Traditional crafts of Kyoto that highlight the beauty of wood Traditional Japanese crafts in Kyoto

Kyoto wood joinery
Source: Temjin Corp.

Kyo-Sashimono (wood joinery) highlights the beauty of the grain of the wood

Kyo-sashimono (wood joinery)  is a type of woodwork made in
Kyoto. Kyoto has long been characterized by a glittering worldview (a remnant
of the Heian period), and this culture has been incorporated into
Kyo-sashimono. Kyo shimono tends to have a simple and rustic impression compared to Hakone wood mosaic as it
is assembled using only wood without metal nails, but Kyo shimono is more
flamboyant with painted or decorated wood surfaces. Slightly different from
other Sashimono (woodworks), Kyo shimono is a woodwork mainly used by the court and
other noble people. The beauty of the wood grain and the warmth of the wood are
preserved, while the glittering impression typical of Kyoto is added. The main
material used is paulownia wood, but other natural woods such as zelkova,
hinoki, cherry, cedar, and pine are also used.

Sashimono (wood joinery) : the general term for
traditional crafts such as furniture, fittings, and furnishings that use a
technique called kumite, which combines wood with wood without using metal
nails or joining tools. It can also refer to the technique.

Kyo-shimono and Edo shimono are
representative examples of Sashimono. Edo fingerware developed along with the
samurai culture in the Edo period, and many of them are chic and bold with
attractive wood grain. Kyo shimono is characterized by the use of paulownia
(paulownia) and cypress wood, as well as the decorative use of roiro (wax)
lacquer, mother-of-pearl inlays, and metalwork, and by its simplicity and

Kyoto Sashimono, wood joinery

In addition to the beauty of the grain of the wood, the functionality of the wood is also appealing, such as its ability to be adjusted to the Japanese climate so that it will not go haywire even after long use. In particular, chests made of paulownia wood are highly valued as luxury items that can be used for three generations because of their resistance to moisture and heat. The elegant and exquisite wood craftsmanship fostered by the noble culture is a testament to the pursuit of refined design.


Classification of Kyoto Sashimono

Kyoto Sashimono (wood joinery)can be categorized into tea
ceremony utensils
, furniture, boxes, and trays.

Tea Ceremony Utensils

Kyo-shimono for tea culture and ceremony utensils are made
of natural wood, simple in form, and decorated with ornaments. 
Each of the techniques used in the
production of Kyo-shimono are inherited from the Nara and Heian periods, and
since the reign of “Sen no Rikyu”, forms and techniques have been developed in
accordance with the expressions of the tea ceremony culture, and these
techniques have been passed down to the present day.


Kyoto Tansu (Chests of Drawers)

Chests of drawers are one of Japan’s
representative furnishings, and each region has its own distinctive style,
style, and finish. The base wood of Kyo-tansu is made of paulownia wood, which
has a beautiful grain and light weight, and is mainly finished with a ground
finish. Various designs are available, ranging from kosode-dansu, kamiokidansu,
gown-dansu, haori-dansu, ma-dansu, and other small chests such as hand-dansu
and tool-dansu, all of which are lined with extracted materials. O
ther paulownia woodworks for Chests are Kamo Paulownia Chest and Iwayado paulownia Chest.

Kyoto Desks

The tradition of Kyo-desu is the graceful
lines, and the gouging and carving on the legs. They were originally made in
the shoin style. The za-desu, shoin-desu, zashiki-desu, and za-desu with an
extractor attached to the writing desk are all practical items that play a part
in the furnishing of a Japanese room, and are mainly made of zelkova wood with
a lacquer finish. They can also be freely arranged in a Western-style room.

Kyoto wood joinery, Sashimono
Source: Sheage

History of Kyo Sashimono

The history of wooden products in Japan
dates back to the Nara period (710-794), when Japanese envoys to the Tang
Dynasty (710-794) brought back wooden products from the Tang Dynasty (710-794)
to Japan. Among the wooden products brought back to China by the Japanese
envoys to the Tang Dynasty during the Nara period, some were made from rare
wood that did not exist in Japan. It is said that this wood was called
Kara-no-ki, or “Chinese wood,” and that this was the origin of the
name. Craftsmen who worked with karaki were also limited to naturalized
citizens and others. Today, karaki is known from artifacts in the Shosoin
Repository. The Shosoin contains a finely carved ritual pitcher, a biwa (a
Japanese lute), and other objects. Thus, the fingerwork technique was used only
as a part of temple architecture or for partial decoration of products.

