13 July 2022
Woods Used in Traditional Japanese Crafts
Japan is the third largest "Land of Trees" in the world, after Finland and Sweden, with 70% of its land area covered by forests. In addition, Japan is a vertically long country from north to south, and climatic conditions are different in each region.
As a result, there is a wide variety of wood species, each with different appearance and characteristics. Therefore, Japanese woodworking has a long history, producing a wide variety of beautifully handcrafted and durable household utensils.
The Japanese craftsmen who involved in traditional woodworks, in particular, not only have knowledge of the properties of wood, but they also assess the individual characteristics of each tree and each piece of wood in order to create the best quality work.
There are various types of wood suitable for different works . In this article, we will introduce some of the typical woods used in Japanese woodworks and their characteristics.
- Japanese Cypress
- Japanese Cedar
- Japanese Zelkova
- Cherry Tree
- Pine Tree
- Japanese Boxwood
Typical Japanese Woods And Their Properties
Here are some of the most preferred woods used for Japanese wood crafts. Let's take a look at the characteristics of these trees, their properties as woods, and how they relate to the Japanese culture.
"Hinoki" Japanese Cypress
Hinoki is a type of cypress unique to Japan and is considered a first-class aromatic conifer, making it a particularly popular wood. Its beautiful, glossy white material is also desirable, and its relaxing fragrance, like that of a forest itself, has long been loved in Japan.
All softwoods has water-resistant properties, All softwoods have water-resistant properties, but cypress does not deteriorate even after continuous exposure to water and has antibacterial and deodorizing effects. For this reason, it is preferred as the best wood for counters and sushi plates in high-end sushi restaurants.
In particular, "Kiso Hinoki", a natural Hinoki grown in the "Kiso Valley" straddling Nagano and Gifu prefectures, boasts the best quality of any Japanese Hinoki wood.
Recommend collection made of Japanese Cypress
Miyabi Urushi Kogei Sushi Plate CollectionView Collection
"Sugi" Japanese Ceder
Japanese cedar, also known as "Sugi", is the most commonly used coniferous wood. It is known as building materials because of its fast growth and straight grain, but it is also known as a material for crafts because of its beautiful texture, suppleness, and ability to be sliced thinly.
In recent years, many Japanese cedar trees have been planted in Japan. Among natural cedar trees, those that are several hundred years old have been cherished as sacred trees in various regions of Japan.
Among all Japanese cedar, Akita cedar grown in the natural forests of Akita Prefecture is known as the best quality cedar wood, and Akita's traditional handicraft "Magewappa" products are also loved as tableware and lunch boxes made of Akita cedar.
Because cedar has humidity regulating properties, it keeps rice tasty even after it has been in the Magewappa for a long time. It also has a sterilizing effect and is said to prevent damage to the rice. Another appealing feature is the pleasant aroma of cedar wood that spreads when the lid is opened.
Also, Yoshino cedar in Nara prefecture is one of the three most beautiful forests in Japan and is famous as a high-grade brand-name material. Cedar is easy to process, but not suitable for large furniture, and is often used for barrels, ”Ohitsu”(round, wooden container for cooked rice), and other everyday items.
"Keyaki" Japanese Zelkova
Zelkova is extremely hard, tough, and resistant to wear, and its heartwood is resistant to decay. The beautiful grain of the wood makes it highly valuable, and it has been valued since ancient times. Large pieces are used as building material for temples, shrines, and castles. In particular, it has been considered an indispensable material for the main pillars of shrines and temples.
Because of its hardness, zelkova is more difficult to work than other woods, and it is a rare and valuable wood. Thus, it is considered very expensive.
It is also used for high-end furniture because of its beautiful luster that appears when polished. Because of its deodorizing and antibacterial properties, it is also highly appreciated for long-lasting, high-grade tableware.
"Sakura" Cherry Tree
The cherry tree is the most beloved tree of the Japanese nation for its Sakura flowers, but it is also known as an excellent wood material for crafts.
Reasonably hard and not too difficult to process, it is used in a wide range of products from furniture, musical instruments, and sculptures to tableware and cutlery. There are many varieties of cherry trees, but only a few are used as wood materials, and because of its preciousness, it is also known as a high-grade wood.
It is also popular for its beautiful color, with green grain appearing on the bright reddish-brown surface, and it is an excellent wood without the deformation that is common in hardwoods.
In addition, the bark of the Yamazakura tree (Mountain Cherry) is used as a material for Kabazaiku (cherry bark craft), a rare craft in the world that brings out the beauty of the bark as a decorative element.
Cherry blossoms, bark, and lumber are all beautiful, and can be made into all kinds of beautiful processed products, making it the very embodiment of Japanese beauty.
