The Japanese archipelago is home to many forests due to its warm and humid climate conditions. For this reason, since ancient times, various wood working techniques have been in use for building materials and traditional crafts.
The earliest woodcraft relics in the Japanese heritage date back as far as the Jomon (10,500-300 BC) and Yayoi (300 BC-AD 300) periods. They primarily included bowls, bows, combs and stem-cups. It was during the Edo period when the Japanese woodenware was developed into a form of art as highly skilled woodworkers were needed to create complex wooden designs. This boom continued through the Meiji period and gradually woodcraft became a key element of modern-day crafts. Today, woodenware play a major role on a Japanese dining table. From chopsticks and spoons to bowls and lunch boxes, this natural element not only adds aesthetic value but also gives an organic touch to the food presentation.
Wood Preparation and Woodcraft Techniques
In the Japanese woodenware tradition, Wood is mainly categorized as hardwood, softwood and imported foreign woods where the preparation and cutting is an intricate process that requires a variety of skills, techniques, and tools.
Artistic use of wood grain
Random grain patterns on timber are largely utilized while creating artistic woodenware allowing the grain of the timber to speak for themselves. In Japanese woodcrafts, these patterns are categorized as Tama-moku (circular burl), Sasa-moku (bamboo leaf burl), Budo-moku (grape burl), and Uzura-moku (quail feather burl).
The Cutting technique is decided by what type of grain design is expected to surface in the woodcraft. For instance, Masame dori is a cutting technique that allows growth rings to appear in parallel to each other whereas Itame dori or ‘In cross grained cutting’ allows growth rings to appear in irregular patterns.
Authentic woodcraft techniques
Japanese wood joinery, aka Sashimono is perhaps the most popular in the world among Japan’s woodwork techniques where only wood joints are used to join wood instead of nails, to give a precise, high-quality, organic finishing.
Commonly used for creating bowls and trays, Kurimono refers to the technique of hollowing out a block of wood using a carving blade or a chisel.
Hikimono is the traditional Japanese woodturning technique of using a lathe where the consistent rotation is used by the wood worker to carve out different symmetrical forms.
Magemono is the unique bentwood technique which is used to bend thin sheets of Japanese softwoods such as cedar or cypress. Wood sheets are soaked in hot water which allows them to be bent into oval shapes.
Cedar and cypress wood are well known for their flexibility, temperature retention properties as well as antiseptic qualities making them ideal for food serving too.
Japanese Bamboo Work and Unique Techniques
Well-grown in warm and humid regions of South-east Asia, bamboo is a multipurpose material used in construction, food, furniture, and clothing too. As it can be split into smaller strings, this unique material can also be used in creating beautiful woven patterns in baskets and vases. While bamboo vessels are known to have been in use from the ancient Jomon period, it was during the Muromachi period where a wide variety of bamboo products such as flower vases, ladles and round tables were invented due to its usage in the traditional tea ceremony. As a complex art comprising of a wide range of techniques, the outcome of a bamboo work is defined by the shape, size, and the width of the bamboo.
In the typical bamboo processing, bamboo is first boiled in caustic soda to extract oil, before sun dried until it turns yellow. Tools called Sukisen and Habatori are used to determine the thickness and width of a bamboo piece while the sharp corners are well rounded with a knife. Presenting itself in three main art forms, Marutake-kiri (cutting of round unsplit bamboo), Henso-mono (weaving using split strips of bamboo), and Marutake-kuminono (weaving of round unsplit bamboo), the authentic bamboo ware acts as a durable, toxic-free material in Japanese daily chores.
As a supple and relatively light material that is familiar to Japanese people, bamboo has been serving many purposes in the local life from the past. However, it is also a fact that it is disappearing due to the recent changes in lifestyle, the rising of new materials, and the lack of successors of craftsmen. We would like to continue to bring out the splendor of bamboo products that have been supporting the Japanese culture, through our products.
Where to Buy Japanese authentic Woodcrafts and Bamboo works?
The woodcrafts we sell can be viewed HERE. Once you pick up this technique, which has been cultivated over a long period of time, your sense of value toward woodcraft will change.
Related Articles on Japanese Woodcraft
One of the most popular Japanese woodcrafts is lacquerware. If you are interested in lacquerware, which is very luxurious and often used for kaiseki cuisine, please read the following article.