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Lacquer collected as tax


Lacquer has a history of thousands of years. Japanese ancestors were using lacquer during the early stage of the Jōmon Period (Approximately from BC 14,000 to BC 300). In fact, products made from lacquer about 9,000 years ago was excavated from remains.


It has also been confirmed that lacquer was attached to the hunting tools of before the Jōmon Period. Lacquer has an ability to preserve its condition without alterations even after thousands of years have passed. Because the lacquer remained even more than 10,000 years later, we can verify that lacquer had been used during this ancient period.


Changes in lacquer across the ages

Lacquer’s ability is not only “to make lacquerware colorful and shiny with a black or vermillion color” by applying it over and over again. Lacquer is a component found in nature with a very strong adhesive power, and it will strengthen the coated object.


Japanese ancestors took particular note of this ability. As evidenced by the fact that they were using lacquer for their hunting tools, they were using lacquer as an adhesive agent or reinforcing agent.


Basic techniques of making products with lacquer were already established before the Jōmon Period. This is obvious from the fact that the lacquerware created with techniques used today, such as “shitaji (undercoats)”, which is the base of the lacquer layers, and “raden”, which uses shells for decoration, has been excavated.


Furthermore, a vermillion lacquerware has also been excavated, which tells us that other techniques such as refining lacquer and adding color to lacquer were also available.


When the Jōmon Period transitioned to the Yayoi Period (Approximately from BC 300 to AD 250), rice cultivation was transferred to Japan thus people started a more settled way of life. People began using black lacquer during this period.


The refined lacquer is semi-translucent brownish in color. A desired color is created by adding pigments to the refined lacquer. There are mainly two methods of making black lacquer. One is “to add soot”, and the other is “to trigger a chemical reaction by mixing iron powder”. During the Yayoi Period, black lacquer was produced by adding soot.


Lacquer paid as tax
Today, we pay tax with money. But, people used to pay tax with rice in Japan. Other than rice, lacquer was also used as currency to pay taxes.


A number of “ceramics that were most likely used to store lacquer” from the 7th to 8th centuries were discovered. It is thought that these ceramics were brought in from neighboring states, thus it is surmised that this lacquer was used as tax payment.


Many lacquerware has been excavated from Nara Prefecture, an old capital of Japan, as well as the dwelling sites of wealthy people from the 8th century. According to these, we can see that lacquer collected as tax was used and coated on wood and other materials in order to create high-quality lacquerware.


In addition to household goods, lacquer is widely used for buildings as well. Lacquer is coated on posts of temples to make the buildings stronger. As seen in this type of use, the demand for lacquer has been great over many years.


Because lacquer was included as tax, planting lacquer trees began to be encouraged from this period. Reproduction attempts by raising new trees after the sap was collected from the lacquer tree have been done from this period.

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