Japanese Wax

Practical Magazine 17, 1876

(Chemistry applied to the Arts, Manufactures, &c. Miscellaneous).

The chief wax-producing tree of Japan is Rhus succedanea. The fruit of Rhus vernicifera, which also contains wax, is used in the north of the country, but it gives an inferior product to that of Rhus succedanea, which flourishes only in the south. There it is found abundantly, especially in the islands of Kiushiu and Sikok, and is grown on dykes, roads, and the borders of fields, as well as near houses.

It is like all the rhus tribe in growth, and especially resembles the lac tree, but differs from it in dividing very much into strong branches near the ground, so that the chief stem is scarcely distinguishable. It also appears as if the tree was propagated by sprouts from the root. Its height seldom exceeds 30 ft. This small height in comparison with the peculiarly wide-spreading summit is characteristic of the tree.

The time for the appearance of new leaves is the month of April, and for blossoming, June. The fruit is ripe in October. When gathered in clusters, it is dried in the sun, and, after being taken from the stalks, sold to the wax manufacturers, by whom it is beaten while dry. The process employed is the same as the Japanese use for removing the husks from rice. A wooden tilt hammer worked by hand falls into a funnel-shaped wooden sort of trough, containing the material to be worked upon. By this operation, continued for a long time, the husk and softer part of the fruit are reduced to powder, while the inner stone remains and is separated by a sieve. By draughts of air blowing while the powder falls slowly from a height, the lighter husk is separated from the heavier part which contains the wax, but usually the latter is collected and again worked. In the poor island of Sikok a small per-centage of an inferior sort of wax is obtained by also grinding the stones.

The sifted powder containing wax is exposed to the action of steam in hempen sacks laid on bamboo wicker-work, so that the steam from a cauldron underneath may pass through. The contents are then, together with the sacks, subjected to considerable pressure, and the wax that flows out is received in the forms in which it goes to market. The instruments of pressure are usually of the most primitive sort.

The further treatment of the wax is very simple. In special bleaching works the raw wax is melted, pressed through strong cotton sacks, and dropped into moving cold water, by which means it is obtained in crumpled thin flakes and small pieces, which are bleached in the sun. For this purpose the wax is laid in shallow baskets, 2½ ft. long and 1 ft. broad, which are placed in long rows, often by thousands, in the open air. Here the wax is repeatedly turned according to the intensity of the sun's heat, and sprinkled with water, and, if necessary, even a second time melted. The wax then assumes a perfectly white colour.

The total export of wax from Japan for the year 1874 amounted to 1128 tons. The chief markets for this product are Nagasaki, Kobe (Hiogo), and Osaka. It is sent chiefly to China and London.

- Oesterreichische Monatsscrift für den Orient, April 15, 1876.

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