What Is Hinoki Wood?

Written by jennifer alyson
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What Is Hinoki Wood?
Hinoki wood comes from the Japanese cypress, which is used in bonsai cultivation. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Hinoki wood comes from the Japanese cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa), a tree prized in the Land of the Rising Sun for its strength and durability. The Japanese cypress can grow to 120 feet with a diameter of 6 feet, making it ideal for building and furniture-making. Some of Japan's most famous buildings were constructed from hinoki wood. The wood also contains antibacterial compounds that help it fend off mould and pests. The Japanese use the oil of hinoki wood in medicinal treatments as well.

Kitchen and Bath

Hinoki wood's resistance to moisture and rot makes it a common material in the Japanese kitchen and bath. Platters, sushi plates and eating utensils, such as chopsticks, are made from hinoki. The wood also is vital to Japanese bath rituals. For centuries, the Japanese have made bathtubs of hinoki, which releases fragrant, therapeutic oils as bathers soak. Bath accessories made from hinoki include stools, ladles used to spoon water over bathers and bath mats.

Buildings and Furniture

Thanks to Japanese cypress' sturdiness and height, many Japanese temples, castles and historic residences were constructed from this wood. Hinoki's tight grain makes it pest-resistant and durable. Among the famous Japanese buildings constructed from hinoki are the Horyuji Temple in Nara, Nagano's Okuya House and Okuya Kyodokan Folk Museum, and Osaka Castle in Osaka. Though hinoki is strong, it's also pliable and easy to shape. Because of those qualities, hinoki is an important wood in furniture, such as beds and chests. Hinoki has become expensive and difficult to obtain, so a lot of today's Japanese cypress furniture, as well as repairs to hinoki-made homes, uses the similar, but less expensive, yellow cedar from countries, such as Canada.

Medicinal Uses

Hinoki wood has a cedar scent, and essential oils are used in soaps, bath salts and fragrances. The hinoki compound hinokitiol has shown antimicrobial activity against influenza and Staphylococcus aureus. The Japanese apply extracts of hinoki wood, with its antibacterial and antiseptic properties, to the skin to treat infections. Added to steaming water, hinoki releases a vapour that the Japanese use to treat asthma and soothe the nervous system. Researchers with Taiwan's National Cheng Kung University have even found that some forms of hinokitiol may be able to suppress tumours.

In the Garden

Japanese cypress is common in Japanese gardens. Gardeners use the tree, with its drooping branches that sweep the ground, as a screen or hedge to soften harsh winds. Dwarf varieties appear in rock gardens and as bonsai trees. Japanese cypress thrives in U.S. growing zones 4 to 8, and will grow to 65 feet in an urban setting, adding 12 to 18 inches of height a year. It prefers full sun, humidity and well-drained soil. The most common garden cultivar is the Nana Gracilis, which has dark green foliage and undulating branches. Two other common landscaping species, Crippsii and Fernspray Gold, have green foliage with yellow tips. Japanese cypress trees bear small, round pine cones of about 1/3 inch in diameter.

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