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Lacquerware decorations with the “chōshitsu” technique


An item that is coated with lacquer is called lacquerware. Lacquerware is created by applying lacquer over and over again. Naturally, it becomes thicker as more layers of lacquer are added.


Coating lacquer hundreds of times by using this feature will create layers of lacquer. Creating a pattern by carving these layers of lacquer is called “chōshitsu”.



The chōshitsu technique
Similar to a technique that engraves a design by carving wood, chōshitsu engraves a design after coating lacquer over and over again. Choshitsu has different types according to its color such as “tsuishu”, “tsuikoku”, and “tsuiō”.


The word, “tsui”, means “accumulate”. Tsuishu is made from layers of vermillion lacquer. Tsuikoku is created by black lacquer and tsuiō is created by yellow lacquer.


These types of chōshitsu started in China. These techniques were transferred to Japan and evolved over the years.


Mixing oil into lacquer makes each coating thicker and softens the lacquer thus making it easier to apply. However, the lacquerware made from the mixture of lacquer and oil causes some troubles such as a diminished luster and cracks over time. Because of this, the value of lacquerware goes down as an art work when oil is added to lacquer.


The artistry eventually grows over time when lacquer is coated multiple times. A number of chōshitsu lacquerware that use pure natural lacquer remain in Japan.


In the past, multiple layers of lacquer needed to be applied by taking a considerable amount of time. However, by using well-equipped facilities, tens of thousands of lacquer layers are possible today. Thus, there is no need to take time and effort today as much as people used to in early times. Of course, there are also some people who insist on hand work.


Choshitsu is not necessarily performed by a single color lacquer. Sometimes multiple colors of lacquer are used.


For example, first, vermillion lacquer is coated dozens of times. Then, other colored lacquer is used to create different colored layers such as blue lacquer, yellow lacquer, and black lacquer. By using these layers of different colors, the depth of carving is adjusted so that the different colors will be shown.


This technique highlights a colorful design, which is called kōkaryokuyō. In addition to single colored chōshitsu, there is also multiple colored chōshitsu.


Coating lacquer one hundred times can only build up a thickness of about 3 millimeters. From this, you can imagine how much time and effort is required for the preparation of chōshitsu.


After chōshitsu is performed, some lacquerware are additionally decorated with a picture of powdered gold or silver or colored lacquer is coated on top of the chōshitsu. Lacquerware of higher quality is created by adding more than one technique to a single piece of lacquerware.

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