roots of this craft go back to Hayashi Matashichi. With the support of the local feudal lord Hosokawa and his family, Hayashi was doing inlaid metal work on firearms and sword guards during the first half of the 17th century. Subsequently, as this craft became established, fine Higo sword guards were produced by generation after generation of the Hayashi family as well as by other families such as the Hiratas, Nishigakis, Shimizus and Kamiyoshis right through the Edo period (1600-1868), and many pieces of their work are still in existence. When the carrying of swords was outlawed in 1876, the Higo craftsmen turned their hand to decorative work and began making everyday items in line with the new social conditions.
Besides the fine inlaying of precious metals such as gold and silver into channels cut in the base iron with a graver or cold chisel, other techniques are also employed to produce various forms of inlay, sometimes in relief. In whichever case, the designs are distinguished by their dignity and sobriety. The resulting sense of quality is heightened by having gold and silver inlaid on a dark background.
While sword guards are still being made to the same high standards, such items as cigarette cases, brooches and other accessories are also being made.
Higo Zogan is known for its profound and austere feelings. They are created by carving an iron basement and applying gold or silver over it by striking. The gold and silver on the black basement gives the dignifying touch.
How to make
First, grooves are carved into the basement (iron etc.) according to the design. Then the finishing carving is done on the gold or silver plate after it is fit by striking down by a horn of deer. Finally, a trade-secret corrosive liquid is applied to make the surface purposely rusted, then the plate is boiled by tea. This makes the darkened surface and prevents rust.