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How to collect the sap of the lacquer tree


The sap obtained from lacquer trees is the source of lacquer. By cutting the lacquer tree to bleed using a tool, you can tap the sap coming out of the tree.


There are a couple of points to remember in tapping the lacquer tree. Instead of randomly making the cuts on the tree, it is necessary to gather precious lacquer cautiously.


How to collect the lacquer efficiently
When the lacquer tree is cut to bleed using a tool, the sap comes out of the cuts. This sap is best collected from right between the bark and the woody part of the tree. Because of this, if the cuts are too deep, all of the sap will be absorbed back into the tree. So, it is important to adjust the strength when making the cuts into the bark, which covers the surface of the tree, so that the sap comes out in an efficient manner.


If you make the cuts into the layer of liquid lacquer, which is right under the bark, the sap will better flow from the tree. So, just because you make bigger cuts, it does not mean that you can collect a larger amount of lacquer.


Also, when the lacquer tree is cut to bleed, the amount of sap increases with time. This takes advantage of the natural healing ability of lacquer. In the same manner as humans seal the wound with blood when bleeding, the tree tries closing the wound by bleeding lacquer.


When the lacquer tree is cut and the sap bleeds, the tree actively produces lacquer in trying to make up for the lost lacquer. This is why the lacquer tree can produce several times the amount of lacquer that originally existed inside the tree.


Because of this, if larger cuts are made a few days after the initial cuts, much more sap can be collected.


When the cuts are made, the lacquer tree stops growing. Instead, the tree becomes vigorously active in order to produce a large amount of lacquer. The cuts should be gradually bigger and bigger so that more lacquer can be collected.


If you cut down the lacquer tree from the beginning and press the sap, not much lacquer will be collected. Only when cutting the tree to bleed and forcing it to produce lacquer in high volumes, can you finally begin to collect lacquer.


Methods of tapping lacquer:
“Koroshigaki (Ordinary Exhaustion Tapping)” and “Yōjōgaki (Spare Tapping)”
There are two methods of tapping lacquer. One is the method of collecting as much lacquer as possible in that particular year. This is called “koroshigaki” (Ordinary Exhaustion Tapping). This method gathers lacquer on the assumption that the tree will die.


However, if you cut the base of the trunk in advance, the sprout will spring up from the base in the following year. After that, it will rapidly grow to a state where lacquer can be collected in a few years.


There is also a method to collect lacquer over many years without killing trees. This method is called “yōjōgaki” (Spare Tapping). This method gathers lacquer little by little, thus the amount of tapping in a year is small. On the other hand, in the long run, a larger amount of lacquer can be collected from one tree by this method.


The tapping season of lacquer is from June to November. The tapping amount and cultivation method of the lacquer tree varies depending on “which method you use to collect lacquer”.

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