Traditional Culture of Japan - Portal site of traditional crafts and culture

Learn the materials used for lacquerware

 

The sap obtained from the lacquer tree and refined, is lacquer. Therefore, the lacquer itself cannot be considered a craft. By coating lacquer on objects such as wood or cloth, they are finally finished as an example of fine workmanship.

 

There are a wide range of materials available for the object that lacquer can be coated. We will now learn about the kinds of material that lacquer is applied. Note that names vary depending on the material used.

 

Different names for different coated objects

•Mokutai
The majority of lacquerware is applied to wood. You might be able to guess the reason. It is due to the fact that there are many wooden products in Japan from everyday items to houses.

 

The wood lacquerware turns out to be a lightweight, durable piece of craftsmanship. Thus, its key feature is that it is easy to use. It is also easy to process because wood can be shaved. Wood is appreciated as a lacquer material as it is easy to make a piece however you like.

 

Furthermore, because lacquer makes the coated object strong and brings out the luster, lacquer is also used for high-class ships, building doors, etc. Lacquer enables the coated object to last a long time, while presenting an upscale image.

 

As presented above, the lacquerware where lacquer is coated on wood is called “mokutai”. Trees including cedar, zelkova, and cherry wood are used and the appropriate tree is selected for each purpose.

 

•Rantai

Wood lacquerware has an advantage in that it is easy to handle, but wood can shrink when the moisture in it evaporates. This change varies depending on the temperature and humidity level.

 

This is where bamboo comes in, which is a lightweight material without the elasticity of wood. Plenty of bamboo grows in Japan and craftsmen create pieces by coating lacquer on this bamboo. The lacquerware that uses bamboo is called “rantai”.

 

Bamboo is lightweight and flexible, thus the finished work can create a soft impression overall. Bamboo is mainly used for lacquer baskets. Applying lacquer on the intricately weaved bamboo can make the piece much stronger.

 

• Kanshitsu
Another method is where lacquer is applied to cloth. Coating cloth with layers of lacquer forms a shape. This is called “kanshitsu”.

 

When you use the kanshitsu technique, first, you need to make a plaster mold. You will apply lacquer over the mold and cover it with cloth. Kanshitsu lacquerware is created by continuing these steps and removing the plaster mold at the end. The use of cloth can bring in a significant change to the shape of your lacquerware.

 

Other than these materials, there are also “shippi”, which is where lacquer is applied to animal skins, “shitai”, which uses paper, “tōtai”, which is lacquer coated on ceramics, as well as “kintai”, which coats metal with layers of lacquer.

 

Animal skins are excellent with lacquer and can create a lightweight, durable lacquerware. Because the liquid soaks into the material, lacquer can make the material stronger.

 

Additionally, there is also the lacquerware that uses the bark of a tree or synthetic resin. The bark of cherry wood or artificial resin is used. You can also find modern work where lacquer is coated on glass. Lacquer is utilized for all things.

 

As for rantai, kanshitsu, and shitai, a number of pieces from over 2,000 years ago still remain. Lacquer art has been active even in such ancient times.


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