URUSHI WARE: SUITŌ -SHIKI Collection- Episode02

August 6, 2023

The Japanese craftsmanship behind SUITŌ

tefutefu’s creative ideas are brought to life by artisans who innovate and push their craft forward while preserving traditional techniques. It is thanks to their expertise, keen senses and technical skill that has perfected SUITŌ after about two years of development.


A Woodturner’s Instinct

One of the trademark design characteristics of SUITŌ is its bold and supple form, which is reminiscent of feminine curves, created by a trained woodturner. The large, flexible undulations are kept to a width that prevents unevenness in the lacquer coating at a later phase of the process. The woodturner meticulously adjusts the balance using only the sense of touch in his fingertips. “Kogei is to do things that cannot be mass-produced or done by machines.”

SUITŌ uses a luxurious technique called tate-gidori to showcase the best of domestically produced zelkova wood. Only the bare wood that has grown “obediently” is carefully selected from the timber cut from the sliced trunk. The moisture content reduces and wood distortion is kept to a minimum during drying. Making full use of dozens of hand planes, simultaneously carefully and boldly, each piece of wood is shaped by focusing on the rotation of the potter's wheel. The breath of the bare wood that only the woodturner can feel through his fingertips. It is the woodturner's skill to produce the vessel accurately with consistently high quality to allow for the next phase, the lacquering work, that follows.


Tint and Tone: A Solution To An Unknown Equation

The four colors that tefutefu confirmed to express spring, summer, autumn and winter are complex, delicate, and romantic like natural scenery. However, it is very difficult to reproduce light colors with brown-based lacquer. Tradition dictates the use the traditional vermillion and black as the base colors, so the light and impressive color palette of tefutefu’s product is a new frontier in the craft. However, Mr. Tomohiko Tsujita of Tsujita Lacquerware, which has been in business for 150 years in Echizen City, Fukui Prefecture, repeated experimentally toning with Daigo lacquer in Ibaraki Prefecture, collected data on the influential conditions that would affect the final product, and made more than 40 color prototypes. By layering coats, a light color tone that is said to be difficult to achieve within the industry, was made a reality.

Lacquer is always a race against time. Even with the same formula, if the drying time and environment are different, the resulting color will consequently change. As the color reproducibility increases by hardening slowly over time, refinement is needed to achieve the best hardening speed. On top of that, the color of the wood base and layered coatings are taken into account in the formulation, and the viscosity of the liquid is adjusted to suit the shape of the wood base so that there is no uneven coating. With respect to the laquerer’s experience and technique, tefutefu discusses the details of easy-to-use and accurate color expression to create the lacquer.

“There is no formula for lacquer.”

Meeting the challenge of using colors that overturn tradition has greatly expanded the possibilities of colored lacquer.


The Lacquerer’s Wisdom

SUITŌ incorporates the concept and scenery of cherishing passage of time and embracing the changes in nature’s color as the seasons change. Based on this concept, tefutefu has developed a unique coating method with a lacquerer to express the "love of aging". The lacquer color expression [SHIKI] that was created in collaboration is a new technique of layering different colors of lacquer. As SUITŌ is used more and more, another layer of colored lacquer will gradually appear from under the topcoat of colored lacquer. Like the traditional Negoro lacquer technique, which is expressed in vermillion and black, you can enjoy the transition of colors for decades.


The wood sawed at the wood base workshop is delivered to the lacquerer after delicate manual work by craftsmen. First, there is the shimoji craftsman, who fills in the wood grain and unnecessary holes to create the smoothest possible surface, followed by the wipe lacquer craftsman, who wipes off a thin layer of lacquer after the rim. Colored lacquer is then applied, hardened, and polished. Lacquer, which hardens at the right temperature, humidity, and time, is not as straightforward as contemporary formulations. If the coat is too thin, the dust on the wood’s surface will be agitated, and if it is too thick, it will shrink and the color tone will change. While paying close attention not to generate dust, a pot on the stove is filled with hot water to maintain the humidity and temperature of the plastering area during winter. Lacquer tends to accumulate in the recesses of the wooden base, resulting in uneven brown color. After coating, the lacquer is placed in a bath rack that maintains a temperature of 20 to 25 degrees Celsius and a humidity of 65 to 75 degrees Celsius. The lacquerer works with the lacquer alone through a series of intense work in which all elements affect each other minutely.

SUITŌ was born from a close dialogue with Japanese zelkova and lacquer as well as a beautiful collaboration with the highly skilled craftsmen who works with these materials. We hope that those who pick up SUITŌ will experience the beauty of Japan and embrace the passage of time.


Video&Photographer: Hiro Yamashina
Text: Yuka Sone Sato
Design: Mammy Horie
Translation: Kelly Yeunh



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