魅惑的な色「赤」「赤い漆」Fascinating colors “red” “red lacquer”

MOA美術館エントランス扉 MOA Museum of Art entrance door


This is also a blog theme that I suddenly thought about and wanted to research and summarize. Recently, I often work with red lacquer, so I would like to summarize “red” and “red lacquer”.

日本における「赤色」の認識 Recognition of “red” in Japan

炎・太陽の「赤」”Red” of flame and sun


For Japanese people, “red” is said to have started from the “red” of the “Hinomaru”, which is also on the national flag. Red is the color of the sun, the color of fire and flame.


In modern times, it is easy to make a fire with a gas stove or a lighter, but in the past it was said that it was difficult to make a fire. Even in modern times, fire is considered to be indispensable to our daily lives.


In Japan, the family that protects the fire is said to be the descendant of Amaterasu Omikami.And Amaterasu Omikami is the ancestor of the emperor. It is known as the most important god in Japan.


Same pronunciation “Sun (sun) joint” (Hi-tsugi) → “fire (flame) joint” (Hi-tsugi)

★ Work to inherit and protect the fire from heaven


It is said that the men who engaged in this work came to be called “Fire child”-> “Hiko” / female “Fire woman”-> “Princess”.(※same pronunciation in Japanese)



It is said that the burning fire = mysterious flame, which was also a sacred color.

Also, the Chinese character “red” (赤) is derived from the hieroglyphs that come from the shape of a burning fire under a kamado made of soil.


Etymology ↓ A voice admiring the appearance and shining of the sun

ア aカ ka
“Are” (appear) “A”
“Ka” of “Kagayaku” (shining)


Or a word derived from the meaning of “dawn” “Aku (open)”


In addition, the sun was an important existence for the Japanese who were a farming people to grow their crops. Since the benefits are concretely visible, it can be said that it was an object of respect, admiration, and attachment to the sun. In other words, red was closely related to the sun in Japan.

日本古代の4色 4 colors of ancient Japan

富士宮浅間神社鳥居 Fujinomiya Sengen Shrine Torii


In Shinto, which has been passed down from ancient times in Japan, there were only four ancient colors.

白 white赤 red黒 black青 blue


It is said that there are only these four colors in the expression of the paired words in Japanese, probably due to the influence of Shinto.

例えば。。。For example…

  • 紅白(赤と白)Ko-haku (red and white)
  • 赤鬼と青鬼(赤と青)Red Demon and Blue Demon (Red and Blue)
  • 囲碁→白と黒 Igo→ White and Black


In Japanese, the adjectives for these four colors are “white,” “red,” “black,” “blue,” and “+ i.” Other colors such as yellow are “yellow”, which makes the word “+ i” unnatural. It is speculated that this may have a connection with the “four ancient colors”.


Even in modern times, the fact that the traffic light is said “blue light” but the actual color is green is said to be related to the establishment of Japanese in the world of “ancient four colors”. It seems that the history of color is related to the words that are used as a matter of course.


Then, in the Kofun period (5th-6th centuries), the idea of the Ying-Yang Five Lines came from China. The five colors in the five lines were considered to be the colors worthy of legitimate status. Red is also one of the colors.

木 Moku火 Ka土 Don金 Gon水 Sui
青 Blue赤 Red黄 Yellow白 White黒 black
東 East南 South中央 Middle西 West北 North


In addition, five colors have been added to the idea of the Ying-Yang Five Elements as the colors in between.

  • 青と黄→緑 Blue and yellow → green
  • Blue and white→Greenish blue
  • →紅 Red and white →pink
  • 黒と赤→紫 Black and red →purple
  • 黒と黄→硫黄 Black and yellow → brown
Kiyomizudera-Temple (Kyoto)


It is said that the above colors are called five-way miscellaneous colors (five-colored colors). While Shinto had only four colors, the idea of the Ying-Yang Five Elements was introduced, and the world of Japanese colors expanded.

魔除けの意味があるとされるお地蔵さんの赤Jizo’s red, which is said to have the meaning of amulet


Even so, the red color that exists on both sides of Shinto and the Ying-Yang Five Elements continues to be an important color for the Japanese. Originally, it is a color that protects against evil and evil, so red is abundantly used in the torii gates and architecture of shrines and temples.

土の「赤」Soil “red”


There are various myths around the world that tell the beginning of the world, but in many cases, the earth seems to be represented by “red”. Chemically, iron oxide is said to be the most widespread pigment on the planet. It is speculated that it was almost certain that the continent was red in mythology, as iron oxide turns red when altered.


By the way, iron oxide is a pigment used when making black lacquer.

参考過去投稿↓Reference past post ↓

血の「赤」Blood “red”


“Red” is also the color of blood. It is indispensable for keeping human life.


It seems that the etymology of the Japanese word “blood” (chi) comes from “spirit = chi” and “milk = chi”.

女性 woman男性 man
→ Blood that flows due to menarche and childbirth
・ Hunting and fighting
・ Strength, excess of power
・ Group unity
・ Strengthen the power of the object of worship


Whether it’s male or female, red has been passed down as a “fascinating color.” It may be a color that has more power than any other color not only in Japan but also in the world.


