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【The top level of Japanese tableware|Lacquer Ware】detailed explanation of types and characteristics|History, care and maintenance.

Japanese traditional lacquerware, known as “shikki,” captivates many with its beauty and functionality.
As a chef, you’ve likely experienced the excellence of shikki.

However, few people are familiar with the history and detailed features of lacquerware.

Lacquerware (“shikki”) is a general term for crafted items where lacquer, the sap of the lacquer tree, is applied to wood, layered, and adorned with materials like gold powder or seashells.
It is widely used, from bowls and boxes to furniture and interiors, showcasing the delicate skills of artisans and being a luxury item.
Moreover, synthetic coatings surpassing lacquer’s qualities are said not to have been developed, making it exceptionally functional as tableware.

【Features of Lacquerware】

  • Changes in color and texture over time
  • Lightweight and resistant to breakage
  • Has insulation properties, reducing heat sensation
  • Good touch and mouthfeel
  • Antibacterial properties

This article is about “Paprika.”
・22 years of experience as a chef, holding a license for preparing blowfish (fugu).
・Worked in various establishments such as traditional Japanese inns, high-end restaurants, and private clubs.
・Holds the position of head chef with previous experience.
[For a detailed profile, click here]

新人の板前

Hey, senpai! This bowl looks awesome!

先輩の板前

That’s Wajima-nuri. It’s one of the traditional crafts using techniques like makie and gold leaf.

This article covers essential points.
Reading it through guarantees you can impress your kouhai without a doubt!

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What is Lacquerware? Basics of Lacquerware【Processes and History】

Lacquerware is a traditional Japanese craft made by layering natural resin from the lacquer tree onto wood. Deeply rooted in Japanese life since the Jomon period, its beauty and functionality are something the world can admire.

【Basics of Lacquer】

Lacquer (“urushi”)

  • Make scratches on the trunk of a tree with a special plane, allowing sap to seep out.
  • The sap is used as a paint and adhesive.
  • Domestic lacquer is scarce, with 98% imported from China.

Raw Lacquer (“kiurushi”)

  • Lacquer sap filtered without any additional processing.
  • Dark and viscous, used as an undercoat for lacquerware.
  • Easily penetrates the base material, enhancing strength and adhesion.

Transparent Lacquer (“sukiurushi”)

  • Raw lacquer heated to evaporate water content.
  • Amber-colored with transparency, used for finishing lacquerware.
  • Can be dyed in colors like red, black, and green by mixing pigments.

【Lacquerware Manufacturing Process】

  1. Shaving (Woodcraftsman) – Shave wood to create the base.
  2. Coating (Lacquer Craftsman) – Apply lacquer repeatedly.
  3. Decoration (Makie Craftsman, Gold Leaf Craftsman, Raden Craftsman) – Decorate with roiro (black lacquer), makie, gold leaf, and raden.

MEMO: What is roiro (black lacquer)?
It refers to polishing and bringing out the gloss.

Details about makie, gold leaf, and raden will be discussed later.

【History of Lacquerware】

Jomon Period
The oldest lacquerware dates back to approximately 9,000 years ago during the Jomon period.
Used as containers and decorative items.

Asuka, Nara, Heian Periods
Buddhism arrived, and lacquerware took on an artistic role.
Decorative techniques like raden and makie were utilized.
Lacquerware was employed in buildings, Buddhist statues, furnishings, and more.

Kamakura, Muromachi Periods
Specialization in processes improved techniques like makie and raden.
Lacquer was used in the tools of samurai and nobility.
The technique known as “Negoro-nuri” was born.

Edo Period
Encouraged by the shogunate, each domain promoted lacquerware production.
Diverse lacquerware styles emerged in different regions.

Meiji Era Onward
Lacquerware received high acclaim at international expositions.
Establishment of its status as a craft.
Modern and Western-style lacquerware emerged.

Heisei Era Onward
Changes in lifestyle led to a decline in lacquerware demand.
Successor shortage and the challenge of passing down traditional techniques.

