Interview with Takuya Tsutsumi, 4th-generation urushi lacquer refiner


Please tell us a little about your background. What in your personal life has influenced you to choose your career?

After graduating from Hokkaido University’s Faculty of Agriculture, I worked at the Sapporo branch office of a chicken meat company based in Iwate prefecture.

I returned to my family business of lacquer refining in 2004 because my father, who is the president of the company, asked me to help them out. Our company manufactures lacquer using a method called Kourin, which requires a lot of care and attention.

What is the biggest challenge that you have encountered on your professional journey?

In a society of mass production and consumption where the utilisation of lacquer is decreasing, how can we reintroduce lacquer into modern life?

What do you love about what you do?

Lacquer exhibits various characteristics based on factors such as the environment where the lacquer tree grows and also the timing and the methods of harvesting. It’s fascinating to create various types of refined lacquer while appreciating the diversity inherent in natural materials. Moreover, the process of receiving materials from nature and collaborating with craftsmen to create products is very enjoyable.

Could you please describe your typical working day?

Our main task is to remove lacquer residue and check its condition on a glass plate. From morning until evening, we work on refining raw lacquer while removing moisture in large pots called kurome-bachi. During this process, we adjust the lacquer characteristics according to the requests of customers (lacquer craftsmen, etc.) regarding glossiness, dryness, and viscosity. We also do colour blending and mixing.

What are the sources of inspiration for your creative work?

Usually the inspiration comes when I spend time by the sea or in the mountains.

What are your plans and goals for the next couple of years? What do you wish to achieve?

We are currently in the process of establishing ateliers for young artisans within our company, as well as showrooms and workspaces to convey the allure of traditional crafts. We believe that craftsmanship begins with nature, using natural materials and the hands of artisans to create objects. In order to convey this charm, we have initiated activities such as planting lacquer trees in the Kyoto Keihoku region since 2019, and we plan to develop experiences where visitors can feel the process from lacquer refining to craftsmanship in workshops within the city. Our goal is to expand the possibilities of lacquer and convey internationally the value of craftsmanship that connects people and nature, ultimately making lacquer and craftsmanship part of the modern standard.

Please tell us why would you recommend your work/products to craft and design lovers. What positive impact they can make on people’s lives?

Lacquer is a precious gift from the forest, extracted from the sap of the lacquer tree. Only about 200g can be harvested from a tree grown over 15 years. It has been used since the Jomon period as a coating, adhesive, and structural material. With our Fuki Urishi Kit, you can use this lacquer to create your own chopsticks or bowls. The gradual process of creation fosters the joy of making things and inspires a sense of caring for and using them for a long time.

Craftsmanship, which involves creating things from materials obtained from nature, has always been about using materials from our surroundings. If we take too much, they will disappear, so let’s cultivate materials for the next generation. Such practices have been sustained within the balance between nature and people. In today’s age where everything can be bought with a click, the background of craftsmanship is often obscured. However, lacquer reminds us of our connection with nature.

If you wish to visit the refinery and learn more about urushi lacquer, book your experience here: Tsutsumi Asakichi Lacquer Shop Co.

Interview, translation & images by Anastasiya Bulkavets (