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Japanese Lacquer (Urushi) Terminology


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#1 estcrh

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Posted 27 July 2016 - 11:47 AM

Eventually everyone who is interested in Japanese armor comes across Japanese armor related terms and Japanese lacquer (urushi) related terms. I will post the most common urushi terms that relate to armor along with their meanings. Here is some basic urushi information. It should be noted that not everyone uses these terms and they may use similar or completely different terms then the ones listed here.


From http://www.hakuminurushi.com/

Urushi is to many, a miraculous substance. It is the sap from the lacquer tree, Toxicodendron vernicifluum, a plant closely related to poison ivy, and as such, considerably toxic. As with its better known cousins, the poison ivies, oaks and sumacs, contact with the tree can cause an unbearable affliction of rashes and blisters. Yet somehow, in some ancient time, someone realized that this liquid—the life-blood of this wondrous tree—holds a hidden potential.

Urushi, as it has come to be known by its Japanese name, naturally cures through a process of oxidation and polymerization into a material with remarkable properties for a natural substance. Once hardened, urushi forms a tough and scratch resistant surface impervious to water, alcohol, minor heat, acids and bases. Because of these properties, as well as its characteristics in application, urushi has an incredible versatility in use from architectural elements and utilitarian wares to fine arts and crafts renown for their beauty and intricacy.

With proper care and skill, urushi creates a wonderful luster that, when combined with countless different decorative techniques, can create objects that are as functional as they are beautiful. Metal powders, nacre, and eggshells, or even substances such as albumen, tofu and flour can all be used in conjunction with urushi to create exquisite patterns and designs derived sometimes from the skill of intellect and craft and sometimes from the whim of chance and serendipity.

Regardless of the technique, the end results capable of urushi are nothing short of miraculous. Yet in this modern time and age, where meticulous crafts of the hand are being threatened by industrialized mass production, the use of urushi has slowly been at a decline. When once Japanware was considered at the pinnacle of the functional arts, it is now little known outside of Asia and specialized circles.

Nevertheless, the craft of using urushi has not yet died out, and there are still many discoveries to be made as craftsmen continue test new techniques and combine modern materials with ancient knowledge. And so, hopefully, the beauty of this wonderful craft will be passed on through many more generations to come.

Raw usushi needs to be cured, after this process pigments are added to the cured urushi in order to create colored urushi. Black, red and rust brown are the colors you are most likely to find along with treated bare metal (tetsu sabiji).



COMMON TERMS from http://www.hakuminurushi.com/urushi/glossary.html and other sources.

Urushi=lacquer


Nuri=Painting, layering, coating. A term used to denote a lacquer object or technique as opposed to the lacquer itself.


Arami urushi=The unprocessed sap taken straight from the lacquer tree. At this point it is a milky white liquid that cannot be used as lacquer without further processing. The sap is filtered and left to sit for an extended period of time to allow partial oxidation as well as evaporation of some of the water content. Once the liquid reaches the proper water content and oxidization levels, it can be used as lacquer and is then called ki-urushi.


Ki urushi=Raw lacquer(also nama urushi). Raw urushi after it has been filtered and slightly reduced in water content to make it usable as lacquer. There are different types of ki urushi depending on the origins of the tree as well as the season that the tree was tapped. Hatsugama (also hatsu urushi), collected early summer, has a high water content in the emulsion and has a high adhesive potential. It is used for adhesive mixtures and for suri-urushi. Sakari urushi, collected late summer, is used for processing into
kuro urushi and suki urushi. Oso urushi is collected early fall and urame and tome urushi is collected at the end of the season in late fall prior to cutting down the tree. Eda and seshime were traditionally collected from the branches during the winter after the tree was cut down, but in modern times, low quality urushi from China or a mixture of Japanese and Chinese urushi is sold as seshime.


Kuro=Black

Kuro urushi=Black lacquer.


Shu=Red/vermillion

Shu urushi=Red lacquer.


