What is urushi-kaki?
Urushi-kaki is the process of collecting urushi (lacquer) tree sap by cutting the surfaces of lacquer trees.
Urushi-kaki is a profession and the professional workers who collect lacquer are called “Urushi-kaki san (Mr. Urushikaki)”.
In the Kawada district and Imadate area, there used to have many Urushi-kaki san who would travel all over Japan collecting lacquer tree sap after the rice planting season is over.
Since one lacquer tree only yields about 200 grams, at most, of lacquer, each Urushi-kaki san walks from one tree to another and travels from one mountain to another collecting good quality lacquer tree sap.
Fruit of lacquer
Branches of lacquer tree
Method of urushi-kaki
Futabara-kaki is the method of cutting lines on two sides of a tree to collect lacquer tree sap.
Medate is the cutting of the first cut for marking the three as a preparation process.
With respect to hen-kaki, the lacquer tree sap collected in June is called Hatsu-urushi, the tree sap collected in August is called Sakari-urushi and the tree sap collected in September is called Oso-urushi and their qualities are different. The Sakari-urushi collected in August is considered to have the best quality.
Hen-kaki (one-side cutting and collecting)
Urame-kaki (back-side cutting and collecting)
Urushi (lacquer) collecting
Lines are cut on the surfaces of lacquer trees and the tree sap that seams out is collected with special tools. The tree sap is collected in a container. The picture on the left a line of white liquid which is the lacquer.
The tools used for urushi-kaki includes various cutting tools such as sickles. These sickles are manufactured in the near-by Echizen uchi-hamono manufacturing area and they are known to cut well and clean.
Echizen-shu – the groups of urushi-kaki workers
In the Kawada and Imadate areas, many urushi-kaki workers took off to various parts of Japan to collect lacquer after the rice planting season is over.
These groups of Urushi-kaki san (urushi-kaki workers) were called “Echizen-shu”. They used a unique technique called “Koroshi-kaki” where they collect the lacquer tree sap completely from each tree during summer to autumn and then cut down the tree.
The urushi-kaki tools are manufactured in Echizen and include kan-na peeler, eguri peeler, gonguri scraper, lacquer peeler, etc.