Joboji lacquerware

Joboji lacquerware Joboji nuri

Flowing from trees to lacquerware
Polished to a beautiful luster with time and use


What is Joboji lacquerware ?

Joboji-nuri are lacquerware produced in Joboji Town, Ninohe City, Iwate Prefecture.
More than 98% of the urushi or lacquer used in Japan is imported from China or other countries, and home-produced urushi now accounts for only a little less than 2%. The Joboji area produces about 60% of Japanese urushi and is known as the leading producer.
The characteristic feature of Joboji-nuri is they are made with high-quality Joboji urushi. Most items have no decoration and are plain monochrome black, vermilion, or light brown and finished with a quiet sheen.
The main component of the lacquer sap harvested in Japan, China, and Korea is urushiol, and a higher content indicates high quality. Chinese lacquer has about 60% urushiol content, and Japanese urushi from other regions 65% or so, whereas the premium Joboji urushi contains about 70 to 75%. From among the many regional Japanese urushi, the especially high quality Joboji urushi has been used for the restoration of important national cultural buildings such as the Kinkaku-ji Temple or Konjikido Golden Hall of Chuson-ji Temple.
From olden times Joboji-nuri have been widely used in the daily life of ordinary people. Being utilitarian, pieces are made by assuming they will be used as everyday tableware and are sturdy with simple timeless designs. There is an old saying that the work of the artisan contributes 70% and the rest is done by the user, as through daily use and polishing, pieces develop a beautiful shine; an attractive feature of Joboji-nuri.


According to local legend, the birthplace of Joboji-nuri was Hachiyozan Tendai-ji Temple built by a famous high priest called Gyoki by command of Emperor Shomu in 728. Monks dispatched to build the temple introduced the lacquerwork techniques to make their own tableware; later the monks began offering their lacquerware to visitors to the temple. Along with lacquerware, lacquering techniques were also introduced to ordinary folk, and the everyday ware used by common people, known as oyama goki, spread to a wide area around Tendai-ji Temple.
In the Edo period (1603-1868), hakuwan, an elegant ware plated with gold, were produced to present to feudal lords. In the Meiji period (1868-1912), hakuwan went out of fashion, but demand for oyama goki and other lacquerware for ordinary citizens continued to increase.
After World War II, due to the spread of low-priced plastic items and imported lacquer, Joboji-nuri production rapidly declined. In 1975, however, the Industrial Laboratory of Iwate Prefecture revived Joboji-nuri with local lacquer tappers and lacquer coating artisans, and in 1985, Joboji-nuri was designated as a national traditional craft.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Lathe-Turning When wood is dried, warps, shrinkage, or cracks may occur depending on the humidity. Therefore, trees such as horse chestnut, zelkova, cherry birch, mulberry, mizume cherry tree, or magnolia are felled in seasons when their growth has stopped.
  2. 2. Cutting in Round Slices According to the diameter of a lacquerware item, logs are cut in round slices.
  3. 3. Dimensions, Rough & Fine Cutting The type of ware to be made is determined according to the wood grain, and the wood is first cut roughly and then to the approximate size of the finished work.
  4. 4. Rough Turning The cut wooden base is lathe-turned and roughly shaped to make a piece that is 10 to 20 mm thicker than the finished dimensions, and then left for several months.
  5. 5. Artificial & Natural Drying The rough piece is dried by using a warm-air or dehumidifying dryer for 2 to 3 weeks until the moisture content is 7 or 8%. Then, the piece is naturally dried until the moisture content is almost the same as that in the air.
  6. 6. Middle & Finish Turning In the middle turning, the piece is shaved to 5 to 10 mm thicker than the finished dimensions so as to remove any warps, and left for 2 to 3 days. In the finish turning, the piece is turned to its final size.
  7. 7. Base Coating The surface of the wooden base is polished smooth with sandpaper and dusted with a dry cloth. Then, it is hardened by rubbing in plenty of raw lacquer; this process, known as kigatame, is essential because it not only prevents expansion and contraction of the wooden base, but also improves adherence of lacquer layers applied in the later stages. Firmly hardening the wooden base makes a durable and highly water-resistant lacquerware.
    There are two types of base coat: maki-ji and urushi-ji.
    In the maki-ji method, lacquer specially refined for this technique is applied, and before it dries, a base powder made of baked and ground diatomite or camellia or magnolia charcoal dust is sprinkled on the surface; raw lacquer is then applied to harden the maki-ji base. Then, undercoating, middle polishing, and middle coating are carried out.
    Urushi-ji is also called kasane-nuri (layer coating), in which raw lacquer mixed with polishing powder and colcothar is applied, followed by polishing with charcoal or emery paper. Polishing powder is prepared by grinding slate, and colcothar is a red pigment mainly consisting of iron oxide. This coating and polishing process is repeated 7 to 8 times to give a good, thick, and durable surface by only using lacquer.
  8. 8. Final Coating The highest quality lacquer refined for final coating is applied with great diligence to ensure the surface has no brush marks or dust.
    Final coating is divided into two methods: roiro-nuri and hana-nuri. In the roiro-nuri technique, after final coating and drying, the surface is polished to give a good sheen, while in hana-nuri, the pieces is just left to dry.
    Joboji-nuri has mainly three color finishes: vermilion, black, or tameiro pieces finished with semi-translucent lacquer.

Where to Buy & More Information



See more Lacquerware

See items made in Iwate