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Mizuya, Fine Japanese Tableware

A Japanese table wouldn’t be complete without lacquerware, which commonly makes an appearance in the form of the ubiquitous soup bowl. In our home, we use a set of sturdy, yet surprisingly light bowls with a pleasing, rounded shape. The bowls exude a warmth that has to be handled to be appreciated; their silky-smooth texture is comforting and inviting. Since the bowls are lifted directly to the lips to sip, their edges are designed with a soft gentle contour. Their inky black interiors set the perfect background for suimono (clear soup), highlighting floating bright yellow slivers of fragrant yuzu rind or fresh green mitsuba. We couldn’t imagine enjoying suimono or miso soup in anything else.

ABOVE: This elegant jubako, a lacquer box for osechi ryori (New Year's cuisine), features gold and mother-of-pearl inlay work. LEFT: Meiji-era folk-style red and black bowls.
Lacquer bowl with sakura and waves at
ABOVE: Black lacquer bowl with sakura (cherry blossom) and wave pattern.
Red and black lacquer bowls, (c) 2010 Risa Sekiguchi

Lacquer is not only beautiful; it also strengthens and protects whatever it covers from moisture. Known as Japan’s first paint, it has been used for over 6,000 years to cover anything from temples to combs. With such beauty and utility, it is no wonder that it continues to be popular to this day.

Lacquer is made from the sap of the urushi tree, which is aged, refined, colored (red, brown or black are the most common colors) and applied in thin layers to various materials – mostly wood. In conditions of high humidity and temperature, a chemical transformation takes place that results in a durable, lightweight and relatively flexible surface.

Because of the time-intensive handwork and great skill that go into making high-quality lacquerware, the cost is high. However, when properly cared for, lacquerware can last a lifetime. Extreme changes in temperature and humidity can cause the wood to expand or shrink, resulting in cracks. Care also needs to be taken when washing and handling lacquerware; soaking for long periods in water is not recommended, and heavy detergents should never be used.

We carry a limited supply of lacquer bowls and jubako at our online gallery, Mizuya.

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