Sabi urushi=A paste made by mixing powdered burnt clay "tonoko" with seshime-urushi (sap taken from the branch of the lacquer tree). Fine wheat flour is often added. Sabi-urushi was used as a preliminary lacquer layer "kataji" on wooden statues, and often found on late Heian and Kamakura periods bugaku masks "bugakumen". It was also used to build up surfaces in raised lacquerwork takamakie.

Sabiji urushi=Brown colored lacquer that imitates rusty/russet iron.


Kin=Gold

Kin paku=Very thin gold leaf that covers a lacquered surface.


Gin=Silver

Gin paku=Very thin silver leaf that covers a lacquered surface


Tetsu=Iron

Tetsu sabiji=Russet iron, a complicated process that allows bare metal to be exposed to the elements without being destroyed.


Byakudan urushi. A rare lacquer made by covering a gold or silver lacquered surface with a transparent layer of red lacquer which lets the underneath precious metal shine through.


Tetsu seishime urushi=Russet iron surface treated with a special process involving the application of raw urushi which once dried is heated for a few minutes over a charcoal brazier. The resulting deep, matt brown finish is also resistant to rust.


Kokuso / kokuso urushi=A mixture of wood powder, sawdust, or plant fibers with nori urushi or mugi urushi for use as a filler or putty in both the substrate before lacquering and in repair of damaged pieces.


Tataki urushi=A lacquer finish that features a raised relief rippled texture.




VISUAL EXAMPLES.

Sabiji urushi.
939f6327f97be5a9b921cd72f231784e.jpg


Shu urushi.
7c8a04a591d94d43be94da0c99fe96cd.jpg


Tetsu sabiji.
9a90597b3f89eb5cc7dc5aad5f6015ce.jpg


Kinpaku urushi.
ce53b7360b7fb99ff824aea40f7546c4.jpg



Kuro urushi.
37977b3b84ec5a5c2fc6d874e039cbaf.jpg



Tetsu seishime urushi.
47a42165f36c7f468fc04a28d8e621b0.jpg



Gin paku urushi.
42d9f70bb6b8d1da51151c87a424ed56.jpg


Byakudan urushi. This European helmet was modified for use in Japan, the inside is an example of Byakudan urushi nuri.
a6a894db74db987a750dfefc85ae4084.jpg


Tataki urushi.
1864031bbe56d3b5c0076c6abedaaf0e.jpg


kokuso urushi. Used as a filler as in this example of what looks like a suji bachi kabuto but is actually built up using kokuso urushi and other elements.
d57435416409bb097caa27dd22b884f5.jpg
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#2 SAS

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Posted 27 July 2016 - 08:48 PM

Urushi can certainly be toxic, even in very minute particles, which can cause blistering and rashes. Gloves and protective clothing highly recommended, if anyone is experimenting with urushi. Great post.


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#3 estcrh

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Posted 28 July 2016 - 02:09 AM

Urushi can certainly be toxic, even in very minute particles, which can cause blistering and rashes. Gloves and protective clothing highly recommended, if anyone is experimenting with urushi. Great post.

Your right about the toxicity yet quite a few people who post urushi related videos on Youtube do not wear gloves....???

Here is a good video of an aikuchi tanto koshirae being lacquered, while not armor it is a similar process.

3d094e52550a99e280c1128051ab865d.jpg
 

Preparing the wood surface and natural urushi lacquer base for a traditional style aikuchi tanto.

Urushi is traditional Japanese lacquer made from the sap of a specific tree. The natural colour is a milky brown that oxidizes to deep chocolate and the black colour is created through a reaction with red iron oxide.

A note about the urushi techniques in the video: I make no claim to any skill in this area and my work is fairly rustic as far as lacquer quality goes. If you want to learn proper technique, watch everything ever uploaded to Fushimi~san's channel: https://www.youtube....shimiurushikobo

The lighting was not optimal for several of the steps here and several of the finishing layers are missing from the video, but the final stages are similar to the ones shown. The full process spanned a month and a half including curing and drying time in between each step. Each layer is allowed to cure in a warm, humid box for two to three days and then polished with charcoal and water before the next is applied

The charcoal used for sanding/polishing was a sturdy piece made from a soft-medium density hardwood such as Nootka Cypress or Alder, the traditional choice being something in the density range of honoki (Japanese Magnolia). The charcoal can be shaped to the contours of the piece while working.