In the Heian period (794-1185), it was used
for ceremonial objects and boxes used by the court in Kyoto, as well as for
decoration and part of the bedchamber architecture. At that time, ceremonial
pillars and boxes were made by hand by carpenters. In the Muromachi period
(1333-1573), specialized craftsmen were born. It is said that after this
period, the number of furniture such as shelves, chests, and desks increased in
the lives of samurai families, and with the development of the tea ceremony,
the demand for Japanese box-shaped articles increased. These craftsmen were
differentiated from carpenters such as joiners, palace builders, palace
carpenters, hinomono craftsmen, and kyokumono-shi (craftsmen of curved
woodwork). In the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568-1600), the use of karaki
increased with the rise of the tea ceremony, and it came to be used not only
for part of shoin-style rooms and tatami rooms but also for tea ceremony and
flower arrangement tools, and people began to appreciate and cherish karaki

In the Edo period (1603-1867) Karaki-ware
was made for samurai families such as the shoguns and feudal lords, for
merchants who emerged after the mid-Tokugawa period, and for Edo kabuki actors
(nashien-sashimono), and has been widely used to this day. Edo fingerboards are
made of beautifully grained raw materials such as mulberry, zelkova, and
paulownia, and are made without any metal nailing, showing the spirit of the

Manufacturing Process and Method

1. rough cutting preparation

Kyo-sashimono is made of naturally dried
paulownia wood, cherry, cedar, pine, zelkova, and cypress, as well as paulownia

The process of making a tansu (chest of
drawers) made of kiri (paulownia wood), which is the most typical type of
kyo-Sashimono, is introduced here. Paulownia wood is suitable for storage
furniture because it is resistant to heat, water, and natural insect repellant.
Another feature of paulownia wood is its uniformity and resistance to stains.
Paulownia chests are known as high-end products, made of high-quality materials
and painstakingly crafted by artisans.

The first step is to prepare the base of
the wood over a long period of time. In order to stop the growth of the wood,
peeled logs (logs) are stacked horizontally and exposed to the elements for a
year or more. The logs are then ground into large pieces according to their
intended use and allowed to dry naturally for another year or more. The logs
are then ground into boards or squared timbers of the required size, dried, and
“Sumi-tsuke” (positioned) according to the dimensions of the product,
and then the wood is removed.

2. straightening

This is the process of straightening
twisted or warped boards. Water is poured over the inside of the warp, and the
other side is burned over a fire. Weights are placed on the board, and the
board is left to straighten overnight. The adjustment of water and fire
requires a high level of skill by skilled craftsmen.

3. rough cutting

This is the process of shaving the
straightened lumber to size.

Wood curving
Source: Kiwakoto

4. Dimensioning

This is the process of “Sumi”
(positioning) the dimensions and shape. A kanejaku (a Japanese bamboo tape
measure) or a wooden form is used for this process. A pencil or other writing
utensil is not used for “Sumiatsuki (positioning),” but a blade
called a shirakaki is used to draw thin, precise lines. 

5. kumite processing

A technique called kumitsugi is used to
join boards together. There are various techniques, such as two-ply, three-ply,
and five-ply, which enhance the appearance and strength of the box.

6. making wooden nails

Wooden nails are made from a log called
“Utsugi. The “utsugi” is cut into 20 cm lengths and split into 4
to 6 mm thick boards using a hatchet. The wood is then split along the grain
into 4 to 6 mm pieces, which are used to make disposable chopstick-like sticks.
From each stick, about 4 to 8 wooden nails are made, which are then roasted
with rice bran to remove moisture. 7.

7. assembly

The “kumite” parts are glued
together and holes are drilled with cones. A small amount of glue is also
applied to the tips of the wooden nails, which are then hammered into place
with a hammer to assemble. The glue used in this process is a mixture of grains
of rice, kneaded well with a spatula. 
The assembled drawer is then planed to fit
into the body of the chest without gaps.

8. finishing and shaving

In this process, the joints and the outer
circumference are shaved with a plane. Flat surfaces are planed to be flat and
smooth, and rounded surfaces and karato-men are planed to be rounded.

9. finishing process

The surface is polished using sandpaper and
natural abrasives such as “Tokusa” and “Mukunoha. After that,
finishing is done to bring out the original characteristics of the wood. In the
case of paulownia (paulownia wood), a technique called “ibotaro wipe
finish” is used to polish the surface by placing “hanaibotaro,”
a liquid produced by an insect called “ibotamushi,” in a cotton bag.

10. Decoration

After the finishing process, the lacquer is
sometimes decorated by sprinkling gold leaf or silver powder on top of a pattern
drawn in lacquer to finish the design, or by carving a pattern into the lacquer
by Zogan (inlaying) or other techniques. Finally, custom-made handles and other
metal fittings are attached to complete the process.

Kyoto Sashimono, wood joinery

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