What to know about Urushi

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manupropria

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Nov 2, 2014
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508
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Bern, Switzerland
I have seen many questions in the forum about urushi, regarding, quality, technique, cleaning, prices and so on.
So I thought I should take a time and write an essey on this toppic.
Maybe I can motivate one or the other to deal with Urushi

Feel free to download the pdf from the library on my website.
There is also a German version for download

Best regards,

Martin
 

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duncsuss

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Jun 29, 2012
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Wilmington, MA
Thank you, Martin - I look forward to reading this, probably more out of interest than because I want to start using urushi on my pens. (But who knows? Maybe I'll try and become hooked on it!)
 

leehljp

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Feb 6, 2005
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Tunica, Mississippi,
I thought I had responded to this but I didn't hit the "post reply" button.

Excellent. I learned much from your PDF. Thank you for that excellent write up. Very informative. And it brought back some great memories for me. I lived for 13 years in Nara, 14 years total in Kansai - greater Osaka area which includes Nara, Kobe, Kyoto and Wakayama. Oh, so much I took for granted while there. Saw many items in museums, and castles and temples.

I had several Japanese-English* and English-Japanese dictionaries* (those two are different from each other) and one that was about 6 inches/150mm thick. Even in the thicker one, many of the Japanese words you used were not in the English to Japanese version or the Japanese to English; one had to know the Japanese word to find it, and even then some specialized words would not be in the common dictionaries.. One such word that I had problems with for 10 years was "Chinese tree oil" which is "tung oil". "Chinese tree oil" is in the "Japanese to English", but not the English to Japanese, because native English speakers will look up "tung oil" which is not what Japanese or Chinese call it.

You have had a very good teacher for your Japanese. Most of those words are not in common use to most Japanese. Most Japanese will know the basic 3000 kanji characters plus another 1000 specialized characters having to do with their specialty, such as banking, industrial, business, medical, academics, etc. If one's specialty is not in that area, they generally will not know what the other specialty words mean.

In every day English, Here in the USA, we will say that "lawyer speak/lawyer language" in contracts are far beyond the understanding of most people. We know every word, but have no clue as to the real and final meaning - since we are not lawyers. In Everyday Language in Japan, it is basically the same. There are about 50,000 characters, but the average Japanese will know only 4000 - 5000 or such, which is the 3000 basic for everyday language and 1000 to maybe 2000 more for specialized use in a specific field.

Japanese use a form called furigana which is the alphabetical letter in very small script above the Kanji characters to show how it is to be pronounced**. This still does not give full understanding, which comes only if one is immersed within that specialized field. As an example, I am in the religious ministry and in my studies, my teachers taught me ministry words. Imagine my surprise when I wrote out my history and mentioned my "calling - Shomei" in Kanji characters, made several copies and gave them out to 8 Japanese adults that were studying English. Everyone asked me what "Shomei" was. I looked at them, and said, "That is a Japanese word and characters, don't you know it?" After that experience, I was careful to ask my teachers, for an additional word that was more common, or that the "common person" could understand.

Japanese Dictionaries:
* English - Japanese, Japanese-English dictionaries come in 4 basic versions: (Probably Chinese also)
1. English to Japanese WRITTEN in the English Alphabet system to learn the Japanese Word
2. Japanese to English WRITTEN in the English Alphabet system to help translate a Japanese word to English. I heard "shokuji" often - Oh, it means "meal" or food.
3. Japanese to English - WRITTEN in Japanese character system for Japanese
4. English to Japanese - WRITTEN in Japanese Katakana form with explanation in Kanji and Hiragana.

** Furigana - Japanese alphabet above a Kanji character to denote the pronunciation. For instance, the word for day: 日 can be pronounced Hi (he) or Ka, or bi, or Nichi, or Tachi, depending upon the specific word or location of that character within a combination of characters. For specialized words, most Japanese will need the Furigana alphabet above the character to know how to pronounce it correctly.
nichi yō bi (be)
にち よう び
日  曜 日。= Sunday Notice the first character is pronounced different from the last character even though they are the same character.

In some ways, the Japanese form is far more complex than Chinese, and if one is not in a specialized field, it is understood that you will not understand, and it is not demeaning if one does not understand. That was a great shock to me. I am not in the medical field but I know a lot of medical terms, legal terms, scientific terms and can often tell by the context what a specific word may mean, but there is not as much cross-specialization understanding in that language.

Many times I asked neighbors and even my Japanese language teachers even beyond basic language study times - I asked about Japanese wood work and finish and I always got a blank stare, with an answer of "I do not know" (Wakarimasen!)

Thank you for your work in explaining the intricacies of the Urushi system.
 

manupropria

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Nov 2, 2014
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Location
Bern, Switzerland
Japanese is indeed a complex language. It is also a Japanese peculiarity that in each branch a separate term was formed for each step of work. My interest is mainly in Japanese philosophy, arts and crafts which I learned are all "dô" ways. complex aesthetic concepts.
25 years ago I became interested in "Suiseki" the art of stone appreciation. Since even Japanese friends could not read the terms of this art form, I had to learn them. It was the same with urushi.
I have many dictionaries myself. The most important for me is the Handbook and Lexicon of Japanese Writing by Langenscheidt. One part deals with 1945 kanji in all phonetic variants.
The second part is a radical index with 1664 characters, ordered by number of strokes and the third part is a reading index.
With this dicctionary I could find 95% of the words I was searching for.