Bamboo is a very fast-growing and fertile plant that grows widely in Asia and other regions of the world. It is a perennial plant and is distinct from the trees mentioned above, but it can grow to a height equal to or greater than that of trees, and because it is composed of the same components as trees, it has been used as a material for a variety of processed products just like wood.
The axially straight fibers make it flexible, strong, and unbreakable, and it is sometimes used as scaffolding for large architectural structures. The interior is hollow and has knots at almost regular intervals, allowing it to be made into cylindrical containers, water bottles, and cups.
The straight bamboo fibers can also be split into narrow pieces, which can be woven into bamboo crafts such as colanders and baskets. Particularly, chopsticks made of bamboo are resistant to fracturing even when made thin, and because the fibers do not tear easily, they are more smooth to the palate than wooden disposable chopsticks, and their simple beauty is also popular.
Since ancient times, bamboo crafts have been so easy to process that they can be made with a single knife, and have long been used as a tool for daily life by the Japanese folks, and are currently attracting attention from an ecological perspective.
Recommend Items made of Bamboo
Yamachiku Bamboo ChopsticksView Yamachiku Bamboo ChopsticksView All Bamboo Crafts Collection
Paulownia, called "Kiri" in Japan, is a traditional wood used for furniture in Japan. It is a deciduous hardwood that has a softness and durability similar to coniferous wood, it is the second lightest wood in the world after balsa wood.
Paulownia wood contains natural ingredients that have insect repellent properties. It is also said that "paulownia wood breathes." When the humidity is high, paulownia wood absorbs moisture from the air, and when it dries out, it releases moisture. So the air inside the box is humidity-regulated and mold-resistant. Furthermore, when a paulownia box absorbs moisture, it swells slightly, making the inside nearly airtight. Due to its airtightness, it is said that when a fire is extinguished or a box is flooded, the paulownia wood absorbs the water and swells, tightly sealing the box, and the kimono and household goods inside are safe and sound.It is no wonder that important items have been stored in paulownia boxes since ancient times.
In Japan, paulownia chests are the finest chests for storing kimonos, and similarly, paulownia boxes for storing fine tableware and other artifacts, such as matcha bowls, sake cups, and artworks have been used to protect all kinds of cultural assets in Japan since ancient times.
Though paulownia is a tree that grows not only in Japan, but also throughout the world, it is said that Japan is the only country in the world where paulownia has been used as a wood for handicrafts.
The paulownia flower is also known as a traditional and prestigious plant in Japan, and is used as the emblem of the Japanese government.
Recommend Items made of Paulownia
*Some Musubi Kiln products come with a paulownia wood box for storage. Products in a paulownia box, such as the items below, are recommended as a special gift.
Fugetsu Red Clay Tokoname Japanese Teapot Set 9.5oz(280ml)-Sasame and CerameshView Item
"Matsu" Pine Tree
Pine has long been a favorite tree in Japan as a motif of auspiciousness. Because of its flexibility, firmness, and longevity, pine has been used for all kinds of purposes, from building materials to traditional woodworks.
Because it is slow-growing, it sometimes produces special grain patterns, which are popular in trays and other products that express these patterns. The color and luster of the wood become more vibrant with aging, making it extremely beautiful as an antique tool.
The oils in pine wood make it highly flammable, and it has long been used as firewood and charcoal. It is known as the most excellent charcoal as fuel, especially for kilns for ceramics and metal forging in Japan.
"Tsuge" Japanese Boxwood
Boxwood is often seen as a garden tree, but it is also a well-known material for crafts in Japan. Because it grows very slowly, it has an extremely fine texture and is one of the hardest woods used in Japan, with a stone-like strength, making it difficult to work, but a material that is rarely damaged.
Since tsuge is also a tree that does not grow large, it is processed into small accessories such as Shogi (Japanese chess) pieces and Netsuke, as well as combs. It has also been used to make precision parts in woodblocks for Ukiyo-e prints.
In particular, combs made of Japanese boxwood are popular with less static electricity to keep hair beautiful, and also as combs with more beautiful hair effects by soaking them in oil that is said to be good for hair, such as camellia oil or apricot oil.
Texture, color, and aroma of Japan
For the Japanese, woodwork is a very familiar tool. Ceramics also have a very long history, but woodwork, which can be processed by anyone, has been a friendly part of the folk culture.
In the Mingei (folk art) movement, one of Japan's representative art movements, woodwork used by the common people, including bamboo crafts, have become tools that embody the aesthetic of “the beauty of use," and some have become antiques that have been elevated to the status of works of art.
In the culture of Japanese people who love the antiquity, durable and environmentally friendly Japanese woodworks are still deeply loved in Japan and abroad.