Renowned Jeweler Tiffany Helping to Preserve Japan's Gold Leaf Art Techniques as a Cultural Treasure

Posted on 01/11/2024
Japanese arts and crafts are cherished souvenirs from a trip to Japan. And now, one of the country’s most treasured and elegant crafts has a new future – thanks to a luxury jeweler best-known for its aspirational robin’s egg-blue boxes.
 
Tiffany & Co. Japan has launched a new initiative to help preserve gold leaf art skills in Kanazawa, the celebrated home of this craft.
 
Kanazawa is on the western coast of Japan in Ishikawa prefecture, and its name translates to “gold marsh.” The city has been esteemed as the capital of gold leaf production in Japan for centuries.
 
The local Ensuke technique of gold leaf artistry involves beating gold leaf into wafer-thin, paper-like sheets that can be only 1/10th of a millimeter thick! All while maintaining the gold leaf intact. That incredibly delicate gold leaf is then incorporated into lacquerware, statues, shrines, ceramics and even culinary delicacies and sweets!
 
The traditional craft was recognized as one of the world’s treasures, on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list since 2020.
 
Kanazawa produces over 99% of gold leaf in Japan, and local art objects are highly valued – but like many traditional arts and crafts, its survival is in question. The average age of gold leaf artisans is 70.
 
In partnership with the World Monuments Foundation, local authorities and Kanazawa’s gold leaf artisans’ guild, Tiffany & Co Japan has launched a program to train a new generation of craftsmen. As a result of the program, eight hand-selected apprentices will be given the opportunity for continued mentorship to allow them to carry the torch of generations of gold leaf artisans in Japan’s “gold marsh” into the future.  
 
Visitors to Kanazawa, on the western coast of Japan, can witness the intricate process of gold leaf production and in some studios, even try their hand at applying it to different objects.
 
In addition to gold leaf, Kanazawa is known for other traditional crafts such as Kutani porcelain, Yuzen silk dyeing, and lacquerware. Visitors can explore workshops and galleries to witness artisans at work and purchase exquisite handmade crafts.
 
 
You can step back in time in other ways in Kanazawa, too. Walk in the footsteps of the historical center of the powerful Maeda Clan. This heritage is evident in well-preserved historic sites, including Kanazawa Castle, a magnificent structure surrounded by lush Kenrokuen Garden. This garden, considered one of the three most beautiful in Japan, is a tranquil oasis that changes with the seasons. In spring, cherry blossoms paint the landscape with delicate pink hues, while in winter, snow-covered trees create a serene, monochromatic masterpiece.
 
Immerse yourself in the city’s well-preserved samurai culture and lifestyle in districts like Nagamachi, where you can stroll through historic streets lined with traditional earthen walls and samurai residences.
 
Or explore geisha culture, uniquely preserved in Kanazawa. The Higashi-Chaya district is one of the few places in Japan where you can still experience the traditional culture of these highly-skilled and respected entertainers. Geisha and maiko (apprentice geisha) continue to entertain guests in tea houses and perform traditional arts.
 
Kanazawa looks to a vivid future, too, not just its traditional heritage. Another gem in Kanazawa's artistic crown is the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. The museum itself is a work of art, with its unique circular design and glass facade. Inside, you can discover a diverse collection of contemporary artworks and installations by both Japanese and international artists. The museum's innovative approach to art makes it a captivating destination for art enthusiasts and curious minds alike.
 
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Images courtesy of Ishikawa Prefecture Tourism League
 
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