Several extracts from a series of articles for Papersky Magazine, speaking with craftsmen in Ishikawa Prefecture who produce lacquerware using sap from the Urushii tree.
To produce real Wajima Lacquerware, the Urushii sap must be mixed with a special type of fossilised plankton, known as Jinoko, found in the local area near Mt. Komine. These fossils are roasted, crushed into powder and mixed with the Urushii sap and when painted onto a wooden core (a bowl or cup, for example) it dries as hard as glass.
Kazuo Wakaoka: Reflections from a tree by Cameron Allen Mckean for Papersky.
For Akagi, the real value of Urushii, the spirit of the bowls, lies in the feeling of the dried sap. “Lacquerware has a sensation which other materials don’t. You can sense it when you bring the bowl up to your mouth. Urushii is soft but its properties make it as a strong as glass.” To him the value comes in using the bowls in everyday life, “you can’t tell the value of it just from looking at it”. To Akagi this is a big issue in crafts which still exist today. Where craft objects have become things of beauty which we look at, rather than use, held in temples or museums, as evidence of an older way of life. This culture of “looking at craft” is something Akagi wants to change.
Akito Akagi: A thousand year old lifeform by Cameron Allen Mckean for Papersky.