0:08 carved wooden handle and scabbard

Sealing
0:12 mixing sokui, water, and ki-urushi to make nori-urushi
4:11 using nori-urushi as an adhesive for the wooden fittings
(not shown: wiping the surface with ki-urushi or nori-urushi to seal it)

Filling the Base
6:13 mixing tonoko (~diatomaceous earth) and ki-urushi to make sabi
8:07 filling gaps and openings with sabi

Polishing the Base
9:58 leveling the surface with charcoal

Building the Mid Layers
12:56 brush coating with urushi

Polishing
15:48 leveling the surface with charcoal

Repeat
17:20 brush coating with urushi...and repeat to build up base...
19:11 finished work
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#4 SAS

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Posted 28 July 2016 - 07:55 PM

I guess some people are less susceptible to the skin issues, or get used to it over time....I just know that i get random blisters even after it has been days or weeks since i applied urushi, when I contact some residue from sanding, etc.  :-?  The results are worth a little discomfort however. ;-)


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Steve Shimanek
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#5 estcrh

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Posted 28 July 2016 - 09:07 PM

I guess some people are less susceptible to the skin issues, or get used to it over time....I just know that i get random blisters even after it has been days or weeks since i applied urushi, when I contact some residue from sanding, etc.  :-?  The results are worth a little discomfort however. ;-)

Steve, I heard that some people are immune to the effects, I have had poison ivy rash as a child a few times, poison ivy is similar to usushi rash and it is not fun at all, covered in calamine lotion for days!!!

Do you have any examples of your urushi work, I would like to see it if you have any images or advice, tips etc.

Urushiol-induced contact dermatitis (also called Toxicodendron dermatitis and Rhus dermatitis) is the medical name given to allergic rashes produced by the oil urushiol, which is contained in various plants, most notably the plants of the genus Toxicodendron, which includes the Chinese laquer tree, poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac.



#6 SAS

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Posted 01 August 2016 - 08:17 PM

Eric, i am having trouble locating my photos on my Mac since i updated; I will try and find them :)


Steve Shimanek
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#7 SAS

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Posted 12 August 2016 - 11:14 PM

DSCN0156 copy.JPG DSCN0157.JPG

I have had to do some touch up work to the koiguchi area recently and have some rash from the urushi on my left arm; it seems i am very reactive to the stuff. This saya is for a wakizashi project, using black as the base with red accents.

 

Mods: sorry for the mess, had trouble getting the photos to appear.


Steve Shimanek
Artist/Bladesmith
"Summer grass, of stalwart warriors' dreams, the aftermath" Bassho

Life Member VFW, US Army Desert Shield/Desert Storm


#8 estcrh

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Posted 13 August 2016 - 06:25 AM

attachicon.gifDSCN0156 copy.JPGattachicon.gifDSCN0157.JPG

I have had to do some touch up work to the koiguchi area recently and have some rash from the urushi on my left arm; it seems i am very reactive to the stuff. This saya is for a wakizashi project, using black as the base with red accents.

 

Mods: sorry for the mess, had trouble getting the photos to appear.

Steve, it looks good, I have a couple of sayas that need some simple touch up work, I wouldnt mind trying to do it myself as it would not be worth the expense to have someone do it for me.



#9 SAS

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Posted 15 August 2016 - 12:30 AM

I recommend Namikawa Heibei for their ready made urushi and customer service; I also recommend latex gloves and long sleeves for application. Multiple thin coats rather than thick application will reduce wrinkling, unless that is the look you want. Thanks for the comment and good luck on your project.


Steve Shimanek
Artist/Bladesmith
"Summer grass, of stalwart warriors' dreams, the aftermath" Bassho

Life Member VFW, US Army Desert Shield/Desert Storm





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