Japanese picnic set

Step 1 of 6

Working with Lacquer is no Picnic

Before looking at the set as a whole, let us take in the lacquerware for a moment. Lacquer is an organic coating material, made with the sap from the lacquer tree (toxicodendron vernicifluum). Lacquer is harvested and used as a coating for objects in several Asian countries: in Japan it has been used since the Jōmon Period (1350 - 900 BCE), and since then the use of lacquer has developed and evolved into a specialized craft known as urushi (漆). [Cf]

Lacquered objects are the result of months or even years of work, traditionally done by several dedicated craftsmen. Lacquer can be applied to a variety of materials: in the case of our picnic set it is applied onto wood. When the wood is collected, it is first left to dry, in order to avoid the warping of the object later in time.Just the drying process itself can take up to several years. Once the wood is dry, it is used to prepare the base object onto which lacquer will be applied. This work is traditionally done by the woodworker (kijiya 木地屋), who prepares it for the application of lacquer by creating a perfectly smooth surface, filling holes, eliminating nodules, and sometimes applying a layer of cloth and glue and an initial layer of lacquer onto the wood. The object is then passed into the hands of the nurimonoshi (塗り物師), the master of applying lacquer. At this point the object is covered by several layers of colored lacquer: each layer needs to be individually applied, dried and polished. Finally, the top layer can be beautifully decorated, a job also reserved for a specialized craftsman, depending on the desired decoration.[Cf]

The picnic set we see here is indeed exquisitely decorated . In the next steps of this story, we will look at each component of the set and find out its uses and analyze its decoration.