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How Urushi Lacquer is Collected


Urushi lacquer is most famously known for its ability to create a beautiful finish on any object that it is applied to. Starting from lacquerware thousands of years ago, urushi has stood the test of time both literally and figuratively -- its beauty and durability characteristics are still sought for today; it is also a known fact that coats of urushi lacquer can last decades, sometimes centuries. Urushi application has extended beyond lacquerware into small objects like the barrel of a fountain pen which has created a new level of challenge as nuri-shi (lacquerers) apply the intricate art on to a smaller surface area with greater curvature.

The lacquer itself is made up of the sap in Toxicodendron Vernicifluum tree; the "urushi" name is derived from the oily compound urushiol. 

Tools used for Urushi Collection

These are the tools urushi gatherers use to collect urushi:

Takappo - Container to hold the collected sap

Kama - Tree bark removal tool

Urushi Kanna - Tool for cutting into tree

Hera - Tool to scrape sap into container

Eguri - Tool to scrape the last drop of sap at the end of the season

Gonguri - Tool to aid in transferring urushi lacquer from Takappo to large barrel

 

Caption: Tools of Urushi Gathering.

Image from URUSHI, the lacquer of IWATE ~The sacred land of Japanese lacquer, the forest where it all began~ by 岩手県公式動画チャンネル

Urushi Collection Process Steps

Here are the steps in which urushi is collected:

  1. Kamazuri - The process of peeling the tree bark 
  2. Henzuke - Create a "hen" (cut) to a tree
  3. Urushi Collection - Scraping sap into container
  4. Repeat steps 1-3

Caption: Step 1 - Gatherer peeling tree bark with a Kamazuri.

Image from URUSHI, the lacquer of IWATE ~The sacred land of Japanese lacquer, the forest where it all began~ by 岩手県公式動画チャンネル

 

Caption: Step 2 - Cutting into the tree.

Image from URUSHI, the lacquer of IWATE ~The sacred land of Japanese lacquer, the forest where it all began~ by 岩手県公式動画チャンネル

Caption: Step 3 - Scraping sap off of tree.

Image from URUSHI, the lacquer of IWATE ~The sacred land of Japanese lacquer, the forest where it all began~ by 岩手県公式動画チャンネル

This process is repeated with other trees. For each set of cuts on a tree, a urushi gatherer must wait three days to allow the tree to rest. A urushi gatherer can collect sap from hundreds of trees per season. 

Watch the video below to visualize the entire urushi collection process all the way to its final application to the lacquerware.

References:

岩手県公式動画チャンネル. "URUSHI, the lacquer of IWATE ~The sacred land of Japanese lacquer, the forest where it all began~". YouTube. YouTube, 25 Sep. 2019.

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