Throughout history urushi has been used in a wide variety of ways such as personal adornments, religious items, eating utensils and furnishings for at least 9000 years since the early Jomon period. It has also had a deep influence on the evolution of the spiritual culture of the Japanese and as a coating medium it is believed to possess spiritual properties. It is perhaps no exaggeration to say that urushi is one part of the underlying culture of the Japanese people.
Urushi is the sap of the urushi tree. It has strong adhesive properties and is used as a lacquering material that on hardening becomes extremely durable and produces a glossy finish. It can be found widely throughout Eastern Asia and has been used in Japan for several thousand years. The word ‘urushi’ is thought to have originated from the Japanese uruwashi or urumu which approximates to the English for fresh and vibrant gloss. When urushi hardens it is very resistant to both acids and alkalis and is durable enough to last several thousand years. Urushi product have been found in excavations that date from the Jomon period (8000 BC – 300 BC). There have even been cases reported where the original wooden base has completely rotted away but the original urushi coating has remained with its color and quality preserved.
Urushi is also a very delicate substance.
Urushi is also a very delicate substance. The quality of urushi changes depending on the time of day and year in which the urushi is taken from the tree and it is also affected by the method and place by which it is collected. Urushi is different from other coating materials in the way that it is dried. It contains a substance called urushiol which reacts with oxygen and hardens through a process of oxidization. For this process to occur a suitable temperature and level of humidity are both necessary. The drying process also proceeds gradually over a considerable length of time after the piece has been completed. Therefore a piece that has just been finished should be treated very carefully when it is first used. It can be used normally after the first year and after about three years of use the gloss fully matures and the piece can be said to have come of age.
Urushiware is ecological
With its raw materials of wood and urushi, urushiware is a collaboration of two of the blessings of nature. The production process uses almost all natural materials which means that a very small amount of energy is required. Further, there are no harmful side-effects associated with the production process and it creates minimal environmental pollution or ecological damage.
How to handle urushiware
If urushiware is used for its original purpose it will rarely become damaged. However, there are some points to remember with regard to the way that it is washed and stored.
If care is taken to keep to these guidelines, urushiware will enhance the aesthetic quality of your life for many years to come.
How to wash
Urushiware can be washed with a conventional neutral household detergent. Scrubbing brushes and steel wool that contain abrasive material in them will cause scratching and so should be avoided. If urushiware is washed separately from tableware with rough surfaces such as pottery any risk of scratching can be further avoided
No microwave ovens
Electromagnetic waves burn urushi so under no circumstances should urushiware be put into microwave ovens.
Refrain from using automatic dishwashers and dish dryers
Please refrain from automatic dish washers and dish dryers as boiling water and hot air can damage urushi.
Avoid direct sunlight
Urushi deteriorates by being exposed to ultra-violet rays and so should not be placed in areas that get direct sunlight for long periods of time.
Scratches and damage can be repaired
Urushiware can be re-lacquered and damage can be repaired.
In Wajima this has been known from olden times as naoshimon and is the responsibility of craftsman who made it.
Wajima Museum of Urushi Art, Japan
Ishikawa Wajima Urushi Art Museum is the only lacquer art museum in the world in Wajima City, Ishikawa Prefecture. This spacious Museum displays a number of lacquer art works by various artists belonging to different periods, some of whom are members of Art Academy and persons designated as “Living National Cultural Treasure”. Visitors can also watch video clips related to lacquer art. The Museum has a collection of not only Wajima lacquer art but also lacquer work from different regions of Japan as well as from overseas. The Museum gives an insight into the serious nature of lacquer art.
The Wajima Lacquer Art Museum in Ishikawa Prefecture is the only lacquer art museum in the world that always displays lacquerware in all rooms. As an originating base of excellent lacquer culture world-class, 1991 (Heisei was opened in 3 years).
The exterior of the building has a distinctive design inspired by Shogakuin ‘s school building, and lacquer is used throughout the spacious hall. And lacquerware or watch the video to introduce the work world of the manufacturing process and Urushigei writers, it is possible to browse freely the full lacquer and art-related books.
In addition to the Shioriori exhibition, there is a permanent exhibition of the history and culture of Wajima Lacquer known as Japan’s leading lacquerware.
There are also experience menus for “Sinking spoon coloring experience”, “Shinkin chopping coloring experience” and “Makie strap experience” (reservation required).
The official mascot character “Wanjima”, Wajima Urushi Art Museum, Ishikawa Prefecture, participates in various events and strives to disseminate information using Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
From July 13th (Saturday) to September 8th (Sunday), an exhibition “Lacquer craftsmanship of the lacquer ware – world of prayers and wishes” was held to celebrate the beginning of the new era.