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Experiencing Traditional Japanese Architectural Techniques (3): "Urushi Lacquering"

Updated: Jul 5



Urushi Lacquering: Experiencing Traditional Japanese Architectural Techniques at the Kigumi Museum


Experience Key Traditional Japanese Architectural Techniques


At the Kigumi Museum, visitors can explore not only "Kigumi" but also other traditional Japanese architectural techniques. Most of these techniques are registered as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage under the category of "Traditional skills, techniques, and knowledge for the conservation and transmission of wooden architecture in Japan." Let's explore the traditional Japanese architectural techniques exhibited at the Kigumi Museum.


What is Urushi Lacquering?


Urushi lacquering is a traditional Japanese painting technique used on structures such as temples and shrines, offering beauty and durability. Urushi, the lacquer used, is derived from the sap of the lacquer tree and is considered a high-quality paint material. This article introduces the basic techniques and the allure of Urushi lacquering.


Urushi Lacquering: Experiencing Traditional Japanese Architectural Techniques at the Kigumi Museum


History and Characteristics of Urushi Lacquering


Urushi lacquering has developed in Japan over thousands of years. It is primarily used to protect and decorate wood surfaces. Natural components in the lacquer form a strong protective coating when hardened, safeguarding the wood from water and pests and maintaining its beauty over long periods.


The Process of Urushi Lacquering


The process of Urushi lacquering is complex and requires advanced skills. Here are the basic steps involved:

  • Base Treatment: The wood is fortified, and any cracks or defects are repaired.

  • Base Coating: Several layers of base material are applied to the wood, each layer sanded down to smooth the surface.

  • Intermediate Coating: Refined lacquer is applied and polished further.

  • Final Coating: A final application of even higher-quality lacquer completes the process.


Special Technique: Roiro Finish


The Roiro finish is a highly advanced technique within Urushi lacquering. In this method, the paint surface is made completely smooth before applying raw lacquer, which is then polished multiple times. This achieves a deep, mirror-like sheen, making it the highest grade of Urushi lacquering.


Urushi Lacquering: Experiencing Traditional Japanese Architectural Techniques at the Kigumi Museum


Modern Challenges and Preservation


Since the modern era, oil-based and synthetic paints have become the mainstream, leading to a decline in traditional Urushi lacquering artisans. Therefore, efforts are necessary to protect these valuable techniques and pass them on to future generations.


Urushi lacquering is cherished not only for its aesthetic appeal but also for its durability, making it an important part of Japanese culture. Learning about and supporting this traditional technique is a step towards connecting Japan’s cultural heritage with the future.


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