Kasukabe Paulownia Chests | 350 Years’ History Sustaining Japanese Life


Traditional Japanese crafts fitting for climate in Japan

In Japan’s humid climate, paulownia have been an important piece of furniture in our daily lives. It is an important piece of furniture that keeps the airtightness and yet has high moisture absorption properties, protecting your clothes even in the hot and humid Japanese summer. This article will explain Kasukabe paulownia chests.

What is Kasukabe paulownia Chests?

Kasukabe’s paulownia chests and boxes are a specialty product of Kasukabe City, which boasts a tradition of approximately 300 years and the largest production volume in Japan, since the technique was handed down by craftsmen who participated in the construction of Nikko Toshogu Shrine in the early Edo period (1603-1868).

Highly Preservable Storage

In Japan, the only country in the world where paulownia is used as a furniture material, paulownia wood storage furniture became popular among the general public only after the introduction of paulownia chests in the late Edo period. Until then, simple box-shaped storage items such as bamboo gyo-ri, wooden nagamochi, and chests were used. As the economy developed markedly and the lifestyle of the common people improved, there was a widespread demand for storage furniture to efficiently put away the increased number of possessions. Functional tansu chests, which took up little space and were equipped with drawers for detailed sorting, were a new type of storage furniture that met the needs of the times.

Kasukabe paulownia chests
Source: 山田桐箪笥店

History of Kasukabe paulownia chests

Kasukabe’s paulownia boxes boast a history and tradition of about 300 years. Just at the beginning of the Edo period (1603-1867), outstanding craftsmen gathered from all over the country to build Nikko Toshogu Shrine. They remained in the area and continued to produce small daily necessities for the common people, such as fingerings, bunko (paperbacks), paulownia pillows, and sorting boxes, using the abundance of paulownia wood.

Old documents record that dozens of kimono makers and box makers lived in the area during the Tempo period (1868-1912). Since then, the skills of these craftsmen have been passed down for 300 years, and today, Kasukabe boasts the largest production volume in Japan, making it a popular specialty of the area.

Features of Kasukabe paulownia chests and boxes

Since the Edo period (1603-1867), the samurai culture has been nurtured by the simple and sturdy samurai culture, which is characterized by a sober and simple appearance without unnecessary decorations and a design based on straight lines. The types of paulownia boxes made in Kasukabe include the early paulownia pillows and organization boxes, as well as small interior items such as extractor boxes, letter boxes, needle boxes, etc. They are also widely loved as unique containers for storing precious metals, metal textiles, ceramic lacquerware, calligraphy, antiques, tea ceremony utensils, flower arrangement supplies, food, decorative items, and other luxury goods.

Paulownia wood is known for its beautiful grain and luster, as well as its excellent resistance to insects and mold. It is also highly resistant to fire and water, and its durability has made it useful for a wide variety of tools and furniture since ancient times. As people are once again re-evaluating their lives with wood, paulownia wood will bring a warm touch to their lives. In the future, while respecting traditional paulownia boxes, new techniques and innovative designs will be introduced, and the value of Kasukabe’s paulownia boxes will become more and more important.

Kasukabe paulownia chests

Manufacturing  Process & Method

1. Cutting of raw wood

The paulownia wood used to make Kasukabe paulownia chests is of good quality from various prefectures in the Tohoku region, mainly from Aizu, Fukushima Prefecture. In addition to paulownia wood, we also use magnolia and mulberry wood from Hokkaido as secondary materials. Once the materials have been prepared, the logs are cut into pieces. Cutting is done while considering how to maximize the use of the wood. The thickness of the lumber is 9 to 21 mm for lumber and 5.5 mm for masa-gi after it is split into four pieces.

2. Drying

The cut pieces are naturally dried in the wind and rain for about 3 to 4 months. Natural drying is an important process for removing the wood’s natural acridity. This process is important to remove the wood’s natural acridity, which gives Kasukabe paulownia tansu the unique beauty of its wood color.

3. Wood Drying Process

Kidori is the process of cutting out a piece slightly larger than its actual dimensions. At this time, the masaita, which is used for the surface of the chest, is adjusted so that the grain spacing is the same. This process results in beautiful Kasukabe paulownia chests with even-grained wood.

In addition, during the wood cutting stage, marks are made to show how the pieces should be aligned to ensure a beautiful finish.

4. Correction Process

In the “correcting” process, distortions that have occurred in the board are corrected. Each board is then burned over a fire and the distortion is removed by hand using a hand-held planer. It is said that it takes up to three years to master the skill of correcting distortion, as it is a delicate adjustment that tests the eye and skill of the craftsman.

5. Shaving Process

Up to the stage of re-distortion, the cut boards are still slightly larger than their dimensions. In the shaving process, a planer is used to shave the board to match the dimensions.

kasukabe chest
Source: Iijima Paulownia Chest Manufacturing Co.

6. Assembly process

Once the parts have been cut to size, they are assembled. The wooden nails used in this assembly process are the hallmark of Kasukabe paulownia chests. Wooden nails are made of utsugi, a strong and durable wood. However, no matter how strong they are, they are not made of metal, so even if they are hammered into the wood with a hammer, they will not firmly penetrate the wood. Therefore, holes are drilled in advance using a drill or other tool, and the wooden nails are driven into the holes.

7. Finishing

The assembled chests are then adjusted with water to repair distortions. By making firm adjustments here, drawers and doors can be opened and closed smoothly. This is an important process for the comfort of the chests. Then, further fine adjustments are made using a planer. Once the chests themselves have been adjusted, the next step is coloring. The next step is coloring.

After the “uzukuri” process, in which the grain of the wood is brought out on the surface, the chest is painted with a mixture of honokoro (grit) and a dye called yasha (yasha). This process of “uzukuri” and coloring enhances the rustic flavor of Kasukabe paulownia chests. After coloring, wax is applied for waterproofing. The wax coating not only protects the chest from water, but also brings out its luster.

The final step is to attach metal fittings, and once the overall adjustment is complete, the Kasukabe paulownia chest of drawers is finished.


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