Megumi Shimamoto is a modern urushi artisan, creating items for everyday use. Her college major was in Japanese painting. She has always been curious about the evolution of art in our daily lives, and has made this her life’s work: painting beautiful products, but also creating something practical with her handiwork. She started her career as an urushi artisan straight after graduation. Now she creates lacquerware items in the modern style, and designs fashion accessories which combine beauty and functionality. Her husband is also an urushi artisan and a great supporter of her work.
Urushi is one of the most durable natural lacquers available, made from the sap of the Urushi tree. It has been used for almost 9000 years, and popularly used for bowls, trays and boxes, amongst other things. The resin lacquer urushi adds durability and resilience to make these items last longer, as well as giving each item a beautiful glossy appearance. Its adhesive qualities are also used art for attaching decorations (e.g. gold powder, shell and eggshell). While a variety of decorative techniques have been developed throughout China, Korea, Myanmar and Japan, maki-e is a peculiarly Japanese technique which uses gold and silver powder to decorate the surface of the artwork.
Note: Urushi is usually mixed with other ingredients when used. For example, cloth, Japanese paper (washi) and also whetstone powders (jinoko and tonoko) add strength and smoothness. Contemporary urushi artisans are adding their own personal touch to their creations by drawing on techniques and knowledge from the past.


She is passionate about portraying the cute, adorable animals and the beauty of Nature to be seen in her hometown in her accessories. For this project, she chose the kingfisher as a motif, since it reminds her of her childhood. The cute and pretty kingfisher is beautifully decorated for this brooch, bringing a grown up style to this ladies’ fashion item.


Forming the base body shape and painting on urushi

Ms. Shimamoto’s work begins with the design. She combines her original decorative style with practicality, something which can sometimes be challenging. She shapes the wood to form the outline of her artwork. There are three stages to painting with urushi : the undercoat (shitaji-zukuri), the middle coat (nakanuri) and the final coat (uwanuri). Once the item is painted, it needs to be dried and polished with charcoal. Then it is painted again. By repeating this process over and over, urushi strengthens the artwork and adds an elegant gloss to it.

Using different type of shells in one product

The uniqueness of this product derives from the way in which she combine the different shells. Ms. Shimamoto cuts shapes out of the shells and matches shells with different textures, shapes and colors. Traditional mother-of-pearl (raden) artworks usually have thin shells, but she uses the thicker parts of shells in her own art. Her modern design incorporates beautiful maki-e adornments.

  • The artist keeps a stock of shells in her workshop. From right to left: ear shell from New Zealand, great green turban, Japanese ear shell, black-lip and white-lip pearl oyster.

  • Shell plates are taken from the back of the shells. They are polished with a file and an abrasive.

  • The artist paints red-colored urushi on the areas where she want to decorate with maki-e. The gold powder sticks to the urushi when sprinkled on. Then she polishes it.