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Daigo Urushi Lacquer

Simply, Japan's Best.

Japan Home-grown: Daigo Urushi   大子漆  

Daigo is a small rural village with population of about 15,500.  80% of the land is mountainous terrain. Most families are in agriculture for rice, tea and other produce. 

Urushi cultivation in this village could be traced back to the late 1600s, when the feudal lord first commanded the town to produce urushi for candle-making. Urushi forestry has since been a trade practiced by a handful of artisans. 

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​飛田祐三

Yuzo Tobita

Urushi Forester

At age 87, Urushi-forestry Master Yuzo Tobita, actively maintains his forests everyday.  He started urushi-tapping at 17, and has since dedicated his life in this precious cultivation craft. Although urushi planting and tapping is a very slow and labor-intensive process with small returns, Mr. Tobita continuously invests both his energy and capital to expand his lacquer tree forest.  With relentless desire to preserve and pass-on this craft that has been his passion for 7 decades.  

It is a no-brainer. Home-grown urushi is the pride of Japan, and the pride of Daigo.  

Tobita

Current Japan-grown urushi supports only 3% demand of the industry...

Annual lacquer consumption in Japan totaled 37.7 tons, used as adhesive and finishes for tableware, furniture and various architectural applications.

Fulfilled by Japan-grown urushi, with the rest relying on import from China. 

Urushi contributed by Ibaraki Prefecture (Daigo), with ambitious target every year to increase production. 

(2018 Statistics from Japan Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries)

The Faces of Japan Urushi in Daigo

Daigo Urushi Preservation Association was established in 2010 by a few local urushi forestry professionals. Their goal is to preserve the trade through promoting and teaching the young generation about Japanese traditional urushi tree cultivation. Local support groups started Initiatives to attract new interests in urushi cultivation and leverage abandoned forests to expand urushi tree farms. 

 

We hope to raise awareness and bring new energy and efforts from the international community who resonates with our story.  

仁平良廣

Yoshihiro Nidaira

Urushi Forester

A well-respected Urushi-forestry Master, Mr. Nidaira takes young apprentices under his wings, passing his valuable knowledge and skills to the next generation urushi foresters. 

Nidara

柳 詩郎

Shiro Yanagi

Urushi Forester/ Ceramist

A native ceramist from nearby pottery town Kasama, Mr. Yanagi assumed a second role as an Urushi Forester.

 

His utilizes his Labor of Love (Kasama clay and Daigo lacquer) to create beautiful works inspired by nature. 

Japanese urushi lacquer

渡邉優麻

Yuma Watanabe

Urushi Forester/ Daigo Revitalization Support Team

"I choose to learn urushi forestry because when nature and human joined forces, something exceptionally beautiful comes out of it."

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Watanabe

The "Goroshi-gaki" Tapping Method (殺し掻き)

In Daigo, urushi are cultivated through a method called "goroshi gaki".  One can literally see the beautiful circle of life of the tree.  It is the real-life "Giving Tree".

urushi tree 4
urushi tree 1

A tree cultivated for 10 years will be ready for urushi-tapping.

From June to October, tapping artisans will scratch the bark every 4 days to collect droplets of tree sap by hand.

The old tree will be chopped down for fire wood while the new tree will be nurtured until it reaches 10 years of age. 

urushi tree 2

During which, new trees will start to sprout from the main root of the 10-year old tree. 

urushi tree 3

The young tree continues to grow, while the old tree will complete its mission in providing raw urushi.

urushi tree 200ml

A 10-year-old tree yields about 200cc of raw urushi, slightly less than a "Short"-size latte.

200cc

urushi artisan attire and gear

Urushi Forester's gear are cool-looking and functional. 

Urushiol is unforgiving especially fresh from the tree. Even the most experienced artisan could suffer from allergic reaction. Care is taken to minimize any skin contact. 

 

In the old days, natural remedies used by the tappers to relieve skin rash include: crushing crabs to collect the juice or simmering centipedes in sesame oil and apply these solutions to affected skin.  

Artisan's Gear 

Tsubo is a bucket made with magnolia bark to contain urushi harvested.

Arm sleeves

Tabi boots for rugged terrain

Urushi sickle

Tool pouch to hold various spatulas & knives

Work Uniform

rubber gloves

Mosquito-repelling incense

The "Urushi Tsubo"

The Urushi Tsubo is a small bucket that each artisan would carry when they go tapping. It is made with the bark of magnolia tree, which has strong and fine fibers.  Before gathering urushi, artisans will prep the bucket by roughening the edge with their sickles.  The exposed wood fibers act as a "brushy" rim, which helps capturing all urushi when the spatula scrapes against it. Since urushi is so precious, every single drop matters. 

