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Who Is Isuke?

Brand

Isuke is a company based in Kyoto with a history of more than 180 years. The company started its business during the Bunsei era, which is a period that spanned the years from April 1818 to December 1830. In the earlier days, the company was focused more on lacquer trading, but in 1966 the company started selling lacquerware. The relationship the company has established over the years with the lacquer manufacturers / craftsmen has allowed the company to offer a wide selection of high-quality lacquerware at a reasonable price. Isuke's lacquerwares are widely recognized, being used in traditional Japanese restaurants in Kyoto. Isuke thinks it is very important that people use lacquerware not only on special occasions but in their everyday lives. This is why the lacquerware provided by Isuke is simple and modern, while maintaining a hint of Japanese tradition.

Japanese lacquerware exhibition
What sets Isuke apart from other lacquerware manufacturers is that Isuke places a large emphasis on making Japanese lacquerware that caters to the international taste. It also participates in a variety of international exhibitions. As a result of these endeavors, Isuke's products have been sold in various shops and museums outside Japan. Isuke's products are also purchased by large Japanese corporations who are looking for a Japanese gift for international clients.

Product Series

Byakudan Style

japanese lacquerware isuke byakudan style
Koma Monyo Style

japanese lacquerware isuke koma monyo style

How Japanese Lacquerware Is Made

Japanese lacquerwares, also known as "Japan" outside Japan, are collected by a number of enthusiasts across the globe. It is amazing how much work, time and expertise are required to create a single piece of these much-desired lacquerwares.

The lacquer in Japanese lacquerware is derived from the sap of Asian lacquer trees (toxicodendron vernicifluum, or more formally, Rhus verniciflua) by scraping the trees' surface. The milky-color sap is then filtered to removed any remaining tree chips etc. Given that lacquer viscosity and the time it takes to dry depends on the region and age of the individual lacquer trees (e.g., if you compare the lacquer that can be acquired in Vietnam and Japan, the Japanese lacquer has as twice much as urushiol, the main component of lacquer whose name comes from "urushi," the Japanese name for lacquer), it requires a certain level of expertise to create the lacquer with the desired characteristics.

The lacquer must be purified before being used in the actual lacquerwares. During this purification process, the filtered lacquer is mixed in order to ensure the consistency of the components, and is heated to remove any extra water. Although the resulting lacquer becomes transparent, various colors can be added during the purification process. For example, black lacquer can be made by iron powder (the iron powder creates an oxydative effect, thus making the lacquer itself black) and pigment can be added to create red or green lacquer.

Largely speaking there are three types of base materials that can be used for Japanese lacquerware: (1) The first is wood. The wood can come from different types of trees; Zelkova in particular is considered the highest quality (2) The second option is wood-powder-and-resin compound. In order to create this compound, resin is mixed into the wood powder and then gets molded. This material makes the lacquerware more affordable, and although the wood lacquerware is lighter and has better texture compared to the compound lacquerware, the compound lacquerware is just as durable as wood lacquerware (3) The third material is resin (e.g., plastic, ABS). Needless to say the quality of this material is lower than wood or wood-powder-and-resin compound. This material is hardly used in Isuke brand products.

The process of drying lacquer is a time-consuming process, and yet a very interesting one. Contrary to what the word "dry" implies, lacquer is dried by actually letting it absorbing moisture in the air. To be more specific, urushiol (the main component of lacquer) changes to solid from liquid when the enzyme contained within reacts with the oxygen in the water. Lacquer can be dried most quickly when the temperature is 25-30 degrees Cellcius and when humidity is around 70%, and these conditions are replicated in the rooms where lacquer is dried by putting a damp cloth underneath.

Packaging

packaging urushi lacquerware

Media Coverage

Isuke has been featured in a wide variety of media, both domestic and international:

  • KBS Kyoto: details of Isuke's collaboration with a designer in Paris was featured by the television network on 19 December 2014
  • VOGUE Germany: Isuke's products were featured side by side with Givenchy and Bottega Veneta in December 2014
  • MONOCLE: Isuke's products were featured in the British magazine in October 2014
  • NHK News: Isuke's participation in the "Contemporary Japanese Design Project," promoted by Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, was featured in the national news program on 30 May and 31 May 2014
  • Asahi Shimbun: Isuke's product (wine cooler lacquerware) was featured in the newspaper's article on 29 May 2014
  • KBS Kyoto Television: Isuke's partipation in the "Kyoto Contemporary" project was featured on 30 March 2014
  • Kyoto Shimbun: facts pertaining to Isuke's history was featured in the newspaper's article on 12 January 2014
  • NHK: Isuke's participation in Kyoto City's project in relation to oveseas markets cultivation was featured in one of the national television network's programs on 22 March and 2 April 2013
  • KBS Kyoto: Isuke's participation in Kyoto City's project in relation to oveseas markets cultivation was featured in 29 March 2013
  • MBS Mainichi: Isuke was featured in one of the television network's programs, in which a television personality introduced shops with long-standing history on 9 March 2012
  • Gekkan Chanoma: Isuke's products were featured in a Japanese tea magazinen in January 2012
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