Hakone wood mosaic | Authentic and mesmerize Japanese marquetry

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Hakone wood mosaic: Traditional crafts utilizing the dexterity of the Japanese people

Marquetry has become one of Japan’s most popular sundries. It is highly appreciated not only in Japan but also in the world. 300 years ago, the natural colors of various trees and the heart and soul of craftsmanship have been handed down still today. If either of these fires were extinguished, this geometric pattern would not exist. Why not incorporate this traditional Japanese craft into your daily small items? Today, we will explain Hakone wood mosaic!

What is Hakone wood mosaic

Hakone-wood mosaic (also called “Hakone Yosegi Zaiku”) is a woodwork made in Hakone Town, Kanagawa Prefecture. Hakone is home to one of the richest natural environments in Japan, including the abundance of tree species in the Hakone Mountains.

The characteristic of Hakone Yosegi Zaiku is that various patterns are created by combining the precise color differences of the trees. Therefore, traditional patterns such as sayagata, hemp leaves, arrow feathers, and seigaiha (blue ocean waves) can also be expressed. In addition, trees are divided by color, and there are more than 50 varieties. Originally made as souvenirs from the Tokaido Highway, Hakone marquetry is said to have originally been a luxury item, and in 1984 was designated a traditional handicraft by the Minister of International Trade and Industry, making it more than just a souvenir, but an exquisite work of art that fascinates people.

The Charm of Hakone wood mosaic

The charm of Hakone wood mosaic lies in the color and texture of the unprocessed wood and the beautiful patterns created by the craftsmen’s skills. There are two types of zuku-azaiku: zuku-azuke, in which the seed board is shaved as thin as a sheet of paper using a planer and pasted on the surface of a wooden product, and muku-zukuri, in which the seed board is shaved directly on a wheel to create a piece of artwork.

Hakone wood mosaic
Source: Value plus

Zuku-applied zuku is very thin, 0.15 to 0.35 mm thick, and can be used for a variety of shapes of wooden products. On the other hand, muku-zukuri cannot be mass-produced like zuku-zukuri, but the pattern changes greatly depending on the angle at which it is cut, allowing for a variety of different looks.

Historical Background

History of Hakone marquetry. It began in an inn town in Edo period

In the late Edo period (1603-1867), marquetry was born in Hatajuku, an inn town located right in the middle of Odawara and Hakone. It is said that Nihei Ishikawa of Hatajuku, who was aware of the rich variety of trees in the mountains of Hakone, began making trays and boxes by merging various types of wood with different colors and grains. Hakone marquetry with its beautiful geometric patterns became popular as souvenirs for travelers in Hatajuku, where travelers came and went.

hakone wood mosaic
Source: Yosegi Online Shop

When it first began to be made in the late Edo period, Hakone-Yosegi-Zaiku was mostly made with simple patterns called Ran-Yosegi or unit patterns. In the Meiji period (1868-1912), the technique of Shizuoka-area yosegi-zaiku was introduced, which led to the creation of the complex geometric patterns that we see today. The Odawara-Hakone area, where the technique has been handed down from the Edo period to the present, is known as the only production center of Hakone wood mosaic in Japan.

hakone wood mosaic
Source: BECOS

Production Method

Wood used

Only a few pieces of unprocessed wood, called “solid wood,” are used, which can only be obtained from one tree. Solid wood is used for furniture and interior goods because it has moisture absorption and desorption properties and can respond to seasonal climate changes and maintain a comfortable environment.

For example;

  • Purple Heart: Also known as “violet wood. It is a beautiful purple wood.

  • Nigaki (bitter wood): This wood is almost yellow in color and has a bitter taste, as its name suggests. It is used in Chinese medicine as a stomachic.

  • Buried tree: A tree that has been buried in the ground for several hundred years after it fell, and is also called jindai because of its preciousness and beauty. Since the tree is not exposed to oxygen while it is underground, it does not decay and changes its unique color.

Seedwood making

  1. Select a piece of wood of the appropriate shade for the marquetry pattern you wish to create, and cut out the arts of the pattern with a hand saw to fit a special marquetry mold.The cut parts are placed in the mold, and the surface is carefully prepared and finished with a hand plane.
  2. The completed patterned parts are put together one set at a time with glue called glue glue glue, and the parts are firmly attached with string to prevent the pattern from shifting.

  3. Repeat the above process to make large pieces of patterned material. The resulting mass of large parts is called tanegi (seed wood).

Making tanegi (seed board)

  1. Cut the seedwood tanegi into several pieces to make blocks of yosegi.

  2. The blocks of parquet with different patterns are gathered into a board and glued together to make the seed board, which is the source of the beautiful geometric patterns.

Zuku (zuku) shaving

A special large hand plane is used to shave the seed board into thin strips. This is called zuku. The zuku is then ironed out and glued to the surface of a wooden box or other wooden product to complete the marquetry work.

Summary

We have introduced three traditional crafts in Kanagawa Prefecture. Kanagawa Prefecture is located to the west of Tokyo and is an easily accessible travel destination, which has led to the development of traditional crafts as souvenirs. Of course, since Japanese traditional crafts are closely related to daily life, tableware and other items are also born in Kanagawa. However, the Hakone wood mosaic is a product that has established itself as a souvenir, and can be said to be a traditional Japanese craft that reflects the characteristics of the region.

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