Lacquer ( URUSHI ) IN JAPAN
Lacquer has played an important part in Japanese culture for more than two thousand years, as a protective, decorative finish for items made from leather, wood, paper, bamboo, and metal.
Japanese lacquer is harvested by cutting incisions in the bark of the lacquer tree (Rhus verniciflua) and allowing its sap to collect in containers fastened to the side of the tree.
Once impurities have been strained and stirred out of the sap, it can be applied to a prepared surface using a spatula or brush. Under specific conditions of high humidity and temperature, the lacquer hardens to form a waterproof surface that can take a brilliant polish.
This process may sound simple, but lacquer work is perhaps the most complex of all Japan’s traditional industries, demanding the combined skills of a host of specialist workers.
Just to create a good black or red lacquer ground there are several processes of smoothing the wood base, covering it with cloth, applying powdered clay and lacquer to the cloth to hide its texture, then applying increasingly fine grades of lacquer mixed with different powders, and finally adding several applications of best-quality lacquer.
As each of the twenty or even thirty coats are applied the lacquer must be given time to harden, and must then be polished with a range of substances, starting with abrasive stones and finishing with powdered staghorn and oil.
All this has to be completed before any design is applied to the surface.
The origins of lacquer work in the Orient go back to pre-Christian times, when “urushi” was used not only as a medium of aesthetic expression but also for practical purposes as a preservative water proof substance.
In the sixth century Buddhist monks reached Japan via Korea, giving new stimulus to the craft of lacquer work in the country, and perfecting urushi art both from a technical and an artistic point of view.
One typical feature of Japanese lacquer work is the 'sprinkled picture' or “Maki-e”.
In this art form, gold or silver powder are sprinkled through a small tube onto a still-moist, generally black lacquered surface.
This technique is being applied in the same way to the present day
Chinkin-bori Design engraved with a sharp rat’s tooth, then carved lines covered with gold powder or gold leaf.
Fundame Fine gold or silver dust applied on a very thin layer of plain wet urushi.
Giobu Gold leaf mingled with nashiiji.
Hiramakie Flat makie: design in sprinkled gold (or silver, or other metallic dust) onto a wet surface design.
Kamakura-bori A carved wood-work, lacquered in various ways.
Kinji Plain gold ground.
Kirikane Inlays of gold or silver leaves cut in small squares
Makie Literally “sprinkled picture”, generic term for gold lacquer. When the decoration is in relief, it is called takamakié, and when the decoration is smooth it is called hiramakié
Nashiji So called because of its resemblance to the color of the skin of a ripe pear of the russet-coloured variety found in Japan. It is produced by spreading powdered gold evenly over a lacquered surface, and covering it with an unpolished clear lacquer.
Roiro-nuri The most refined quality of black, shiny lacquer finish
Takamakie Raised makie: design in sprinkled gold (or silver, or other metallic dust) onto a wet surface design previously raised with a mixture of charcoal powder and lacquer, in numerous layers.
Togidashi Makie design covered with black lacquer, then exposed again by grinding and polishing.
Tsuishu Carved red or black lacquer.