Dark purplish red, blackish red is the closest blood color. In Japan, such a blood color has been an important red dye in Japan since ancient times with a plant called “Suou” (transplanted in Japan from the Nara period / origin India and Malaysia). Therefore, this color has been called “Suho color”. In the Heian period’s “Konjyaku Storybook”, there was an expression such as “A lot of blood spilled in Suou color …”, and it seems that it was the representative color of blood color. However, its hue is close to purple and it has a noble impression, and it was widely used in the Edo period.


It seems that the colors also changed and changed depending on the values of the people who lived in that era.

漆における「赤色」”Red” in lacquer

参考写真:平成記念館ギャラリー 塗り見本(赤)Reference photo: Heisei Memorial Hall Gallery Painted sample (red)


Even in lacquering, red is the second most common color after black.


Especially in lacquer, it can be said that “red” = “vermilion”. In modern times, vermilion may be often thought of as red, which is close to orange. However, in ancient China and Japan, vermilion refers to bright red and was considered to be the best red.


In Japan, it is said that earthenware and clay figurines have been painted vermilion since the Jomon period. It is said that the sarcophagus of the Kofun period contained a large amount of vermilion along with the body. In addition to preventing corruption, it is speculated that it values magical elements and authority during life.

赤系顔料の時系列 Time series of red pigments

古墳時代 Kofun periodベンガラ Bengara・辰砂(しんしゃ)Shinsha
飛鳥時代 Asuka Period臙脂(えんじ)Enji・真朱 Shinshu・鉛丹(えんたん)Entan
奈良時代 Nara period水銀朱 Suiginshu・ベンガラ Bengara


The red pigments that can be seen from historical excavations are as described above.


The red pigments traditionally used for lacquering are said to be red iron oxide (Bengara) and cinnabar (Shinsha). There are various red pigments, so the shade will differ depending on the pigment. Bengala is still used as a painting lacquer when drawing lacquer work Maki-e.


The pigment called cinnabar / mercury vermilion is bicep sulfide, which is a kind of natural mineral that exists in the ground. It is also called “ni”, “susa”, and “tansha”. It is also prized as a Chinese herbal medicine. Compared to ferric oxide red iron oxide, the amount that can be taken is small, and it has been used as a high-grade pigment in shrine torii gates. However, in modern times, the toxicity of mercury is well known.


In fact, unlike the toxic organic mercury in question, “Cinnabar(Shinsha) / Mercury Zhu(Suigin-shu)” is inorganic mercury (mercury sulfide). Even if it enters the body, it will not be absorbed and will not cause any harm. It seems that it has been scientifically proven.


By law, the Minamata Convention on Mercury stipulates that “manufacturing and importing / exporting products using mercury used for traditional and religious purposes is excluded from prohibited items.” Certain consideration is given to the traditional craft industry.


However, as long as there is a recognition of toxicity to mercury in general, it may be a difficult problem to dispel anxiety even if it is explained so that it can be easily understood that there is rumor damage once. However, this mercury vermilion itself is familiar with lacquer and is said to be superior to other red pigments in terms of color development and dispersibility. Currently, this pigment is manufactured only by Nikka Kasei Co., Ltd. in Osaka.


Against this background, some lacquer shops do not handle it, but some lacquer shops still sell it. It seems that the production itself has not been discontinued because it may be necessary to specify materials for cultural properties and national treasure restoration. (Currently confirmed 2021.12)

現在購入できる漆芸の赤系顔料 Currently available lacquering red pigments

Inorganic pigment (no synthesis)
Organic pigments (organic pigments + titanium dioxide + barium sulfate)
・Permanent color


Colored lacquer is made by mixing lacquer and pigment. The ratio is different for each person, but the higher the ratio of pigments, the better the color development. However, the viscosity increases by that amount, and if you do not crush it firmly and mix it, it will be in a state where there are grains forever.


Also, when making colors, instead of mixing pigments to make colors, make colored lacquer and then mix colors.

MOA美術館入口扉 MOA Museum of Art entrance door

美術館で展示されている赤い色で印象的なのは、人間国宝 黒田辰秋さんの作品です。(右の写真の中の一番右端の作品)左水銀朱の顔料を使っているのではないかと思います。あと、蒔絵の人間国宝の室瀬和美さんの手がけたMOA美術館の根来塗りの赤い扉も赤色が見事です。

Among the red-colored works exhibited at the museum, the one that impresses me is the work of Tatsuaki Kuroda, a living national treasure.(The rightmost work in the photo on the right) I suspect he is using a mercury cinnabar pigment. Also, the red door of the MOA Museum of Art, which was designed by Kazumi Murose, a living national treasure of lacquer work, is also wonderfully red.


(The above photo is a work by Tatsuaki Kuroda that was exhibited in the past at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo.)


Nowadays, various colored lacquer can be made. Among them, “red” is the longest lacquered and has been used in various situations. In particular, “red” is the most important color in history for Japanese people, and it seems that it is still popular in people’s eyes.

参考文献 References

  • 山岸寿治『漆よもやま話』.雄山閣,1996
  • アンヌ・ヴァリション『色 世界の染料・顔料・画材 民族と色の文化史』.マール社,2009
  • 中江克己『色の名前で読み解く日本史』.青春出版社,2003
  • 青人社編『日本の伝統色』.バイ インターナショナル,2011
  • 城一夫『新装版 名画の色・歴史の色・国の色 色の知識』.青幻舎,2020


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