Japanese lacquerware

Exploring Urushi: Unveiling the Enchanting World of Japanese Lacquerware

What is Urushi?

Urushi is the sap extracted from the poison ivy tree, which is traditionally harvested by making about 10 scratches on a 10-year-old tree over a period of several days. It is said that only about 200 grams of lacquer can be extracted from a single tree, making it a very precious resource. It is known that lacquer has been used in Japan as a paint and adhesive for as long as 6,500 years, and has been used in many architectural structures and crafts. It has also been used for tableware such as bowls and chairs, weapons and arms used by samurai and warriors, and as an adhesive for wood, bamboo, cloth, and ceramics, supporting traditional Japanese culture. Lacquer is used not only as a simple paint or adhesive, but also as a raw material for kintsugi (gold-plated joints). It has excellent heat resistance, moisture resistance, and antibacterial properties, and its beautiful luster gives a sense of nobility and beauty.

What is Lacquerware?

Japanese lacquerware is completed by coating a mold made of wooden material or synthetic resin with lacquer. Lacquerware coated with lacquer has many advantages: it feels and looks beautiful to the touch, it is strong and does not break easily, it has good heat insulation properties, and it has antibacterial properties. In fact, the author, who has lived in Japan for many years, has used lacquerware as a container for serving rice and miso soup at everyday meals. Lacquerware is also used for ceremonial occasions such as year-end and New Year's celebrations, weddings, funerals, and Bon festivals, and it has penetrated into the daily lives of Japanese people for a wide range of uses, from everyday use to events. In addition, many traditional Japanese crafts, including lacquerware, have long had dimensions based on the Japanese body. At festivals and celebrations, food is served neatly on bowls and plates, which are then placed on mending trays and carried to the room.

How Lacquerware is Made?

The process of making lacquerware can be broadly divided into four main steps: preparation of the base, preparation of the undercoat, lacquering, and decorating. Each process is usually carried out in a division of labor, with each craftsman specializing in a particular type of wood material based on the final form of the product to be made. The next process is the base preparation, in which lacquer is used to reinforce the base and shape the vessel, or glue, which is dried from animal bones and skins boiled in water, is used. In the case of lacquerware that allows the beauty of the grain and surface of the wood to show through, the material is sometimes hardened and colored with soybean juice. The next process is lacquering, which is an important process and requires preparation. After the base material, which serves as the foundation, is sufficiently fixed, raw lacquer, filtered from the sap of the lacquer tree, is applied to the entire surface of the vessel. After the raw lacquer has dried, the surface is polished with sandpaper to make it smooth. To remove as much of the surface irregularity as possible, the lacquer is applied again and polished to a fine finish. The last process, decoration, is used to add more color to the lacquer ware. Traditional techniques include maki-e, in which patterns are drawn with a brush, carving with a carving knife, and mother-of-pearl inlays, in which patterns are expressed with shells, metal, coral, and other materials. Japanese lacquerware is highly regarded because of the advanced development of these various decorating techniques and the success in producing luxurious and elegant lacquerware. Decoration is not used on some vessels, and simple lacquerware is often used.

4 Types of Lacquerware Representing Japan

All of them are designated as traditional Japanese crafts, and are highly valued for their high techniques and traditional value. To be designated as a traditional craft, a product must meet certain criteria, which include: "has a history of 100 years or more and is produced using traditional techniques," "a major part of the production process is done by hand," and "is established as a local industry. Products that meet these criteria are guaranteed to be valuable products that are rooted in the region and have preserved its traditions and culture.

Wajima Yamanaka Lacquerware

This lacquerware is made in the Noto Peninsula of Ishikawa Prefecture. It is said that it began at the beginning of the 11th century and developed greatly from the Edo period. Using the soil collected in the Noto Peninsula as a base, it became possible to produce lacquerware with firm solidity. The various techniques of decoration, such as gold, maki-e and raden (mother-of-pearl inlay), which are still widely known today, have made lacquerware a representative of Japanese lacquerware. Yamanaka lacquerware was first made by grinding wood on a potter's wheel, and this technique took root near Yamanaka Onsen (hot springs), where it developed through the sale of bowls, trays, and other daily necessities as souvenirs to visitors to the hot springs. The characteristic feature of this technique is the decoration called "suji-biki," which is done on the wood from the excellent potter's wheel technique, and there are dozens of different techniques depending on the thickness of the stripes and the carving.

Kamakura Lacquerware

This lacquerware is made in the Kamakura region of Kanagawa Prefecture. It is said that it was first made by Buddhist priests in the Kamakura period (1185-1333), and the current Kamakura-bori developed from the Meiji period (1868-1912). Kamakura-bori, which is a fusion of carving and lacquer techniques, is made by applying lacquer over wood carvings, and is said to be characterized most by the use of sword marks on parts other than the design.

Aizu Lacquerware

Aizu lacquerware, which is made in the Aizu region of Fukushima Prefecture, has long been a part of people's daily lives as bowls, stacked boxes, confectionery bowls, and other lacquerware. The characteristics of Aizu lacquerware are its robust lacquering and elegant designs such as chinkin, shu-boshi, and maki-e (gold-relief lacquering). In particular, lacquer painting called "Aizu-e" is unique to Aizu. Lacquerware with a brush dipped in colored lacquer and painstakingly drawn patterns is a masterpiece, combined with the beauty of the lacquering process.

Kishu Lacquerware

Kishu lacquerware is made in the Kishu region of Wakayama Prefecture. It is said that Kishu lacquerware originated when Buddhist monks made their own tables, bowls, trays, and kitchen utensils for their temples. Together with Wajima lacquerware, Yamanaka lacquerware, and Aizu lacquerware, Kishu lacquerware is known as one of the three major types of lacquerware in Japan.

3 Recommended Japanese Lacquerware

Lacquerware is a very wonderful tableware that combines beauty and practicality. In this issue, we would like to introduce three pieces of lacquerware made in Japan. Please take a look at the craftsmanship, which can be described as an art form created in Japan.



This is a Rice Bowl made of lacquer ware by handmade by craftsmen. The outside of the bowl is decorated with fine lines and the inside is coated in black. It is recommended for use not only for eating rice but also for drinking soup.



These chopsticks are made of Wajima lacquerware. As the chopsticks can be optionally personalized with a name, we recommend these chopsticks for yourself or as a gift for a loved one. When you eat with chopsticks made of lacquerware, you feel as if the time you spend with them is more valuable. Of course, everyday use is fine, but please consider using lacquerware chopsticks for special occasions.



This sake cup has the moon depicted in gold leaf. It is coated with lacquer, but the deep black color rather than luster is characteristic of this cup. When sake is poured into it, the moon pattern floating in it is very beautiful and seems to give it a more special flavor.