Used for thousands of years in Japan to coat objects from crockery to furniture and buildings, urushi is the purified sap of the Asian lacquer tree. When dry, the lacquer is both heat and water resistant, providing protection and strength to underlying materials, very often wood, but also bamboo, paper or leather. In Japanese lacquerware itself can be referred to as urushi as well as shikki (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 urushi is transparent, while the black and red lacquers most associated with urushi are achieved with the addition of mineral pigments. Over this traditional decorative details such as gold maki-e “sprinkled pictures” or raden “shell inlay” can also be applied.
The chataku is a saucer to place underneath yunomi or kumidashi teacups (but not the chawan tea bowl for matcha) 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 tend to be reserved for more formal settings as a show of respect when serving guests.
Before and after use, wipe down the saucer with a soft cloth, slightly dampened and with a mild detergent 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 it can absorb moisture from the air and a damp cleaning cloth.