We have made ourselves very confusing when we talk about the colors of Genuine Urushi, because Urushi is much different from other paints and it has only 6-7 main colors available with very limited pigments. We have discussed with our Maki-e artists and have the project to make our customers feel much easier to decide what color they like when they select the pens they want. Urushi when sapped from Urushi trees, looks opaque milky white and it becomes translucent amber color after the Urushi is cleaned as Ki-Urushi, crude Urushi. This crude Urushi goes refined to be more than 10 different qualities of Urushi for different usages.

As far as I know that this refine process is available only in Japan and this is the reason why so many different qualities of genuine Urushi is available only in Japan, even though 99% of Urushi used in Japan is imported from China or Vietnam. Urushi has only 6 main colors can be made because the pigments can be used for Colors of Urushi is very limited. Different qualities of Urushi will affect the shade of colors and length of time to dry.

The Urushi quality is different not only from different trees, but also from the different parts the same trees, not to speak of different areas. The best conditions for Urushi trees should be planted where they have enough sun shine as well as good breeze! The basic Urushi, Ki-Urushi after reduce the contained water to only 3% left called Shuai-Urushi or Sugurome Urushi. Then, this Shuai Urushi is added with some pigment to become color Urushi.

The main colors for Genuine Urushi are Black and Red.

Black Urushi Is made with soot or iron, but Black with soot is pitch-dark black widely called Shin-nuri (real black), while the Urushi with iron will make the black becomes grayish years later.

As for Red, Urushi can be made from dark Hon-shu (real red) to so-called Bengara red. And we make 6 red Urushi colors this time.

Please carefully check the red colors shown with the R Number, while you see the different REDS as the statement. As Red Urushi is pretty complicated and should be divided into several different red colors under some kind of definition as follows:

R-1, Hon-shu. Red or Shu.
R-2, Aka-kuchi. Between Red and Orange color.
R-3, Ki-kuchi. Orange.
R-4, Wine. Kogaku san’s own color, Shu Urushi painted as the base and covered by translucent red Urushi.

R-5, Urumi. Urumi originally mean by moisture or wet, but it also means by color of Bengara mixed with black Urushi to be brownish started from Wajima. The definition is rather vague because the color could be so much different that his Urumi can look as very different color from her Urushi. The color varies according to the balance of SHU and Kuro. It is brown or maroon with slightly purplish gloss. Our Maki-e shi , Kenji in Wajima says that there are several different definitions of each word.

R-6, Bengara. Bengara (or write Benigara) or so-called Indian red means dark reddish brown color. “Bengara” name from Bengal of India, but now they use synthesized pigment (Fe203 oxide) today as many other pigments replaced noxious cadmium or mercury now prohibited. So “Bengara” has nothing to do with Indian Red anymore. In Wajima, they see this color should look Shu with less vivid or more gentle than Shu.

From left :   R-1   /   R-2   /   R-3   /   R-4   /   R-5   /   R-6  

Here is another example of colors with Bengara-nuri.

The same Bengara on different Nuri look so much different by colors. From top. And this happens with Blue Tame-nuri or Purple Tame-nuri, etc .

RM21BE, Bengara Roiro-migaki


ITK21BE, Bengara Irokeshi-dame (Matte)


TA21BE, Bengara Tame-nuri on Genkai


What is Kuro-dame (Black Tame-nuri)?

We misunderstood the word used in the major Urushi communities in Wajima or Yamanaka in Ishikawa-ken. We thought Black Tame-nuri was just another color of Tame-nrui or another color of Roiro-migaki or another color of Irokeshi-dame, but we have found that the black used in this case is just a kind of pigment to make other color mainly for reds.

There are Shu-dame (Red Tame-nuri), Midori-dame (Green Tame-nuri or Ao-dame (Blue Tame-nuri) but Kuro-dame or Black Tame-nuri seems not as these regular Tame-nuri. We checked with two major Urushi communities in Japan, Wajima and Yamanaka both in Ishikawa-ken where our Maki-e shi working there.

  • The definition of Kuro-dame by Koichiro Okazaki says that the bases are painted with Bengara Urushi and covered by translucent Urushi with a bit of black Urushi to look a bit blackish, called Kuro-dame or Black Tame-nuri. Actually, they are so vague and it is not possible to even make color cards for this matter. And it is not possible either to make exactly same Kuro-dame again and again on different days, as every Kuro-dame painted on different days while they have to freshly make new lot of Urushi for them and they measure the weight of Urushi by only 0.1gram unit to get the color as close as possible to what they want.
  • On the other hand, our artist from Wajima, Kenji Yamamoto says that Kuro-dame means “Standard way of Tame-nuri”. All the Tame-nuri we ordered were painted with Kuro-dame. Kuro-dame with a bit of Kuro Urushi used because it helps the color to avoid the unpopular color change from red to brownish called Aka-dame. He also agrees that all these definitions are pretty vague after all.
  • We can’t blame any customer who thinks that Kuro-dame must be Tame-nuri in Black. And after we talked with major Urushi communities in Japan, Kuro-dame are actually regarded as Bengal, but the fact is that Kuro-dame is reddish color Tame-nuri with just very thin black look color there.

If someone still likes to imagine what will it look as Black Tame-nuri like the regular Tame-nuri, the same way to paint as other color Tame-nuri? Well, it will be like Black Roiro-migaki, very black and shiny after it was repeatedly paint and burnish the surface. But if like to have like other Tame-nuri, they do with method of painting Hana-nuri, use oiled black Urushi to paint the surface without any burnishing. I believe this will be closer to other color Tame-nuri. By the way all these special words Urushi related are not easy to be found in Japanese regular dictionary today .

Garden Colors

We asked our Maki-e shi Kogaku san to give us some exclusive colors for garden and we luckily could have some very special colors of Urushi from him.

  • The Urushi for all the bases uses Shuai Roiro Urushi (The Urushi reduced some water from the raw Urushi) added with pigment, but in order to have the best transparency, he uses all Urushi supplied by Joboji in Iwate-ken.
  • When use pigment while imagining the color he wants to make, he has to put the Urushi and the pigment on scale by 0.1gram unit mixed very finely.
  • He has to adjust the mix of the Urushi and pigment while he has to imagine the color after it is dried, because the color would be a bit darker when it is dried.
  • Not every color can be done. Above all the Blue group is the hardest.

Since some of the above Urushi colors are available at Urushi retailers and they can buy it for the color instead of making by themselves. And especially value some colors made exclusive for us by him worth introducing to you. The colors are:

From left: GN-504(Lilac)  /  GN-505(Rose Pink)  /  GN-210(Grass Green)  /  GN-208(Pale Blue)  
/  GN-509(Mint)  /  GN-111(Young Grass)