The city of Echizen is located in the center of Fukui Prefecture on Japan’s northern coast and was incorporated in its present form following the merger of the former city of Takefu and the township of Imadate on October 1, 2005. The city is surrounded by a string of mountains ranging from 400 to 700 meters in height and by a number of clear blue rivers, such as the Hino River, which combine to provide a rich and verdant natural surrounding amid a beautiful rural setting. The city itself can trace its origins back through the centuries to the period of the Taika Reforms (646), which established the city as the regional capital of the province of Echizen. Since then the city has flourished as a central player in the politics, economy, and culture of Japan’s Hokuriku region. During the Heian period of Japanese history (794 to 1185), the region was also home to Murasaki Shikibu. This was the only time the celebrated author of the Tale of Genji ever left her home of Kyoto and was her home during her formative childhood.
The city is dotted with sites of historical, cultural, and natural interest, including Kakyo Park, popular for its cherry blossoms and autumnal leaves and Okafuto Shrine, which honors the Emperor Keitai and celebrated the 1500th anniversary of his accession to the imperial throne in 2007.
The city is also an active industrial center, maintaining a host of traditional industries, such as production of the famed Echizen washi paper, Echizen uchihamono forged blades, and sashimono furniture. This is in addition to the latest cutting-edge technology and industry such as the manufacture of electronic parts is part of a wide-ranging industrial base that provides the city with the moniker of “Manufacturing Capital.” As the leading producer of manufactured goods within Fukui Prefecture, the city continues its dynamic development to this day.
As Japan’s leading manufacturer of handmade traditional washi paper, Echizen has a long history of producing this traditional paper product. Echizen was already known for producing high quality washi paper by the sixth and seventh centuries when the use of such paper within Japan was first reported. The Shosoin treasure house in Nara contains a sample of Echizen washi paper dating back to 730. Those responsible for carrying on the ancient techniques of producing washi paper have continued to make this using the purest water amidst the cold winter chill of the Echizen region. Local manufacturers produce a wide assortment of Echizen Hosho finest quality washi paper for use on fusuma doors, decorative paper, and graduation certificates, using ingredients such as paper mulberry, paper bush, ganpi, and hemp. These techniques have also been championed by some of the world’s leading artists, including Taikan Yokoyama and Pablo Picasso, and have led to Echizen becoming recognized as the center of washi paper production in Japan and the unchallenged home of the art of traditional paper manufacture.
The history of lacquerware in Echizen can trace its origins all the way back to the sixth Century. Japan’s 26th Emperor, Keitai was still an infant when his crown was sent to a lacquer craftsman in the village of Kawada near Echizen for repainting. The craftsman presented Keitai with a hand crafted black lacquer dish. The deep impression left by the outstanding brilliance of this lacquer led to the promotion of this style of lacquer work and so began the history of Echizen lacquerware. Dishes are made with a lathe using timber from horse chestnut, mizume cherry, and zelkova trees. Echizen has long been recognized for producing outstanding lacquerware and its style of lacquer is characterized by a method known as hananuri (freshly painted). Such dishes are highly regarded for their sturdy undercoating combined with repeated coatings of lacquer to produce a brilliant and lustrous lacquer finish. In recognition of this area’s status as a leading lacquerware manufacturer, these dishes are often known as Kawada-nuri.