The Japanese people have used natural urushi lacquer as early as 7000 B.C. to coat and embellish their mostly precious household items and art objects. Urushi is an extraordinarily durable material. The waterproof coating is unharmed by liquids with temperatures up to boiling point, nor is it affected by acids or solvents. Its naturally disinfectant surface makes it ideal for perishable foodstuffs like raw fish. It is therefore not surprising that urushi plays a central role within the Japanese washoku cuisine.
Urushi lacquer is 100% handmade by using 100% natural and renewable sources. The lacquer tree is native to East-Asia and grows abundantly within the mountainous regions of central and northern Japan. After being left to grow for 15 years, the precious sap from the lacquer trees is harvested by cutting the bark and collecting the exuding raw lacquer. This process is completely sustainable, as lacquer tree plantations are carefully maintained and new sprouts are planted after every harvest season.
Raw lacquer exudes from the bark of the lacquer tree
Lacquer craftsmen build up multiple coatings urushi until a perfectly polished and smooth surface is achieved. This can be as much as 20 coats, each carefully applied and polished by hand. Work is typically done in small, countryside crafts communities which have preserved the tradition of lacquer production for centuries. Echizen is one of the leading production centres in Japan.
The raw, unhardened lacquer causes a very nasty skin rash which takes several years to grow immunity for. In Japan, it is said that the spirit of the lacquer trees resists to the craftsman until he or she has proven themselves worthy of the spirit’s approval. Once fully immune, the lacquer spirit channels its energy through the hands of the craftsmen into the items they produce. Even after hardening, the lacquer is perceived as a living organism.
A lacquer craftsman builds up multiple ground coats to assure durability
Despite all advances in technology, synthetic resins have never managed to make urushi lacquer redundant. Thanks to the continued efforts of people like Arisumi Mitamura and Sunao Tsuchida , lacquer continues to survive in the modern age. In fact, with rising global scarcity of resources and the increasing awareness of our impact on the environment, traditional materials like urushi will turn out to be of great importance to our future.
Application of the final topcoat requires utmost concentration and a dust-free environment
In 2020, Echizen decided to launch their new series of contemporary Japanese lacquer ware on the European market. The series ‘Modern classic’ builds on traditional colours, motifs and decorations, but with a contemporary, stylish twist. The Metropolitan series fits in perfectly with a modern, urban environment and comes in a wide palette of bright colours.