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Japan lacquer experiences revival

08-03-2010 09:10 BJT

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Traditional Japanese lacquer work is known for its delicacy and refinement.

But one little known fact is that the Japanese industry relies upon imported raw materials from Southeast Asia and China. But now there's a plan to replant the urushi trees needed for the craft in Japan.

There are several different styles of lacquer work, but all follow a careful time consuming process.

After the first layer of urushi is applied to the wood base, the piece will normally be covered with a sheet of cloth, together with a mixture of urushi and a glue made from powdered rice and water.

Layer upon layer of urushi both color and strengthen the work.

Polishing with whetstones, charcoal, sandpaper, and linseed oil gives the work its distinctive reflective sheen.

The adhesive properties of urushi were believed first used during the stone age to help bind arrow heads to their shafts. Since then urushi has found many different applications within Japanese culture.

But despite the ancient origins of the craft, these days, artisans depend on imports from China, Myanmar, and other parts of South East Asia.

During the early 20th century, the mountains around Yakuno district, located 80 kilometers from Kyoto city, were home to thousands of urushi trees. Now most of these trees have been felled and there is only one man who continues the once thriving local industry, attempting to revive urushi production in the area.

At present, there are only three trees in the area that are mature enough to be tapped. And the lacquer can only be tapped between June and September.

Volunteers have planted more than 400 trees over the last 14 years and are now planting around 50 trees per year.

Demands for domestically produced lacquer is high, particularly for restoration work. Their target is to increase production to around 50 liters over the next few years.

Editor:Liu Fang |Source:

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