Forr those interested to learn more on Suiseki, the art of stone aappreciation in Japan,
Here is the link to a e-book I wrote some years ago. Suiseki, The Japanese View of Nature and the Art of Stone Appreciation
 

leehljp

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Tunica, Mississippi,
Excellent e-book. I enjoyed your dictionary at the end too. Many words or forms I knew and still remembered. It has been 12 years since I returned to the States and haven't used my Japanese much since then. Only occasionally.

An interesting Japanese language item I ran into in the late '80s involved computers. I began my Japanese language study in January 1986. In '89 I was interested in getting a Japanese WaPro. (word processor) But the instructions were in Japanese only, and in Japanese computerese - a specialized language that had not made it into most dictionaries. I needed an English manual, but there was no such thing around. So, I bought a number of English computer magazines in Shibuya and Shinjiku looking for a Japanese OS Computers with English language manual. I found one ad in a Macintosh computer magazine. I was back in the States for 5 months in mid '89 and bought a Mac; I ordered the Japanese OS with English instructions from a company in California. (Backing up to the '60s -in high school in the early '60s, I took typing class, so I knew typing/keyboarding.) The Japanese OS allowed for Romaji (Roman letter) input, or Kana input. Because I knew the standardized English input (QWERTY board), I was quick to be able to use the romaji keyboard to input Kana and Kanji and switch back and forth between English and Japanese Kana.

When back in Japan (Tokyo) I went to a computer club and carried my Mac. A Japanese guy was there with a Toshiba laptop. We compared notes and both of us started typing. He made the comment that I was fast. I thought that was odd, but I knew the Japanese characteristic for compliments to put people at ease - so I didn't really think I was that fast at all. He also said the Mac had more Kanji than his twice as expensive Toshiba.

A few weeks later, a Japanese acquaintance whose son attended the same school as my girls - he heard I had a Mac and was interested in one. I showed him my computer and did some typing; He to did some typing and then said: You are fast with writing Japanese on the computer. I was a little annoyed at the "compliment" but didn't show it. I asked him why he thought I was fast at typing Japanese when he and the other guy could type Japanese naturally?

His Reply: "You type in Romaji and you know the keyboard; Because of that, you are faster than we are. Japan (in the fall of 1989) does not have a standardized keyboard. In fact there were 4 major keyboard configurations and a few other keyboard configurations for Japanese kana. With no standardization, Japanese teachers are not able to teach keyboarding in their schools like it is in Europe and America". I now understood why they said I was faster, even though I was not as fast as most who knew typing.

I think they have a standard Kana keyboard now. Even in the early to mid '90s, there were still two primary keyboard configurations.

Soon after I learned to use the computer for Japanese writing, I switched my handwritten Japanese studies to computer printed Japanese. My Kanji recognition went up and my handwriting ability decreased. My once a week Japanese teacher was both happy and annoyed. Happy that my Kanji recognition went up, but annoyed that my handwriting ability went down.

Faux pas #1: One other result of using the computer was that I started printing bulletins for our church. At first no one said a thing but after a few months, I was pulled aside and told to change my font script. Basic Font in serif or san-serif was OK, but I was selecting a font that looked like script/handwritten and one that was closely associated with ancient writings. I found out that it was somewhat offensive to write a church bulletin in that font. Some fonts in certain script designs are meant for specific writings and not for others.

faux pas #2 - I lived in the Osaka area from '92-2004. Osaka is famous for its Osaka-ben (dialect). Once, I wrote a note in a bulletin in Osaka dialect and was promptly told it is OK to speak Osaka-ben in certain situations, but do not write in that form for normal communication notes! So, I had to remember to NOT write in Osaka-ben. Later, I had trouble understanding something, and a lady gave a short but simple explanation that was VERY easy to understand. I asked her to repeat it so that I could write it down. She yelled "NO!" Then said: "You don't write that, as it is improper Japanese (Osaka-ben)." Everyone else who heard the conversation laughed. There is a conversational Japanese that is very improper to write - casual conversation and then there is an "in home, family" conversation that is not rude there among family, but very rude in public. My language consultant friend said I was not supposed to know that language!😉

Japanese language is an interesting and a very "feeling" language, with lots of hidden meaning, much reading between the lines, and lots of subtle silent communication too.

I enjoyed your article.
 
Last edited:

bzahn

Member
Joined
Jun 9, 2021
Messages
32
Location
Elkland, Missouri
I have seen many questions in the forum about urushi, regarding, quality, technique, cleaning, prices and so on.
So I thought I should take a time and write an essey on this toppic.
Maybe I can motivate one or the other to deal with Urushi

Feel free to download the pdf from the library on my website.
There is also a German version for download

Best regards,

Martin
Vielen Dank! Ganz interessant.
 

darrin1200

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Joined
Mar 17, 2010
Messages
1,625
Location
Lyn, Ontario, Canada
Excellent book. Unfortunately, with my allergy towards poison ivy, a don’t think I will risk working Urushi. I can’t wait, to one day, see one in person.
 
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