Japanese Art Store Kinkaido - Beautiful Mineral Pigments In Yanaka, Tokyo

Japanese Art Store Kinkaido - Beautiful Mineral Pigments In Yanaka, Tokyo

Tokyo 2014.05.14

The mineral pigment store Kinkaido in Yanaka, Tokyo, is an art store specializing in traditional paints and materials used in Japanese paintings, or nihonga. This article summarizes one MATCHA editor's conversation with the passionate and skilled staff.

Translated by Piyo

Written by Takuro Komatsuzaki

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One of MATCHA's editors discovered bottles filled with colorful powder displayed on a window while wandering around the Yanaka area in eastern Tokyo. Drawn to their beauty, this editor couldn't help look up the name of the shop: Kinkaido. This is what they found on the shop’s website:

Do you know what nihonga (Japanese paintings) are? Have you ever seen one? We sell delicate paints available only in Japan. They are inorganic but depict the artists' emotions and techniques.

There are around 2,000 types of iwa-enogu (mineral pigments used for nihonga) gradation, which we think showcase the sensitivity of Japanese people. Take a break from the commotion of everyday life and drop in to our store.

We will now introduce the Japanese art store, Kinkaido. Kinkaido is a 5 minute walk from Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line Nezu Station.

Mineral Pigments Made with Care

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We ask how customers can purchase mineral pigments.

The staff responds:

When ordering, you should ask "Can I have -ryo of mineral pigments?" instead of asking in grams. This is the formal way of asking for mineral pigments. For example, two units of "ryo" weigh 30 grams.

15 grams of mineral pigment costs 750 yen. A bottle of mineral pigment is sold for 5400 yen. Painters have to put them on large canvases, so it's no wonder Japanese paintings are so expensive! Colors made with fine particles can spread widely, but those made from coarse particles cannot.

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These stones are natural minerals. These minerals will be crushed into fine pieces and become mineral pigments. The stones are imported from all over the world and are pigmented naturally. Milky stones make deep colors. The finer particles of translucent minerals become, the paler the color of mineral pigments gets.

Pigments and glue are put together and kneaded. Since the pigments are made of particles, each color doesn't mix with each other. When painters want colors to be mixed, they add another layer of color on top of the other.

Next, we commented about the large amount of effort required to make mineral pigments.

According to the staff members, it does require a lot of effort. When you go to painting exhibitions, please look at each work carefully. For example, the "Mona Lisa" in the Louvre, was made with oil paints. If the pigments are kneaded with oil, that's for oil painting, but if kneaded with acrylic, that's for acrylic painting. Pigments kneaded with glue called "nikawa" (*1) become mineral pigments.

The pigments for oil and watercolor painting can be mass-produced, but mineral pigments for Japanese painting are sorted out and made by hand by professionals.

*1) Nikawa is extracted by boiling animal skin and bones (gelatin).

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The detailed finely separating pigments and the gradation in paintings is a unique feature of Japan. Minerals are imported from other countries, but companies here transform the materials into mineral pigments.

Look at the colors in bottles pictured above. They are made from the same stone, but the colors vary according to the size of the particles.

Mineral Pigments in National Treasures

Next we discussed when mineral pigments started to be used.

The staff answers like this:

The very first work made with mineral pigments are the wall paintings in the Takamatsuzuka burial mound in Nara. Even though wall paintings were found in tombs in the Kyushu region, it seems the paintings were drawn using the acid red soil rather than mineral pigments.

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Takamatsuzuka Tumulus West Mural
ref. Asuka Historical National Government Park

The mineral pigments originally came from China and therefore were quite valuable. The first use in Takamatsuzuka tumulus took place at around the 7th Century. Then, they were used for the Buddhist paintings in Horyuji Temple and the picture scrolls of The Tale of Genji, which are both designated as national treasures. At that time, people had already started using mineral pigments produced in Japan.

Japanese Paintings Around the World

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Next, we ask the shop staff how to appreciate national treasures and nihonga.

This is their response:

Visitors coming from countries outside of Japan pay much more attention the pigments and materials used in Japanese paintings and natural treasures than Japanese people. Guests from abroad will make comments like, "How beautiful! What kind of materials are used for this work?" We think it shows that Japanese culture is powerful in attracting people in other countries very much. This is often overlooked by Japanese people.

On the other hand, Japanese people are not so interested in Japanese paintings, but have more of an appreciation for Japanese animations and manga, though. We believe Japanese animations and mangas do have their roots in Japanese culture, especially in Japanese painting. We hope Japanese people become more interested in their own culture.

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The staff continues:

Yesterday we had a guest from outside of Japan and enjoyed conversing with each other. The guest asked many questions about Japanese painting; for example, about gradation. We explained how to sort out varying particles: "We crush minerals and put the particles into the water. Then we sort them out according to their sinking speeds in the water. It takes a really long time and requires patience and effort." 

Listening to our explanation, the guest was amazed and looked very interested in our work.

These kinds of measures in creating coloring materials are not taken in other countries. What attracts people from other countries is the artisans' care with the subtle differences in color and with their works by hand.

Value in the Things About to Vanish

We also mentioned that not only Japanese paintings, but also the way of making mineral pigments, should be paid attention to as an important part of Japanese culture.

That's true. We want everyone to know more about Japanese paintings, but currently we don't have time to study about it in school. People underestimate the things which require time and effort, but put more importance on things that can be mass-produced.

Even though the mineral pigment is a very special material, the number of people who use it is currently decreasing. For example, in mixed media (*3), the thought that any kind of color will do if they can use it is becoming more prevalent. I wouldn't say this is bad because this is also another way of creating art works. However, at the same time, using one material to paint a picture shouldn't be underestimated. 

We want people to know that there is value in being careful and deliberate in creating something in this way.
(*3 ) In visual art, refers to an artwork in the making of which more than one medium has been employed (ref. wikipedia)

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I'm afraid now is the time when that valuable way of creating artwork is about to vanish. Even at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, the number of students who major in Japanese painting is only 25 students per year.
We don’t know what will happen if people no longer think Japanese painting is a crucial part of Japanese culture. We are unsure about a future where people no longer appreciate the beauty of mineral pigments and put too much importance on the notion of mixed media.

No matter how hard we try not to let this situation go any further in this direction, it doesn't seem like there is anything we can do. This culture might be lost forever.

Our comment was this: We are afraid many young Japanese people don't even know about this situation.

This was how the store staff answered:

It's true that conveying the beauty of Japanese painting to many people is difficult. I think only those who try to really look at and experience it can notice its true value. Nowadays we can create artwork quite easily using computers by just putting data in it. 

In the near future, we may have 3D printers that can mass produce duplications of artworks. Unfortunately we cannot go against these kinds of trends.
However, we believe that there is true value in things which are about to disappear. We hope more and more people notice the existence of those kinds of things.

Information

Kinkaido

Address: Tokyo, Taito, Yanaka 1-5-10
Phone: 03-3821-5733
Hours: 9:30-18:30 (closed on Sundays)
Original HP: http://www.yanesen.net/archives/shop/shop/377(Japanese)
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/kinkaido(Japanese)

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