Kamo Paulownia chest | Making the most of Paulownia Wood


Kamo paulownia Chest is Japan’s Traditional craft chests of high class in price and quality

Kamo paulownia chest is characterized by three main features.

1: Paulownia wood is a superior material

Paulownia wood boards used for Kamo paulownia chest are soft and soft, with little expansion and contraction due to humidity and dryness. This makes it possible to make chests with no gaps, protect clothing from moisture, and protect the contents from water damage.

Paulownia boards have the lowest thermal conductivity of any wood. Once the surface of the chest is scorched and carbonized, heat transfer is then slow and the interior is protected from fire. And paulownia boards contain large amounts of tannin, paulonin, and sesamin, which are said to prevent feeding damage by bacteria and insects.

2: Handmade by skilled craftsme (traditional artisans) and designated as a traditional craft by the Minister of International Trade and Industry

There are no gaps between drawers or doors, and moreover, they are crafted to be light to open and close, and airtight. It keeps clothes and other stored items in proper humidity, does not damage them, and preserves them for a long period of time. Kamo paulownia chests are a traditional craft that has been made for over 200 years. It has a graceful appearance that has been handed down over the years.

3: Paulownia wood itself has good qualities.

Paulownia trees, which are used to make Kamo paulownia chests, grow faster than other trees. Paulownia wood can be utilized quickly as a wood resource, and moreover, the paulownia chests produced will be used for many years, making them an earth-friendly piece of furniture for the future.

kamo paulownia chest

Historical Background

Kamo City has long been known as “Little Kyoto” in the Hokuetsu region, and the town has a calm atmosphere reminiscent of the ancient capital of Kyoto. As the local folk song “Kamo Matsusaka” tells us, “Kamo is a place of machines and chests of drawers, where the reed and hammer call to each other.

The Kamo River, which flows from Awagatake, a prefectural natural park, runs through the city and empties into the Shinano River. Since 70% of the total area of Kamo City is mountainous, natural paulownia wood has long been abundant and easily available. Making use of the characteristics of paulownia wood, craftsmen began making boxes for storing and preserving clothing, medicines, paintings and calligraphies, and antiques.

It is said that chests were first made in Kamo about 220 years ago, during the Temmei period. It is said that Maruya Yoemon started making them from cedar wood while working as a carpenter, and an old house in the city still has a paulownia chest with a purchase date of 1814 written on the back board. Around 1820, paulownia boxes and chests were loaded and shipped from Kamo River to Shinano River to Niigata and Tohoku area.

In the “Kamo Town Magazine” compiled in 1877 (Meiji 10), it is written that 400 pieces of chests and 200 pieces of chomochi were produced in Kamo, which shows the formation of the production area. Around 1882 (Meiji 15), the production began to boom with shipments from Hokkaido to the six prefectures in the Tohoku region. In 1976, the excellent characteristics of paulownia wood, its beautiful grain, the warmth of its bark, and the high level of handcraftsmanship were recognized, and it was designated as a “traditional craft” by the Minister of International Trade and Industry.

Manufacturing Method for Kamo paulownia Chest

1. Lumber making

Unlike other production areas, Kamo is home to a cluster of mills that mill lumber from logs, so the entire process from log cutting to finished product is carried out in an integrated manner. First, after logs are cut, they are naturally dried for three years. This process requires vast tracts of land and a lot of labor, and by regularly re-hanging the logs and exposing them to the sun and wind, the astringency is removed and discoloration and deviations are prevented.

2.Wood Chopping

Experienced craftsmen select and combine the right pieces of paulownia wood, of which only about one-third is good wood, and many years of experience are required to select and effectively use it. The “ita-kiri” process involves cutting the wood while considering the grain and material quality, and the “ita-assembly” process involves assembling the parts while focusing on the grain sequence.

3. Assembly

To strengthen the joints, dovetailing is performed, and wooden nails are used to create a solid body.

4. Drawer (tray) door processing

Drawers and doors are made larger than the outer frame and adjusted by shaving a little with a plane to fit them together without gaps.

5. Painting

After adjusting the wood, the soft parts of the wood are scraped off, leaving the hard parts “Uzukuri kake”. Paulownia wood is soft and easily scratched, so the wood’s grain is enhanced as well as being less vulnerable to scratches by utsurikake.

After the wood is utsurikake-coated, it is brushed several times with a mixture of toshiko (grit) and yasha nuts. After allowing the wood to dry naturally, wax is applied evenly along the grain of the wood.

6. Attaching metal fittings

Pulls, hinges, locks, and other metal fittings are carefully attached by craftsmen to complete the process.

kamo paulownia chest
Source: Niigata Prefectural Tourist Association


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