Lacquerware is one of Japan’s best-known crafts. It is used to produce a wide variety of functional, decorative and ceremonial items from bento boxes to Buddhist sculptures.
The history of lacquering in Japan dates back to the Jōmon period (approx. 14,000—300 BCE); the earliest lacquerware excavated in Japan so far being burial accessories unearthed in the northern island of Hokkaido, dated at around 9,000 years old. Over the millennia, the time-consuming method of covering objects with urushi (derived from Japanese lacquer tree sap) has been developed into a high art form. Throughout Japan’s history, the culture of urushi has been embraced by different social classes to suit their needs, including the court nobility, samurai, temple monks, shrine priests and merchants; and a wide range of local varieties of lacquerware have developed. Poisonous until it dries, urushi is only handled by master craftsmen.