Lacquerware is the art of creating artworks and designs with the sap of the urushi tree. The sap contains the resin, urushiol, which polymerizes when exposed to the air and moisture, becoming a hard, durable, plastic-like substance, Japanese lacquer. After it dries, urushi or Japanese lacquer repels water and forms a hard film that prevents decay. This is why lacquer has been used on everyday items since ancient times and in Japan, lacquerware items like bowls, chopsticks, trays, and multi-tiered boxes are easily found.
Lacquer was used from pre-history onward as an adhesive, and later as a coating. Decorative objects painted with reddish lacquer have been found at archaeological sites in Japan that date back to approximately nine thousand years ago.
Historically, lacquer has been used along with gold, silver, and seashell inlay to create beautifully decorated boxes for important books or clothing, as well as on musical instruments, sword scabbards, and armors. In the present day, lacquerware pieces continue to be made, including daily necessities like bowls and trays, as well as tea caddies and incense containers for use in the tea ceremony.


  • 1 Shaping materials

    Wood is generally used for bowls, boxes, plates, and trays. There are also techniques in which bamboo is woven or either hemp cloth or traditional Japanese paper is stretched over molds. Animal hide, metal, and ceramics are sometimes used as the base for lacquerware as well.

  • 2 Coating the base with Japanese lacquer

    Lacquer is applied to the base material with a spatula or brush. After each coat, the lacquer is polished smooth, and doing this process repeatedly creates a beautifully textured surface.

  • 3-1 The piece is decorated with one or several traditional techniques.
  • 3-2 No additional decorations are applied and the piece is left a solid color.

Artistic techniques

  • "What Are Traditional Crafts? -A Guidebook to Seeing, Learning, and Enjoying-" Edited by the Japan Kogei Association Eastern Branch. Published by Unsodo
    Reference artworks

Well-known crafts