Lacquerware is made by coating the surface of a material with the sap of the Japanese lacquer tree (Toxicodendron vernicifluum). When the lacquer (urushi) hardens, it polymerizes and forms a protective surface that repels water and resists corrosion. Lacquer has been used on everyday tools and utensils in Japan since ancient times, and lacquerware bowls, chopsticks, trays, and meal boxes continue to be widely used today.
Lacquer was first used as an adhesive in prehistory, and later as a coating. Decorative objects painted with red lacquer have been found at Jomon archaeological sites that date back to 9,000 years ago.
Historically, lacquer has been used along with materials such as gold, silver, and shell to create lavishly decorated boxes, as well as musical instruments, sword scabbards, and armor. Today, in addition to everyday utensils like bowls and trays, lacquer continues to be used to create beautiful works of fine craft including decorative boxes and tea utensils such as tea caddies (natsume) and incense containers (kōgō) for use in the tea ceremony.


  • 1 Base materials

    Wood is predominantly used for bowls, boxes, plates, and trays. Other base materials include woven bamboo, bast fiber cloth or washi paper shaped on a mold, animal hide, metal, and ceramics.

  • 2 Applying the lacquer

    Lacquer is applied to the base material with a spatula or brush. After each coat, the lacquer is polished smooth. Repeated coats are applied to create the beautifully textured surface associated with lacquer.

  • 3-1 Completed piece
  • 3-2 The piece is further decorated using one or several techniques

Artistic Techniques

  • Reference: Nihon Kōgeikai Higashi Nihon Shibu (Japan Kōgei Association Eastern Branch), ed., Dentō kōgei-tte nani? – miru, shiru, tanoshimu gaido bukku (What Are Traditional Crafts? –A Guidebook to Seeing, Learning, and Enjoying). Unsodo, 2013.

Well-known crafts