The Urushi CraftArt Process

The Urushi CraftArt Process

Tapping an Urushi Tree

From raw sap to the finished beauty, like many traditional craftArts in Japan, the crafting process is a long one somtimes taking weeks and months. The sap will first be tapped from the living tree (read more details below), processed to remove impurities, often colored, then layered over an object many times over, dried and polished. Urushi lacquer, as a material, and a craftArt can trace roots back as far as 10,000 years to prehistoric times and is designated by the Japanese government as a Traditional Craft of Japan.

Nuts and Bolts:  From Sap to Beauty

The Raw Urushi Sap

Raw Urushi Sap

At Urushi Sakamoto Studio, the process starts with refining the raw Urushi lacquer sap where it is filtered of impurities, the moisture removed, then the sap is mixed and wrung out with cotton among other procedures. Once refined, various natural substance are added to obtain the black color. With this refined black Urushi, layer upon layer - up to at least fifteen - are repeatedly applied, and dried on the object. Urushi is very delicate until dry, and any small particles of dust must be kept away.

The "Drying" - Process

Drying Urushi Lacquer objects

The drying of the Urushi objects can be tricky and in the past made the Urushi craft dependent on the seasons - in fact drying fastest in during the rainy season of Japan.  This may seem counter intuitive, but Urushi would not dry or set well in the desert because it requires humidity to harden.  Humidity causes moisture to evaporate which supplies oxygen to the Urushi and promotes oxygenation. It is through oxygenation, then, that the "drying" takes place (1).  In modern times, this drying process is often conducted in special, dust-free rooms or cases with proper temperature and humidity controls.

The Colors

Urushi CraftArtist applying goldleaf to object

Once the undercoat is dried, various color pigments of red, yellow, green and others, are added to a clear Urushi sap which, applied many times over the black Urushi undercoating, help draw out the signature quality of this craft:  brilliant color and a soft, lustrous sheen.  The CraftArtist will also sometimes adorn the urushi with flecks and designs using silver, gold and other metals.


(Reference) Gonroku Matsuda, The Book of Urushi - Japanese Lacquerware from a MasterJapan Publishing Industry Foundation for Culture  (2019)