Soni – Urushi Village in Nara;
Proud to be Japan’s oldest craft institution.
If you have been to Japan, you have probably seen black or red soup bowls at
restaurants or in the home. Those are urushi lacquerware, (though plastic imitations
are also common). Soni Village is the first place to appear in written records in regards
to the use of lacquer and said to be the origin of urushi culture in Japan. According to
historical documents, during the time of Heijō-kyō when Japan’s capital was in Nara
prefecture, an institution specializing urushi lacquer production for the capital was
located in this village.
However, production of urushi has been in decline in this region for a long time. Who
is to blame? – Japanese lacquer is made of the sap of a tree in the sumac family, called
urushi, which takes 10 to 15 years to grow. When a slash is made on an urushi tree, sap
oozes out. It is mildly toxic and can cause a topical allergic reaction when touched
fresh. An artisan specializing in urushi tapping can only collect 200g of urushi raw
paint per tree, and only during the summertime. Urushi painting also requires a high
level of skill and patience.
In 2005, a few men in the village took their first small, but significant step to
revitalize the local urushi culture by planting urushi trees. These volunteer’s
dedication, and proud awareness of Soni as the birthplace of urushi culture inspired
the villagers. As a result in 2019, a village-wide long-term project of cultural
revitalization centered around urushi was officially established.
Restoring Soni Village as a central hub of urushi culture
Life in Satoyama is about interaction between
the forest and humans. Soni as the best classroom.
Soni Village hopes that our urushi will be used for the preservation of Buddhist
temples in Nara registered as Important Cultural Properties and National Treasures. In
the meantime, we will plant urushi trees every year, and welcome visitors worldwide by
offering urushi-centered tours and experiences. Your involvement, whatever it is, will
encourage us to maintain our commitment to the cause.
For all enquiries, or if you wish to take part in urushi plantation tours or urushi polishing and dyeing workshops, please contact us by mail.
- 〒633-1212 奈良県宇陀郡曽爾村今井495-1