Loosely translated, “urushi” means Japanese lacquer, but in fact urushi is distinct from other kinds of lacquer. Urushi itself is a natural sap that comes from a particular type of tree that grows in East Asia, which in Japanese we call the “urushi no ki,” or “the urushi tree.”
I use traditional urushi materials and techniques to make works of art.
To make an object using urushi, I start with a wooden body, which is a piece of wood that I carve to the basic shape, for example a box or a bowl.
Then, I paint this wood with many coats of urushi. These numerous layers of urushi will make the body of the piece strong. I apply a coat of urushi, I let it harden, then I polish the surface. I repeat this process many times until I have as many layers as needed.
Urushi requires a humid environment to cure and harden properly. For that reason, after I apply each layer of urushi, I put the piece on a shelf in my bathroom. The urushi absorbs a little of the moisture so it can harden properly without drying out.
A carefuly and properly made piece of urushi is durable enough that is can be used by several generations in a family.
I use and teach various techniques for decorating urushi, for example with pieces of shell and other materials.
Japan is lucky to have four distinct seasons, and I like to express these in my urushi art. On the surfaces of my urushi pieces, I create pictures of the natural landscape—flower, trees, leaves, oceans, rivers, mountains, wind….
My goal is to portray these using beautiful colors. One ideal material for this is “mother-of-pearl,” which is made from thin pieces of shellfish shell. The color tones from these shell fragments are a perfect match for urushi.
The process for using mother-of-pearl is very intricate and time-consuming. First I must shave the shell and polish it very thinly, usually using a machine tool. Then I cut the shell into pieces and set these into the urushi surface to make my pattern. I coat them with more urushi, let it harden, then polish the surface. I repeat this process—coating, hardening, and polishing—until the surface and the picture are perfect.
This traditional method is very time consuming, but I think it makes a very nice and beautiful end result!
Honors and AffiliationFull member, Japan Kogei Association
- Present (2014)
Full member, Japan Kogei Association
Part-time lecturer at the Urushi-Art Laboratory, Faculty of Fine Arts, Tokyo University of the Arts
Director, Japan Association for Urushi Cultural Heritage