Traditional Japanese lacquer or Urushi is the purified sap of the Asian lacquer tree, which has been used for thousands of years in Japan to coat objects from crockery to furniture and buildings. When dry, lacquer is both heat and water resistant, therefore providing protection and strength to underlying materials, very often wood, but also bamboo, paper and leather. Lacquerware itself can be referred to as Urushi as well as Shikki (漆器 lit. “urushi vessel”), and with the development of acrylic resin in the last century, objects coated in synthetic lacquers, such as food-safe polyurethane, are considered Urushi/Shikki too. Pure natural Urushi is transparent, while the black and red lacquers most associated with Shikki are achieved with the addition of mineral pigments, over which traditional decorative details such as Maki-e (蒔絵) “sprinkled pictures” or Raden (螺鈿) “shell inlay” can be applied.
|Product||Chataku saucer, red and black|
|Origin||Yamanaka Onsen, Ishikawa, Japan|
|Dimensions||Ø13.5cm x 2.2cm|
|Production||Woodturning (Hikimono 挽き物)|
|Artist's mark||Brand logo on base|
Each item is handmade and unique, therefore dimensions, weight and colour may vary slightly
Gato Mikio 我戸幹男
In 1908, master woodturner Komakichi Gato founded his woodworking plant in Yamanaka Onsen to make Kiji: the plain wooden vessels that make up the foundation of Urushi lacquered wares. Come the second generation, lacquer began to be applied to their bare Kiji, and now in their fourth generation Gato Mikio is a fully-fledged lacquerware brand committed to preserving Yamanaka Urushi traditions by carefully adapting them to the modern world. Frequently working in collaboration with contemporary Japanese designers, Gato Mikio offers authentic and elegant tableware that has won them numerous design awards both at home and abroad.
The Chataku is a saucer to place underneath Kumidashi teacups and are an essential part of Senchadō: the ceremonial preparation and drinking of Sencha leaf tea, particularly high grade Gyokuro. Traditionally, Chataku made of tin are used within Senchadō as this was the original style that arrived in Japan from China in the 17th century. Wooden Chataku were then produced, and nowadays these saucers are used in formal settings as a show of respect when serving guests.
The small hot spring resort town of Yamanaka Onsen has not only been immortalised in numerous Haiku by the celebrated Japanese poet Bashō, extolling the virtues of its rejuvenating waters – but is also renowned for its rich lacquerware heritage. Nestled amongst the mountains of Ishikawa prefecture, on the northwestern coast of Japan, Yamanaka Onsen’s humid climate is particularly well suited for working with natural Urushi lacquer. The origins of Yamanaka Shikki (山中漆器) or Yamanaka lacquerware, can be traced back to around 1580 with the arrival of a group of woodworkers from the nearby city of Echizen who specialised in the art of Rokuro-biki (轆轤挽き) – woodturning: shaping wood on a lathe. The goods they produced were sold as souvenirs to the onsen hot spring tourists and the area soon became known for its fine lacquerware, particularly tea ceremony accessories.
Yamanaka Shikki are characterised by practical, round utensils cut on the vertical grain (Tate-kidori 縦木取り) for added stability, as well as a decorative feature that brings out striking natural patterns. To highlight the beauty of the wood grain, Yamanaka wares are often coated in transparent lacquers, making these simple and robust designs perfect for daily use.
Before and after use, wipe down the saucer with a soft cloth, slightly dampened and with a mild washing up liquid if necessary. Do not soak and wipe off any spillages as soon as possible to prevent water stains. After cleaning, thoroughly dry with a soft cloth and leave to dry naturally. Urushi lacquers prefer a relatively humid environment and may crack if stored in extremely dry conditions, therefore please use and clean lacquerware occasionally so that they can absorb moisture from the air and a damp cleaning cloth.