What is Japanese Lacquerware?

Japanese Lacquerware refers to wooden bowls, dishes, or eating utensils that are made and coated with urushi (漆), the natural sap of the urushinoki(漆の木)or Japanese lacquer tree.
Urushi lacquer is extremely durable, shock-proof, water-resistant, antiseptic, and acid-proof when dried and hardened. It also has antibacterial, fungicidal, and insect-repellent properties. Japanese lacquer is said to be the toughest of all existing coating materials but at the same time, it needs skillful artisans to handle it. Wood that would otherwise rot, mildew, or be termite infested, can be made durable and long-lasting by coating it with urushi lacquer.
For this reason, lacquer has been used not only for eating utensils, but also for floors, pillars, ceilings, and many other traditional Japanese wooden architecture such as the glossy lacquer coating you may have seen furnished on shrines, temples, and Buddhist statues. Objects coated with lacquer can last for decades, or even a century, and it has definitely been a vital part of Japanese culture.

Currently, there are 23 lacquerware production areas that are designated and certified as traditional crafts by the Japanese government which include famous brands like Wajima(輪島), Wakasa(若狭), Echizen(越前), Kawatsura (川連)and Kishuu(紀州). All follow similar procedures of lacquerware manufacturing but are unique in their own making. The artisan repeatedly undercoats and applies lacquer on the wood, dries, polishes, and then applies the top coat to a uniform thickness and dries it by maintaining a constant temperature and humidity. The lacquerware can be decorated with makie, applying gold or silver powder, or chinkin which is done by engraving patterns with a chisel and then applying gold or silver foil, gold or silver powder, or pigments to the engraved patterns. Raden is another decorating method, which is a technique in which luminous shells are carved and inlaid into lacquer coatings.

Producing a single item of lacquerware may involve more than 100 careful processes- from preparing the wood base, undercoating, lacquering, and decorating.

The reality is that it takes time for the craftsmen involved to improve their skills. It is a job that requires so much skill that some people say it takes 10 years to become a full-fledged craftsman. The longer the process, the higher the cost of labor and materials, and the higher the price of lacquerware. The price of lacquerware decorated with gold powder and other luxurious decorations requires even more labor and materials, which increases the price even more.