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b. benten is the online shop for authentic wabi sabi ceramics and housewares items from Japan for everyday use.  We expose Japan's master artisans by covering numerous potters and ceramic topics, and offer worldwide shipping for rare handcrafted items.   

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Urushi the Magical Sap

Maya Nakamura

The deep, glow of lacquerware is a Japanese handicraft form that has mesmerized the world for a long time. 

No other application style can match the deep hues and smoothness of Japanese lacquer “Urushi”. 

via takashitomii.com

via takashitomii.com

So what exactly is Urushi?

Urushi is the sap of the lacquer tree, which contains a resin that polymerizes and becomes a plastic-like durable substance when it is exposed to moisture and air.  The Japanese recognized the durability and shiny beauty of urushi and began using it to coat wood, pottery, baskets and bone objects back in circa 7000BC. (no for real.) 

urushi trees via reijunkan.com

urushi trees via reijunkan.com

Urushi tree takes about a decade to grow and once matured you can extract the sap only little by little (every 4-5 days) so that you don’t hurt the tree.  You can only get about 200ml of liquid urushi from a single tree.   

The substance is poisonous to the touch until it dries, the creation of lacquerware has long been practiced only by skilled dedicated artisans.

Wajima artisan via coinaca 

Wajima artisan via coinaca 

Every aspect of how the Urushi is treated reflects what kind of color will come out; from where the sap's taken, the time, the weather and how skilled the workman is. When the sap is thick and rich the color of Urushi becomes more vivid. If the quality is opposite then the color will instead be more transparent.

tetsuo gido via teamahimatrip

tetsuo gido via teamahimatrip

Liquid urushi can be applied to just about any surface: wood, metal, cloth, ceramics, etc.. When it solidifies, it becomes a very hard coating that waterproofs and protects the coated object from the effects of mold, mildew and other forms of weathering. It also provides protection against caustic substances such as acids.  The color will blend over and over again for many years and the color will mature in beauty.

Only direct and prolonged exposure to sunlight will cause urushi to deteriorate. Urushi's hardness and durability make it an excellent protective coating for any object that will be used continually over a long period of time. The product reaches its best quality when used for some years after it was painted.

antique trays by Kinokumo

antique trays by Kinokumo

Urushi techniques are widely used to elegantly decorate furniture, iPhone cases, eyewear frames now, but urushi bowls or plates are an essential part of Japanese haute cuisine forms.  

Today, urushi continues to be used in its traditional forms and in modern, new ways.  and the lacquerware still stands as one of the most distinctive forms of Japanese beauty. 

 

If you can handle the strange piano background music, please check out this video and see how urushi lacquerware is beautifully made in action.   


Here are some urushi items available at b. benten: