History of Gold Leaf Production in Japan
With its long history as a prosperous castle town in the central part of Honshu Island in Japan, Kanazawa never suffered damage from the various wars in the region and has therefore retained much of its original streetscape scale and historic buildings. Since the Edo era (1603-1868), under the Kaga Domain, it has been known for its long tradition of nurturing traditional craftworks. Among them, Kanazawa's gold leaf production and its techniques (known as Kanazawa Haku)–a process of stretching a dime-size golden alloy into a sheet measuring 1/10,000 of a millimeter in thickness–is the most iconic and renowned craftsmanship in Kanazawa's long history.
Today, Kanazawa continues to supply 99% of Japan's gold leaf. An essential and beloved material in Japan, gold leaf is used to decorate lacquer work, pottery, woven cloth, foods, cosmetics, Buddhist altars, contemporary interior goods, as well as traditional wooden architecture. Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) in Kyoto, for example, is an important Zen temple mostly covered in gold leaf from Kanazawa. Recently, UNESCO's World Heritage Committee inscribed Japan's traditional gold leaf craftsmanship on the Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
The First Professional Gold Leaf Craftsmanship Program in Japan
In April 2022, the first professional gold leaf craftsmanship program in Kanazawa, and in Japan, was launched in partnership with Tiffany & Co., Kanazawa City, the Agency for Cultural Affairs (ACA), and the Society for the Conservation of Traditional Kanazawa Gold Leaf Techniques (SCTKGLT). Over a period of three years, eight trainees will be given the opportunity to gain practical experience in the workshops of exemplary Kanazawa gold leaf artisans for five days a week.
With input from WMF’s experience in the creation of the CRAFT Educational Program in China and with Tiffany’s tradition of beautiful craftsmanship, this project will serve as a possible model for passing Japan’s extraordinary craft techniques to the next generation.
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World Monuments Fund’s participation in the Gold Leaf Production Craftsmanship Inheritance Program is made possible, in part, by support from Tiffany & Co.