28 June 2024

From Bark to Beauty: Insights from Kabazaiku Artisans

In the previous blog titled "From Tree to Treasure: Cherry Bark Craft From YATSUYANAGI," we explored in detail the various challenges encountered when collecting cherry bark. After overcoming numerous difficulties, the collected cherry bark undergoes two to three years of drying and airing before it is ready for decoration, polishing, and being crafted into finished products.

We interviewed two kabazaiku artisans, Takahashi Mariko and Takano Shuhei. Their explanations gave us a more comprehensive understanding of the kabazaiku making process and its unique charm.


  • Crafting Patterns: The Art of Kabazaiku Pattern Artisans
  • Crafting Tea Canisters: The Mastery of Kabazaiku Tea Caddy Artisans
  • Conclusion

Crafting Patterns: The Art of Kabazaiku Pattern Artisans

The charm of kabazaiku lies not only in the captivating texture of the wild cherry tree bark from the mountain forests but also in the delicate decorations that add a touch of elegant beauty to this craft. Team Musubi visited the home of Takahashi, an artisan who decorates kabazaiku, to learn about the process of creating intricate patterns, the challenges faced during production, and to gain a clearer understanding of how this exquisite craft comes to life.

Takahashi first explained the main steps of the process to us:

Prepare and glue: Apply glue to the prepared cherry blossoms and branch-shaped materials.

Position and heat: Place the cherry blossom and branch parts in their designed positions and apply heat with an iron. If the temperature is too high, it will burn, so temperature control is crucial.

Add texture to the trunk: Engrave lines on the tree trunk to create the horizontal grain effect of the cherry tree.

Detail the petals: Add stamens to the petals to enhance the three-dimensional effect.

Clean with hot water: Wipe off the glue residue using hot water.

The detailed carving and precise temperature control require years of practice and a high level of concentration. As Takahashi worked, we were fully engrossed, watching intently as time seemed to stand still, only the ticking of an old-fashioned clock in the room reminded us of the passing minutes.

We also asked a few simple questions:

Team Musubi: How long have you been working in this craft?
Takahashi: I've been doing this for 40 years.
Team Musubi: How many patterns do you have? 
Takahashi: There are about 20 different patterns.
Team Musubi: You don't refer to a guide while crafting. Have you memorized all these patterns?
Takahashi: That's right. After making so many pieces, the patterns are imprinted in my brain.
Team Musubi: What do you find most challenging in the creation process?
Takahashi: The branches, especially cutting them.
Team Musubi: How would you rate your current skill level?
Takahashi: I still don't think it's perfect. I wouldn't say it's at a full 100%. Maybe around 85.

As an artisan with 40 years of experience, Takahashi maintains high standards for herself. During her crafting demonstration, she showed us her tools, including molds used for creating cherry blossom and leaf shapes, carving knives for detailing leaf veins, and custom-made stencils for cutting fine branch shapes. Finally, Takahashi said, "Although I can’t claim to have mastered this craft completely, I truly love it. I feel joy when I’m working." It is this deep-rooted passion, along with these time-honored tools and meticulous craftsmanship, that brings the beautiful kabazaiku to life for us.

Crafting Tea Canisters: The Mastery of Kabazaiku Tea Caddy Artisans

Chazutsu, tea canisters, are a highly popular product in kabazaiku. In terms of functionality, these tea canisters made from wild cherry tree bark, known as a "breathing" material, have excellent humidity control. They don't completely block external air, so there is no concern about condensation. They keep the humidity inside the canister low and stable, allowing tea or coffee to be stored in a state close to its natural condition. Unlike metal products, they are also rust-free. Besides their strong practicality, they are also aesthetically pleasing, featuring the natural texture of the bark along with a charmingly glossy finish.

Team Musubi conducted an interview with Takano, an artisan who makes these tea canisters, and he guided us through the process of their creation.

Takano explained to us that the production of tea canisters involves the skillful use of multiple layers of cherry bark. The basic structure is created by layering three inner layers of bark and two outer layers, totaling five layers of bark. The entire canister is made from these layers, forming a tea canister completely constructed from bark.

Next, Takano demonstrated the specific steps of the production process while working.

Punching Holes: Punch holes at the seam of the tea canister using a comb-like tool to create corresponding protrusions and indentations on both sides of a rectangle.

Applying Glue: Apply glue to the bark and let it sit for a day.

Fitting: Wrap the bark around, aligning and fitting the protrusions and indentations together.

Heating the Mold: Slightly heat the wooden mold used for shaping the tea canister.

Wrapping the Bark:
Insert the heated wooden mold into the wrapped bark and smooth the bark using a heated iron. (This process is known as dou-bari or body shaping). The applied glue will melt and solidify upon heating.

Inner Layer Treatment: Similarly, place three layers of thin wood sheets and one layer of inner bark inside, one by one, and smooth with an iron.

Attach wooden boards to the top and bottom to form a sealed box-like structure.

Disassemble the box into the body and the lid.

Applying Outer Bark:
Apply cherry bark to the top and bottom.

Making the Inner Lid: Make the inner lid in the same way, attach the handle, and apply cherry bark to the top of the handle.

Polish the surface to a smooth finish.

The process is more intricate than we had imagined. Each tea canister is handcrafted with exceptional skill and carefully polished. Takano remarked, “Every tea canister is unique, each possessing its own personality and character.” As the gentle sound of sandpaper smoothing the surface filled the air, we watched in awe as the canisters gradually developed a captivating sheen, leaving us all marveling at their beauty.


Our journey into understanding kabazaiku is gradually coming to an end. Along the way, we learned about the challenges in collecting wild cherry bark, which must be carefully harvested and then dried for a long period before it can be further processed. Through our conversations with Mariko, an artisan who decorates kabazaiku, and Takano, a craftsman who makes tea canisters, we observed the intricate decoration and processing steps required to achieve the final product.

Throughout this journey, we gained not only knowledge but also an appreciation for the artisans’ passion for their craft. 

As we look at the kabazaiku crafts in front of us, it feels as if we can feel the gentle breeze from the Akita mountains, carrying the fragrance of cherry blossoms. More importantly, we sense the artisans' deep love for their traditional craft and the warmth they imbue into each piece.

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