The Urushi used in Maki-e art is obtained from the Urushi tree. Areas where the Urushi trees are flourishing include Southeast Asia, China, the Korean Peninsula and Japan. The quality of the Urushi sap produced in Japan is said to be the best, followed by China. The Urushi sap, harvested from the Urushi trees, has an adhesive strength and becomes hard and durable when dried after being painted.
In addition, surfaces painted with the Urushi have a smooth, shiny, and glossy appearance after being polished. The examples of arts and crafts coated with polished Urushi include the fountain pen, jewelry, and tableware.
As for the decoration of Urushi ware, there are techniques that are unique to both Japan and China.
Techniques of Chinese origin include, for example:
・”Hyomon”or “ Heidatsu” - involves fixing a thin sheet of gold and silver.
・”Chinkin”- embedding the gold and silver within the grooves carved into the Urushi surface.
・”Laden”- creating patterns by embedding or sticking multiple cut-pieces of luminous shell, abalone shell, and/ or white butterfly shell.
These techniques have been refined in Japan being incorporated in the Maki-e techniques.
The production technique of Maki-e unique to Japan includes:
・Creating pictures, patterns, and letters on the Urushi surface.
・Sprinkling the metal powders such as gold or silver by depositing the elements before
the surface dries.
The Urushi technique of “Maki-e” is truly unique to Japan and is unprecedented by any other art form from any other location. “Maki-e” is an unparalleled Japanese form of art and craft. This makes “Maki-e” a world class product for everyday use or as valuable items for collection.
: “Maki-e” has been continuously created since before the Heian period. There are however a number of challenges involved in creating the highest standard “Maki-e” art. Challenges include the cultivation of the Urushi sap from Urushi trees, ensuring smooth and scratch free Urushi surfaces, the lack of the subsequent generations learning and practicing the “Maki-e” arts techniques, and the tool manufacturing.
The future of genuine “Maki-e” Urushi wares for everyday use and collection is sadly uncertain.
The value of organic matter which Urushi ware has should be reviewed again among the contemporary culture where everything has been mineralized.
The surface of fountain pen is decorated by “Maki-e” craftsmen who have mastered the “Maki-e” technique after long years’ study to produce only first class items. The basic material is a shaved ebonite (*) rod with the Japanese traditional craft of "Maki-e being painted as decoration on it.
“Takamaki-e” and “Hiramaki-e” are produced by polishing after gold and silver powder is deposited in the Urushi.
“Raden (shells like mother-of-pearl)”:is produced by polishing after embedding the Urushi with fine particles of shell.
The beauty of these products are very impressive and attractive.
(*) Although they have similar appearances, ebonite is completely different from synthetic resin and plastic materials. Ebonite is classified as a natural resin, a type of rubber.
It has a high hardness and a high quality gloss appearance as well as excellent weather resistance as well as resistance to acid and alkali. Processing Ebonite is difficult and high level of technology is required for the manufacturing of ebonite products.
Ink stop type, used since the Meiji /Taisho era, has a great ability to inject the ink from the eye dropper instead of suction from the ink bottle.
It is mainly incorporated in luxury fountain pens due to the difficulty of manufacturing.
＊For the replacement of converter to an ink cartridge, pull out the existing converter , check to ensure it is empty, then replace it by inserting the new cartridge.
The Urushi sap, harvested from the Urushi trees, has an adhesive strength and becomes hard and durable when dried after being painted.
In addition, surfaces painted with the Urushi have a smooth, shiny, and glossy appearance after being polished.
Taking advantage of such properties, decoration by “Maki-e” with various patterns are available on pendants, earrings, bracelets, necklaces etc., made of wood, amber, shell and natural stone.