Ichii-Itto carving that puts the soul into each and every sword | traditional Japanese crafts in Gifu 2

Ichii carving
Source: Taniguchi Chokoku (carving)

Ichii Itto-bori carving, Artistic and elaborate decoration

Ichii Itto-bori is a wood carving craft
produced in Takayama City, Hida City, and Gero City, Gifu Prefecture. It is
carved out of a wood called ichii (yew) using only a chisel, and the beauty of
the grain of the wood is preserved without any coloring. The traditional method
has been preserved for many years, and in 1975, it was designated as a
traditional handicraft by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry. There are many Traditional crafts with solid carving technic in Japan. If you are interested in these kinds of crafts, you will love Inami wood carving and 
Koshu Crystal Gemstone Work.

The luster of ichiboku wood increases as it
ages, turning it into a beautiful candy color. This change is caused by
oxidation of the surface of the wood. The wood used for Itto-bori carvings is a
precious wood that is between 400 and 5,000 years old. The first-grade wood
used for Itto-bori carvings is carefully selected from precious 400- to 500-year-old

There is a theory that the Ichii (= first
grade) wood was once presented as a scepter to the emperor on his accession to
the throne, and was given the highest rank of “Shoichi” because it
was more beautiful and of better quality than other woods. The wood is
characterized by its beautiful grain, which changes to a shiny brownish-brown
color over time.

Using “Ichii wood,” which has a
beautiful grain and gradually turns brownish-brown and shiny, the artist
sharply carves and expresses his work using only the skill of the carving
knife, without decoration or coloring. Ittobori carving is a skillful use of
the flow of the grain and the coloring of the wood, such as akata (red) and
shirata (white), which is achieved by selecting high-quality materials.

Ichii carving
Source: Taniguchi Chokoku

History of Itto-bori carving: Ryoucho

The origin of Itto-bori carving was
established by a netsuke carver named Matsuda Ryoucho in the late Edo period
(1603-1868). A netsuke is a clasp used to hold a purse, cigarette case, or inro
(seal case) so that it does not fall out of the belt when carried. Ryoucho
originally made his living as a chopstick maker, but he also honed his skills
as an engraver by visiting famous engraver families in various parts of Japan
and studying engravings found in shrines and temples.

One day, during a visit to Nara, Ryoucho
discovered a doll made by Nara Itto-bori carving. Itto-bori carved dolls were
characterized by their vivid colors, but the beauty of the grain of the wood
was often obscured by the coloring. Ryoucho, who wanted to create sculptures
that made the most of the beauty of natural wood, conducted repeated research
using yew wood, which had excellent grain, ease of carving, and luster.

As a result, he developed the Itto-bori
carving technique, which utilizes the natural beauty of the wood without
coloring it. Ryoucho produced many netsuke and carvings using Ichii Itto-bori
carving, and his techniques were passed down to the carvers of Hida.


Production Process

1. wood cutting

From naturally dried yew, the wood is
selected to suit the design and form of the product, based on the appearance of
the grain and the coloring of the red and white logs. The way the texture of
the wood is presented is very important for Ichiji-Itto-bori carving, which
does not use any coloring. Once the material is selected, it is cut to the
required size.

The woodcutter takes the dimensions of the
work and cuts the raw wood into rough shapes using an electric saw or similar
tool. Sometimes a pattern is used.

2. Roughing

Itto-bori carvings are made in a variety of
sizes, including figurines, masks, and small objects. In rough carving, a rough
outline of the work is created according to the image of the work.

3. Rough carving

Most of the process of Itto-bori carving is
carving, and several types of blades, such as round chisels and tsuki-chisels,
are used depending on the process. In rough carving, the wood is boldly carved
to give a rough shape to the image of the work. After that, the wood is allowed
to dry for two to three days before moving on to the next process.

4. Middle carving

In order to bring the image closer to the
shape, carving is continued using large and small chisels. It is important to
carve parts while paying attention to the overall balance.

5. Finish carving

Carving is carefully completed down to the
smallest and most delicate parts. Since Ichiji-Itto-bori carving leaves carving
marks as they are, every single sword has a great influence on the work, and
the skill of the craftsman is required. Depending on the work, it may take more
than a week to complete.

6. Raw Finishing

Finally, melted white enamel is applied and
polished with a dry cloth. The wax is used to prevent hand marks and splits in
the wood, and at the same time, it draws out the oiliness of the yew wood.
Another charm of Ichii Itto-bori carving is that it becomes shiny and lustrous
as the years go by.

ichii carving


The beauty of the grain of yew wood is
brought out in Ichiji-Itto-bori carving by the fact that no coloring is applied
to the wood. Japan is full of beautiful wood work, like this Iccho-bori or Hakone wood mosaic. The wood used in Ittoh Itto-bori carving is a precious wood that
is 400 to 500 years old. Yew is known as a wood with fine grain and its speed
of growth does not vary much from season to season, making it easy to carve
with uniform grain hardness.

 In addition, the wood is divided into two
types of sections: “shiro-tai” (whitish outside) and
“akata-tai” (reddish inside), allowing for beautiful contrasts in
color. For example, in the carving of owls, which is one of the most popular
Ichi-ichi Itto-bori carvings, the craftsman’s sense of style shines through in
many of his creations: the darker parts of the owl’s feathers are expressed
with red taiko, while the white parts, such as the chest hair, are expressed
with white taiko.

Ichii carving

The color of freshly milled wood is bright,
almost orange, but as time goes by, the color gradually becomes more subdued
with a tan tinge and the luster increases. Enjoying these changes over a long
period of time is the spirit of the Japanese people who cherish their
possessions, and it is also a charm unique to traditional craftsmanship.

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