"An important component of the Japanese art of lacquerwork is the special technique known as "urushi", which uses many layers of wafer-thin, semi-transparent lacquer to create a surface of almost mystical radiance and sensual depth." (Susanne Fritz)
Urushi is a matter of perfection, of luxury in art, whose design has to possess purity.
Urushi is the sap of the urushi – Japanese sumac – tree and is the basis of one of the oldest art forms in East Asia, dating back to before 5000 BCE.
To create an urushi work, a base surface is built up on a canvas-covered timber object by applying over 40 layers of the precious lacquer and polishing repeatedly with very soft charcoal made from paulownia wood.
Traditionally urushi lacquer is applied with a brush made of women's hair. Onto this black surface, which takes up to two years and 40 steps to achieve, various decorative techniques can be applied. As each material is layered on, more urushi is applied and polished to achieve the perfectly smooth surface that marks the finest works.
The final polish of each piece is made by using just the fingertips and vegetable oil.
Depending on the size of the piece and the complexity of the design, the Urushi process can take 10 months or longer, therefore Kotsuhiroi completes just seven or eight pieces each year.
It’s very important to preserve this culture of creating things at a slow pace. Three years might seem like a long time to create a piece of urushi, but what you create can last 400 years or even longer.
The resulting works sell to collectors and museums. And, it’s not only the time - consuming process that makes urushi work so precious – a single urushi tree produces only 150ml of sap each four-month harvesting season, after which it is cut down and it takes another 15 years to grow.
Due to its harvest and its extremely technical process, urushi items are very expensive.