Letters from DAIBA FujiTV English Blog

Urushi (Lacquer)

Aug 30, 2013

Hi everyone. My name is Jun. I’m originally from China and I joined the International Department last year, so I’m still a rather new member here. Today I’d like to share with you about my very interesting experience in co-producing a program with Taiwanese broadcaster. It is a documentary that delves into the world of Urushi (lacquer).
 
What image comes to mind when you hear the word “lacquer”? Some people might think of beautiful expensive ware, while others may associate the word with an itchy rash.
 
Lacquer is the sap collected from the lacquer tree. The photo here was taken in a lacquer tree forest in Taiwan. As you can see, lacquer sap is flowing out of the tree that grew with plenty of sunlight and rainwater. A seashell is used to collect the flowing lacquer sap. The bark of lacquer trees in Taiwan are rather soft, so seashells can be easily tapped into the bark of the lacquer trees. In just about 30 minutes, the seashell here was filled with the lacquer sap that oozes out of the tree.
 
Skin contact with lacquer tree or sap can give us an itchy rash, so we headed to the forest fully dressed in our “protective gear.” We, the shooting crew, had lots of work to do even after the shooting in the forest, so we did our best to take every precaution not to get infected by lacquer. Prior to the shoot, a famous Japanese lacquer artist advised us to buy disposable rain coats at convenience store as “further protective gears." Summetime in Taiwan is very hot and humid. Imagine being fully clothed in these raincoats with long sleeves and long pants... We felt as though we were in a sauna!
 
After shooting, we were invited for tea, which was extracted from you-know-what…lacquer leaves. The color and aroma were very similar to Hojicha (Japanese roasted tea), and the taste was sort of like a mix between Hojicha and black tea. As I took a sip of the tea, it felt as though the tea seeped through my body, balancing the temperature difference between the inside and outside my body. On the upper right of the photo, you see the “snack” that they kindly served us, which was dried lacquer beans. It had a savory aroma and its taste reminded me of black beans. Lacquer can also be used for medicine. The renowned Taiwanese lacquer artist that guided us mixed the lacquer sap and egg white and gulped it down right in front of our eyes. Then he smirked and said to us, “It’s energy enhancement medicine.”
 
While we are talking about lacquer, let’s take a moment to think about kabureru, meaning “getting a rash” in Japanese. In Japanese, Kabureru also means “being possessed or obsessed.” There’s a word in Japanese seiyokabure referring to people over-influenced with western culture. Interestingly enough, in Chinese language, getting a rash from lacquer is expressed as “being bit by lacquer.” One female Taiwanese lacquer artist shared with us that even though she has been making lacquer art for over ten years, she still gets rash even today. She said, “I was ‘bitten’ by lacquer, and it stuck with me ever since then. Because of this special characteristic, it created and strengthened the bond in our community.”
 
You might be wondering if the production crew got a rash from lacquer at the end.  Well, we were told that there is an incubation period, but if we were actually infected, the symptom would come out immediately after drinking alcohol. So that night we drowned ourselves with beer. As nervous as we were, fortunately none of us experienced any symptom, so we were able to keep working hard at our production and achieved to create a wonderful program. It is a solid proof that we were indeed embraced by lacquer.

     

Fuji TV’s first-ever documentary program co-produced with Public Television Service Taiwan, “Peng Lai Island on My Mind: The Untold Story of a Lacquer Artist Revealed After 100 Years” will be on-air on Saturday, August 31st starting at 2pm on BS Fuji. Please be sure to tune in and enjoy the show! 

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