Odawara lacquerware

Odawara lacquerware Odawara shikki

Practical product with beautiful wood grain
Its charm grows even more with use


What is Odawara lacquerware ?

Odawara lacquerware (called Odawara shikki in Japanese) is a type of lacquerware that is made in the city of Odawara, Kanagawa prefecture. It features a glossy lacquer finish which highlights the elegant grain of the wood material. While beautifully glossy, the pieces are also durable, have few distortions, and are practical for daily use. The main lacquering techniques are kijiro nuri and suri urushi nuri.
The base is prepared by shaving wood with a potter's wheel and coating with lacquer repeatedly before polishing. Raw lacquer, which is sap taken from a lacquer trees, has properties like being antibacterial, waterproof, corrosion resistant, and able to insulate heat. For colors like vermilion and black, the raw lacquer is processed and used for intermediate and top coats as the lacquer is stronger with additional layers. Also, the wood is mainly from domestically-grown zelkova trees, which makes for less distortion and more durability. Because the lacquerware has been produced as a daily use product, even if it deteriorates over time, it can be recoated with lacquer for continued use.


Odawara lacquerware is said to have originated around the middle of the Muromachi period (1336-1573) when a group of people in Odawara who specialized in using potter's wheels began making utensils from the quality wood that was abundant in the neighboring Hakone-Izu forests. Lacquer craftsmen who had gathered for the construction of Odawara Castle developed a method of using lacquer to coat wooden vessels produced by turning and grinding on a potter’s wheel, which led to the formation of Odawara lacquerware. During the Sengoku period (1467-1615), Ujiyasu HOJO, the third generation of the Hojo clan, was trying to improve Odawara lacquerware and invited lacquerware craftsmen, who developed the iro urushi nuri technique. Due to this, this craft became established in the mid-Edo period (1603-1868), and not just daily necessities such as bowls and trays, but also weapons began to be produced.
Furthermore, Odawara lacquerware for daily use was being exported to Edo (old name of Tokyo) at that time. It also came to be considered an attractive souvenir of Odawara, which was prospering as a castle town and a convenient post station on the Tokaido Road*. The tradition of Odawara lacquerware souvenirs continues today.

*The Tokaido Road linked Kyoto to Edo during the feudal Edo period (1603-1868). Odawara was an important checkpoint used to control the traffic on this highway.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Making the wooden base Raw wood is obtained from trees such as zelkova, castor aralia, mulberry, and horse chestnut. The type of wood depends on the use and dimensions of the product.
    An ink sketch drawing is drawn on the base of the wood, which is shaped with a circular saw or band saw into a rough shape.
    First, the wood dried in a smoke dryer for three to four days, and after being coated with glue to prevent cracking, is dried for three weeks in an electric dryer. For another two to six months, it is left to dry naturally. This process of slowly drying the wood ensures that it will not crack.
    The dried base is shaped to fit the intended product with a potter's wheel machine or a router and the blades are changed many times. A round shape like a bowl can be made on a potter's wheel while boxes and special shapes is made with a router. After the wooden surface has been smoothed, water is applied and it is polished using a horsetail plant.
  2. 2. The lacquering process Raw lacquer is painted on the wooden base with a spatula or brush and wiped with a cotton cloth, then the piece is placed in a drying chamber. After drying for a day or two, it is coated with raw lacquer again and left to dry. It is wet-sanded with a polishing wheel which helps settle the grain and enhances the adhesion of the lacquer. The step of coating with raw lacquer and polishing with cotton cloth is repeated seven to eight times. The surface of the lacquer is then polished until it is smooth and rubbed with a minimal amount of raw lacquer. Finally, it is dried in a drying chamber for two to three days.
    Transparent lacquering involves painting the wooden base with raw lacquer using a spatula or brush. After the lacquer is rubbed in with cotton cloth and wiped off, lacquer mixed with burnt clay is rubbed in to add a rust finish. This process is repeated twice and the piece is let dry for two to three days, then the surface is polished with a whetstone, paper, or something similar to highlight the grain. Raw lacquer is painted on and dried in a drying chamber, then transparent lacquer, from which the moisture has been removed, is painted on and dried.
    The transparent lacquer is used to create a thin lacquer surface and after the undercoat is polished, it is painted on again and allowed to dry. After the intermediate coat is polished, transparent lacquer is carefully applied so as to leave no brush marks, and the piece is dried. Repeating the process of undercoating, intermediate coating, and top coating a number of times results in a highly transparent finish. After wet-sanding, the piece is repeatedly polished using a polishing powder or liquid, and the piece is finished.

Where to Buy & More Information

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