I recently got dermatitis after accidentally touching lacquer when fixing a couple of broken tableware. In the beginning, it was just a rash and some blisters on my left wrist. I was already worried about this, so I went to the doctor right away to get some dermatologic drugs. Instead of recovering, the rash just spread and began to affect both of my arms, my legs and the back of my neck.
Dermatitis caused by lacquer is very tricky — when you can no longer resist the itchiness and scratch the rash, the residue in your fingernails can easily affect other parts of your body once you touch them. Let’s say you are strong enough to endure the itchiness, the bacteria can still reach any part of your body through sweat. It was my third time to get affected, so I knew this torture of dermatitis would naturally fade away in two months. This thought actually made me less anxious. Human beings really have an excellent capacity to adapt to adverse situations. We can quickly get used to adversity when it has become a pattern.
Lacquer has been used by the Japanese to mend things ever since the Jōmon period (c. 14,000–300 BCE). Moving on to the Muromachi period (1336 to 1573), thanks to Wabi-cha (a style of tea ceremony) advocated by Sen no Rikyū, the general public began to appreciate the beauty of broken ware. Kintsugi (golden joinery) has become a popular and classy method of repairing broken porcelain. How did people from over ten thousand years ago get to find out lacquer is a natural material that can be used as glue? I find this absolutely fascinating.
Lacquer is the resin of lacquer trees. Resin is a natural protective response of the tree when it gets injured. It has a similar function as platelet of the human body. Once the resin is exposed to the air, it would gradually get dry. To obtain resin, people would purposely create a wound on the surface of the lacquer tree to let it keep “bleeding”.
Looking at the tableware that are only halfway through getting amended, and how my arms are full of rashes, all of a sudden, I realized everything has a consequence. It would be so unfair if I could obtain the “blood” of the tree without having any sacrifice myself. Itchiness is perhaps a relatively small price to pay.