Characteristics and Care Tips for Lacquerware

The Characteristics of Lacquerware: “Strong and Beautiful”

Characteristic ①【Durable】

  • Resistant to heat, acid, alkali, and alcohol.
  • Protects materials like wood and paper from cracks and scratches by coating them with lacquer.
  • Insulates heat, making it easy to hold even with hot contents.
  • Has antibacterial and sterilizing effects, suitable for jubako (stacked food boxes) used during New Year celebrations.

Characteristic ②【Beautiful】

  • Has a glossy finish with a rich variety of colors and textures.
  • Can be decorated with gold leaf, seashells, and more.
  • Develops a deep, nuanced appearance as colors and gloss change with use.

Tips for Lacquerware Care: “Moisture and Sunlight”

【Handling Precautions for Lacquerware】

Be cautious with moisture:
While it has high water resistance, prolonged immersion and boiling weaken it, causing peeling and cracks.

Be cautious with sunlight:
It is sensitive to direct sunlight, leading to discoloration and cracks.

Avoid using microwave and dishwasher:
They can cause peeling, cracks, and discoloration.

【Cleaning and Storage Methods】

  • Wash with a soft sponge and neutral detergent.
  • Wipe off moisture and let it dry.
  • Store in a place not exposed to direct sunlight.
  • When stacking, use cloth as a divider.

While lacquerware is a sturdy and beautiful vessel, it’s essential to care for it by being mindful of moisture and sunlight. By using lacquerware carefully, you can enjoy its charm for a longer time.

【Classification by Application】Types of Lacquerware

With a rich history across Japan, there are numerous types of lacquerware.

Reference ImageNameFeatures
Asahi
あけぼの
Red base coat
Black finish
Hint of red from the base coat
Negoro
ねごろ
Black base coat
Red finish
Hint of black from the base coat
Shinnuri
しんぬり
All-black finish
Jet black
Iron powder oxidized in transparent lacquer
Shunuri
しゅぬり
All-vermilion finish
Vermilion lacquer
Red pigment in transparent lacquer
Shunkei
しゅんけい
Base coat applied
Finish with transparent lacquer
Wood grain visible
Tamenuri
ためぬり
Red base coat applied
Finish with semi-transparent lacquer
Deep red
Shuarai
しゅあらい
Orange color
Mixed vermilion pigment in transparent lacquer
Suriurushi
すりうるし
Base coated with raw lacquer
Repeated rubbing and drying
Beautiful wood grain
Kodaishu
こだいしゅ
Matte finish
No gloss
Close to brown vermilion
【Image Source: Rakuten Market | Fujishiro Koge】
Reference ImageNameFeatures
Asahi
あけぼの
Red base coat
Black finish
Hint of red from the base coat
Negoro
ねごろ
Black base coat
Red finish
Hint of black from the base coat
Shinnuri
しんぬり
All-black finish
Jet black
Iron powder oxidized in transparent lacquer
Shunuri
しゅぬり
All-vermilion finish
Vermilion lacquer
Red pigment in transparent lacquer
Shunkei
しゅんけい
Base coat applied
Finish with transparent lacquer
Wood grain visible
Tamenuri
ためぬり
Red base coat applied
Finish with semi-transparent lacquer
Deep red
Shuarai
しゅあらい
Orange color
Mixed vermilion pigment in transparent lacquer
Suriurushi
すりうるし
Base coated with raw lacquer
Repeated rubbing and drying
Beautiful wood grain
Kodaishu
こだいしゅ
Matte finish
No gloss
Close to brown vermilion
【Image Source: Rakuten Market | Fujishiro Koge】

【By Region】Types of Lacquerware | Four Major Lacquerware

While lacquerware originates from various regions in Japan, the development of “lacquer trees” and “raw material wood” contributed to specific areas gaining prominence.
Below, we introduce the regions known as “Japan’s Four Major Lacquerware.”

