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New material for Japanese lacquer craftwork

Did you know ‘Japanese lacquer’ was once called ‘japan’ in English? In much the same way as China has remained synonymous with ceramics, so Japan was for her lacquerware. It is the material which represents Japan, the history of which is said to reach back ten thousand years. Japanese lacquer is called a ‘live material’ in that the more you use it, the more it shines, but it has some several serious weak points, such that it is sensitive to dryness and heat. Tokyo Metropolitan Industrial Technology Research Institute and j's corporation have worked together to deal with this issue, creating a new material which overcomes these weak points, which it markets as ‘New Japan!‘. Now that Tokyo Olympics 2020 is around the corner, we should create a product that represents Japan’s next-generation.

136 design
Oct 31,2015 Deadline
  • 募集開始 Jul 04,2015
  • 募集終了 Oct 31,2015
  • 結果発表 Jan 31,2016

Overcoming the handling difficulties of traditional Japanese lacquerware.

Traditional lacquerware is made in such way that the craftsman paints Japanese lacquer onto a basic wooden bowl, usually made by whittling wood material, and then once coated, are ready to be sold in the market after drying the bowl for half year or so. Lacqerware made in this way has good thermal and insulation properties and a unique warmness. And, the more you use it, the more the lacquer shines. Indeed, we can call it ‘live’ product in the user's time is carved.

On the other hand, it also has some obvious downsides; it is very sensitive to ultraviolet light, dryness and heat, and it is difficult to use it daily due to the fact that it is easily scratched. In particular, it is said that it is difficult to export lacquerware to places where there is little humidity, such as Europe, as the lacquer will crack in the dry air. And, as it takes a long time to dry Japanese lacquer, and for it to harden completely, the release of an unfinished product into the market can lead to complaints of irritated skin.

Therefore, a lot of so-called ‘Japan Lacquer’ products in both the domestic and international markets are thus made from a plastic material subsequently painted with compositive paint, such as urethane paint, That is to say, there are many ‘Japanese lacquer’ products in which lacquer is not used at all, and which lack the advantages and features of original Japanese lacquer.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Industrial Technology Research Institute has created a next-generation ‘Japanese lacquer’ which is genuine Japanese lacquer, possessing its original advantages, but which is not affected by humidity, resists scratches and does not cause irritated skin. This was achieved by combining timber powder from forest thinning with tree resin of Japanese lacquer to form a new composite material, and to then apply Japanese lacquer to it in a traditional way, and add thermal processes after that.

An overview of Product Development Utilizing Sustimo.

(1) Production of powdery crafting material, Sustimo

By mixing and heating tree resin and timber from forest thinning, Sustimo is produced, a 100% biomass powder-forming material.

The tree resin necessary for Japanese lacquer is produced by removing the bark of the Japanese lacquer tree. After obtaining the tree resin, we cut down the Japanese lacquer tree. but a new sprout comes from the remaining stub, and the tree can provide the resin again after ten years. As such, both Japan lacquer and Sustimo are highly environmentally sustainable products.
(2) Compression molding of Sustimo

Placing purified forming material Sustimo into the molding tool and then subjecting it to both heat and pressure compacts Sustimo into the desired shape.
(3) Painting Japan lacquer and the thermal treatment process.

Craftsman, mostly from Aizu Wakamatsu area will paint Japan lacquer by hand, add decorations and will perform the thermal treatment process in the last step. Thus a product is completed which has good design, causes no irritation of the skin and is substantially more durable.

A few common examples of how lacquerware products are decorated:
◇MAKIE: gold and/or silver powder is scattered into the lacquer before being dried.
◇RADEN: mother-of-pearl is pressed into the lacquer before it is dried.
◇CHINKIN: a picture is first carved into the lacquered surface, which is then filled in with gold and gold powder.
◇URUSHIE: various pictures are painted using ed Japanese lacquer with various coloured pigments

※ Where no particular craftsmanship skill is necessary and high volume of output is needed, air-spray coatings of Japanese lacquer are often used.

The image of the producible product

Concerning colouring and surface finish, various kinds of finish are possible, such as very bright colouring which is very different from traditional imaginings of Japanese lacquer, matte colour finishes suppressing the glaze of the surface, processing with tin, inlaying seashells and others.

Also, in terms of the shape, the pressure processing allows for a huge range of possible shapes and forms. For test cases, we have made cups, dishes, chopstick rests, and the outer case of USB memory sticks.

Considering the costs of manufacture, this very much depends on the shape and finish of the product. We would expect ¥10,000 for a simply coloured item with one colour, ¥20-30,000 for a very complicated picture drawn by a specialized craftsman. So, please assume the price of the finished item will be toward the higher end of the spectrum.
By cutting a board formed using compression processing, various products, such as accessories can be made.
Let me show you a few examples of accessories that can be produced:
Please design your own next generation ‘Japan Lacquer,’ made from Sustimo, and painted over with Japanese lacquer tree resin, with a design utilising genuine hand painting of by a lacquerware craftsman.

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