The patina of the utilitarian tsubo bucket is admired by many people as a form of rustic beauty. 

A Day in Life of the

Urushi-Forester

In the old days, when the scale of the forest was much larger, each artisan could tap 150 trees a day from dawn to dusk. 

 

Currently, Daigo's artisans would collect from 50 trees per person a day and would finish by noon when the temperature becomes very high where the trees yield less urushi.  After collection, the day's harvest would be weighted and carefully stored in larger tubs until ready for shipping to the refineries. 

After morning's tapping work, the artisans would spend the rest of the day nurturing and maintaining other forest lots to ensure the well-being of urushi trees. 

A new cut every 4 days from June to October.

Beautifully planned. 

The incisions mapped out the tapping calendar and phases, starting with a short scratch at the bottom (for the tree to get used to being tapped); and with the right spacing to accommodate the upcoming weeks of tapping. The connected mark indicates the last phase of tapping when the tree has yielded that last drop of urushi, ending the tapping season. 

Artisans also know where to incise to avoid damaging water capillaries of the tree. 

urushi scratching calendar

The cut penetrates only through the bark to reach the membrane underneath without damaging water capillaries (water supply) of the tree.   Mr. Tobita believes female artisans are more skillful as they have just the right gentle pressure to make good cuts. 

urushi-scratchCU.png

Quality and Grades of Urushi

"Last squeeze" Urame

Sept.- Oct

Japan's raw urushi are carefully defined by phases of collection, and are delivered to refineries within 1 month of collection so the refinery can leverage the various water and urushiol ratio to create various grades of urushi products for different uses.  

Lacquer collected at different times have different properties and hence makes the suitable for different uses, whether as an adhesive or finish coating:

"Prime" Sakari-hen

Late July to early Sept

"Initial" Hatsu

June - July

June
July-August
September
Late Sept
High water content "hatsu urushi" (initial)
Best quality "sakari-urushi" (premium)
Better quality "sue-urushi" (late)
Good quality "urame-urushi" (last squeeze)
urushi grade
Sakari urushi
Daigo urushi by Goenne Japan

The PREMIUM

"Sakari-Hen" Ki-urushi Lacquer

The "Sakari-Hen" is the tapping period of about 28 days starting in late July when the trees yield premium-quality urushi lacquer. Its premium-quality and low-yield makes them precious.

 

Sakari Urushi is the "cream of the crop" where it is loved by professional urushi artists in Japan. 

USAGE: 

Kintsugi practitioners use this on final top coat to set the gold powder, and it can be polished to shine because of the quality urushiol content. 

Fuki-urushi (lacquer wood-staining) also uses this premium quality urushi to bring out the richness of the color, as to achieve a durable sheen.  

From the forest to your craft work-table

Unlike synthetic products, producing urushi lacquer relies mostly by hand. 
From cultivation to refining, artisans have to be trained for decades to
master the properties and strength of this organic material. 

from farm to product
kuksa set-s.jpg

Lacquered Wood Craft

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Lacquered Pottery

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Premium Ki-Urushi

Support craft works from Daigo, made with local, natural material.

raw urushi artisan

Help Turn Around the 3%.
Support Japan-grown urushi lacquer

This is a long journey that will take decades and beyond domestic efforts to make it happen. What overseas audience can do to support:

Share the "Re-Start, at 3%" story to friends and craft advocates.

Learn the difference between
traditional lacquerware vs plastic lacquerware look-alike.

Use hand-crafted  Japanese lacquerware.

Appreciate and respect the value of "Heritage Goods that Last".  ​

If you practice kintsugi or traditional lacquering, learn the difference between

real Japanese lacquer vs synthetic chemical adhesives. Or even try use Japanese-grown urushi for some small projects and experience the difference. 

Support Japanese next generation artisans in the lacquer industry.

It takes courage and resilience to keep going against all odds. 

Read Shiro Yanagi story.

Come visit Daigo and see how urushi is cultivated and tapped. 

2024 exclusive tour is here!

Support urushi

Urushi is more than a coating paint.
From cultivating the tree to refining it into a surface material,
it is a living material which artisans in Japan have mastered for thousands of years
and are still sharing their knowledge and intelligence to the world.