①Ishikawa Prefecture: “Yamanaka Lacquerware” and “Wajima Lacquerware”

  • Ishikawa Prefecture is one of Japan’s leading lacquerware production areas.
  • Yamanaka Lacquerware inherits the culture of Kaga Hyakumangoku, featuring lavish decorations like gold leaf and maki-e.
  • Wajima Lacquerware, with over 100 manual processes, is considered the pinnacle of lacquerware.

②Fukushima Prefecture: “Aizu Lacquerware”

  • Oldest lacquerware production area in Japan (16th century).
  • Aizu Lacquerware is known for using colored lacquer to paint patterns with a brush.

③Fukui Prefecture: “Echizen Lacquerware”

  • Mass production using synthetic resin.
  • Specialized processes for base, coating, and decoration are distinctive features.

④Wakayama Prefecture: “Kishu Lacquerware”

  • Wakayama Prefecture is the southernmost lacquerware production area in Japan.
  • Kishu Lacquerware inherits the culture of Kishu Domain, featuring bright lacquerware like white lacquer and shuarai.

【Classification by Decorative Techniques】Types of Lacquerware

【Decorative Technique】Maki-e (蒔絵)
Method of sprinkling metal powder on patterns painted with lacquer and solidifying it. A luxurious and ornate decorative technique.

Hira Maki-e
Technique of sprinkling metal powder on patterns painted with lacquer, reapplying lacquer to prevent the maki-e from peeling off. The maki-e part is raised more than the base, creating a textured surface.

Togidashi Maki-e
Technique of sprinkling metal powder on patterns painted with lacquer, applying lacquer over the entire surface, and polishing out the maki-e part after hardening. It creates a vague and gentle impression with a smooth surface without unevenness.

Takamaki-e
Advanced technique that elevates the maki-e to appear three-dimensional. Lacquer is applied as a base on the parts that will become three-dimensional, dried, and then hira maki-e is drawn. Due to using a base, there is an increased risk of scratches on the base or coating surface during the polishing process.

【Decorative Technique】Chinkin (沈金)
Decorative technique of carving lacquered surface with a blade, pouring lacquer, and embedding gold leaf. Delicate and intricate, patterns emerge with light reflection. Silver, copper, and other metals are also used besides gold.

① Carve the lacquer-coated surface
② Pour in lacquer
③ Apply gold leaf over the entire area
④ Let it dry
⑤ Polish off the gold in the areas that were not carved
⑥ Only gold remains in the carved areas

【Decorative Technique】Raden (螺鈿)
Decorative technique using shells. Polish the inner side of shells that shine in seven colors. The color and brilliance vary depending on the type of shell and the angle of light, creating a fantastical effect.

“Raden” consists of “螺” meaning shell and “鈿” meaning decoration in kanji. Shells such as abalone and nightlight shells are used.

【Other Decorative Techniques】
・ Choshitsu (彫漆)
Technique of layering lacquer and carving patterns into the lacquer.

・Kinma (蒟醤)
Lacquer is layered, patterns are carved into the lacquer, colored lacquer is applied, and then polished out.

・Hyomon (平文)
Thin, sheet-like metal is cut into the shape of patterns, coated with lacquer, and then polished out.

・Tsukin (堆錦)
Lacquer is baked, colored with pigments, made into a clay-like form, flattened into patterns, and then attached to lacquerware. This is a technique used in Ryukyu lacquerware.

【Summary of Lacquerware Features】

Lacquerware is a traditional Japanese craft made by layering natural resin from the lacquer tree, Urushi.

【Lacquerware Features】

  • Has insulation properties.
  • Durable and long-lasting.
  • Beautiful gloss and color.
  • Pleasant to the touch and mouthfeel.

Lacquerware has developed its unique culture and techniques in various regions of Japan from the Jomon period to the present day. It can be classified based on lacquer color, coating method, decorative techniques, and production region.

Lacquerware complements Japan’s seasons and culinary culture. Enjoy Japanese culture by using lacquerware. Remember, there’s always more to learn for a chef.

Sharing this knowledge can create an intellectual impression and provide a basis for self-confidence. The study never ends for a chef.

It’s also recommended to buy a favorite lacquerware for personal use and enjoy using it daily.

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