Kinzoku (金属) is the Japanese word for toreutics, a type of metalworks which has the purpose of crafting artistic objects.
It is also referred to as kazari kanagu (錺金具, sometimes also 飾金具), although the word addresses the objects created through kinzoku techniques. This article makes such differentiation.
Kinzoku is technically identical to Western toreutics, which include techniques such as carving (including engraving) and hammering (chasing and repoussé).
Kinzoku was vastly adopted in Japan during a period between the Neolithic through the Iron age, called "Yayoi period".
Traditionally, the different processes used in the crafting of kazari kanagu are called:
- chōkin (彫金 - chasing and repoussé. Also called horimono, ほりもの)
- chūkin (鋳金 - molding)
- tankin (鍛金 - hammering)
- zōgan (象嵌 - damascening, often with materials different from the one used for the base, such as glass)
Athough neither the techniques used nor the processes are exclusive to Japan, some of them were developed in particular ways unique to the country, such as shippō zōgan to decorate katanas and their guards, called tsuba.
Nowadays, kinzoku is still a very common craft and plays a crucial role in religious decorations for temples, shrines, Buddhist altars and mikoshi (the smaller shrines carried around at festivals), bringing it to the eye of the Japanese person on a daily basis.
It is also still used for the fittings of swords worn on highly formal occasions.
The oldest examples of decorative metalworks in Japan were uncovered in Tokyo, in a neighborhood called "Yayoi". They date back to the period between 1000 and 800 BC, which owns its naming to such neighbourhood, the Yayoi period.
The kinzoku craft as we know it moved with the capital several times starting more than 1400 years ago, with early applications visible in the Hōryū-ji Temple in Nara (built between 588 and 607 a.D.)
New features were added each time the capital moved—from Nara to Kyoto and then to Edo/Tokyo—influenced by the local customs and bringing the art to levels of excellence. An important change was brought by Chinese pottery which, with its complex decorations, inspired kazari kanagu craftsmen to include new shapes and motifs in their works.
As the term simply indicates "decorative metalworks", there are no specific limits to its application, including extremely intricate decorations at Buddhist temples as well as objects for daily use (see the Oval box from Kazarino). As long as an artifact is designed or made in Japan, using simple metals (such as gold, silver, bronze, copper, brass) and follows Japanese aesthetics, it is considered authentic kazari kanagu.
The more generic term "horimono" is commonly used for other objects that do not look or feel Japanese, such as equally elaborate decorative metalworks from Turkey.
Did you know?
Although becoming a skilled craftsman requires several years of practice and dedication, carving shapes into metal is a simple task. There are several manufacturers who offer "kinzoku experiences", where they will show you how to make your own piece of kazari kanagu, providing the materials and tools and helping you create your own artifact.