The Story of Wood and Japanese Craftsmanship

Time Magazine announced this week the World’s Greatest Places of 2022, and two places in Japan made the list – Kyushu and the Setouchi Islands. Kyushu especially has been recognised as one of the most luxurious destinations in Japan. The Island of Kyushu is located in southwestern Japan and is home to seven of Japan’s 47 prefectures – Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Ōita, Miyazaki, Kagoshima. During the Edo period the area had nine prefectures, hence its name ‘Kyushu’ which means nine countries in Japanese.

You can enjoy beautiful nature, delightful local cuisine, and a different culture to the rest of Japan. Time Magazine mentions the ultra-luxurious train – the Seven Stars – which is launching a new route later this year. The journey begins in Hakata, Fukuoka and explores all seven prefectures over four days. The Seven Stars calls itself ‘The Most Luxurious, Relaxing Train in Japan’, and for good reason. The entire interior is covered in beautiful wooden panelling and decoration, made by master craftsmen using traditional techniques. 

Much of the interior decoration is Kumiko – geometric wooden pieces all made without nails. Craftsmen spend over 10 years learning the technique and have been using it to decorate Japanese temples and Shoji since the Edo period. You’ll also find young craftsmen making coasters to improve their skills, before moving on to make stunning decorations for festival floats.   Japan has a rich history of making crafts with wood. Many people lived surrounded by dense forests, which provided materials that they used to make shelter and tools for daily life. Cypress and Japanese cedar are two woods that are commonly used in artisan crafts. Many traditional houses in Japan are made from these woods too, and some of the most ancient Japanese temples were constructed without using nails.   We also have artisan Japanese wood crafts in our collection – our Magewappa Bento Boxes. Magewappa is a technique developed over 400 years ago. It involves taking a thin plank of cedar wood, and steaming it so it is pliable, and can be formed into different shapes.

Like Kumiko, no nails are used. Instead, the craftsmen use the bark of cherry trees to bind the ends together. Our Magewappa Bento Boxes are all handmade in Akita prefecture, using local cedar. The cedar has antibacterial properties, as well as moisture-wicking properties – so food is kept fresh and prevented from going soggy. They’re the perfect container to enjoy a plastic free picnic this summer, and much lighter to carry than glass containers! These bento boxes have hundreds of years of history, both in the technique and the wood itself.

I hope you enjoyed this short introduction to Japanese wood and craft. Our goal is to introduce Japanese culture and tradition through our products. We are always looking to grow our collection to include more products that tell unique stories of Japan!

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