Studio visit to Tsutsumi Asakichi Urushi Shop


Hello Reader,

We noticed that one of Kyoto traditional crafts that fascinates international visitors the most is lacquerware, so we decided to have a look behind the curtain of urushi lacquer production. We are lucky to have the perfect place for that on our list of Kyoto craft companies and independent makers available for visit.

Tsutsumi Asakichi Urushi Shop, established in 1909, embarked on a mission to supply local artisans with high-quality urushi lacquer. From humble beginnings, they improved techniques, faced wartime challenges, and embraced innovation. As a lacquer refinery, the company now plays a crucial role in the Japanese lacquerware industry (in fact, the factory refines 65-70% of domestic urushi!). We had fun exploring lacquer storages and refining technology that has been passed down from generation to generation: various stirrers, centrifuges, three-roll mills, etc.

Today, under the stewardship of Takuya Tsutsumi, the fourth-generation refiner, Tsutsumi Asakichi Urushi remains a bridge between tradition and modernity. After joining the company in 2004, he started various activities to introduce urushi lacquer to a wider audience, and the “Beyond Tradition” project is one of them.

Raw lacquer, obtained from the sap of the lacquer tree, undergoes a refining process to remove impurities and achieve the desired consistency and quality. And while it is still mainly used in the traditional lacquerware industry and for restoration of national treasures, Takuya Tsutsumi proposes new encounters with lacquer through its application to unprecedented forms: reusable straws, skateboards, bicycles and even surfboards.

During our visit to the factory, we noticed a couple of surfboards undergoing the lacquering process, and later we stopped by the exhibition hall of the Kyoto Museum of Crafts and Design to bring you an example of a finished surfboard crafted in collaboration with other artisans ↓

Other exciting projects the refinery is engaged in are “Urushi no Ippo” (the initiative to convey the potential and appeal of lacquer), “Forest of Craft” (tree-planting & forest management and a centre for sustainable craftsmanship) and urushi workshops for both adults and children.

Tsutsumi Asakichi Urushi also collaborates with research institutes, universities, and companies to explore the untapped potential of urushi as a material.

Stay tuned for our interview with Takuya Tsutsumi and to learn more about the Fuki-urushi experience included in the visit to the refinery.

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

Words & images by Anastasiya Bulkavets (