Traditional Japanese Wood Crafts

Written by frank b. chavez iii
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Traditional Japanese Wood Crafts
Japanese craftsmen make a wide array of wooden goods. (Japanese meal image by Pyshnyy Maxim from

Woodworking has an ancient history in Japan, made possible by Japan's rich variety of both softwood and hardwood trees. Archaeological evidence shows that the Japanese were creating sophisticated wooden buildings as early as 4,500 B.C. According to the website Traditional Crafts of Japan, wood was once so important that it was considered "almost synonymous with life." Japanese craftsmen still use wood for household goods, utensils, furniture, art and collectibles.


Sashimono is the Japanese equivalent to cabinetry. It developed in the Heian period, between the 8th and 12th centuries. However, it wasn't a specialised craft until the Muromachi period of the 14th to 16th centuries when the rise of the tea ceremony created a need for special boxes and furniture. Sashimono is used for a variety of household furniture such as chests, wardrobes and dressers. The most common type of wood used in sashimono is from the paulownia tree. Native to Asia, paulownia is heat and moisture resistant, making it ideal for storage containers.


The practitioners of horimono, or woodcarving, are known for creating transoms or ventlike screens found over doorways. Japanese transoms developed in the 17th century as decorations for shrines and temples. In the 18th century, merchants began adding them to their homes. During the booming Japanese economy of the 20th century, newly wealthy businessmen demanded increasingly complex and intricate designs as a show of wealth. In recent years, carvers have returned to the simplicity of earlier designs. The city of Inami in Toyama Prefecture has developed a program for teaching Japanese woodcarving to sculptors from around the world including Columbia, India, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Denmark and New Zealand.


Magemono refers to products made by bending wood. Craftsmen create bentwood products by soaking coniferous wood in hot water until it softens, bending it around a template and then allowing it to dry. This style of woodworking is prominent in the Akita and Nagano prefectures. It is used for bento lunch boxes, water jugs, cups, beer mugs, food trays and rice tubs.


Hikimono or turnery is the craft of making round objects on a tool called a lathe. According to historical documents, craftsmen in Nagano Prefecture began creating forms for wooden bowls and trays in the early 18th century. Craftsmen in the Nagano city of Nagiso create individualistic pieces that retain the natural look of the wood such as variations in colour and grain. This technique is principally used for trays and bowls.

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