Lacquering in Japan has a very ancient origin.Numerous lacquered items excavated from early Jomon sites prove that lacquer culture already existed in Japan by around 7,000 BC.The introduction of Buddhism in the 6th century brought with it the art of lacquer-ware-making from China,later to be assimilated and transformed into various sophisticated skills unique to Japan.
In 17th century Europe,lacquer objects from Japan,particularly ones with an intense black lacquer background and refined gold work,were highly valued.
The beauty of gold-against-black decoration fascinated Europeans so much that they used the word "japan"when referring to these lacquer works.
Natural lacquer is the sap tapped from lacquer trees,which grow wild in East and Southeast Asia.The lacquer tree growing in Japan is called "urushi",the purified sap of which is of very high quality and suitable for the finest lacquer work.In this respect natural lacquer far surpasses artificial ones.That's why the instructors and students of this traditional art use only natural lacquer at this Institute.
First,the object to be lacquered,usually made of wood,bamboo,or other materials,is covered with hemp cloth to prevent the surface from cracking.Next follows the application of raw lacquer mixed with powdered clay to fill and make smooth the textile surface and strengthen the object's body.Then several lacquer coatings,initially rough and then of increasing fineness,are applied.After each application,the object is placed in a special cabinet which maintains a temperature of 25-30℃ and a relative humidity of 75-80% for the proper hardening of the lacquer.After each coating has hardened,the surface is polished until it becomes smooth.A special kind of charcoal is used for this purpose.
For decoration,the lacquered surface is engraved with various types of blades to produce an aesthetic design,a process where the highest skill is required.
Whether the incised design is left untouched or filled with some kind of material and polished depends on the decorating style employed.
Polishing is the last stage.Raw lacquer for polishing is first applied with a cotton cloth and then rubbed off with washi paper.After hardening,the finishing surface is scoured with a special polishing wax,which is a mixture of oil and powdered deer horn.Through repeated rubbings the lacquered article attains the brilliance and luster peculiar to Japanese lacquer ware.