Hakone yosegi-zaiku

The mountain area of Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture is well known for its diverse variety of trees. Hakone Yosegi-Zaiku uses these rich woods to produce complex geometric patterns. Yosegi-Zaiku means yose = collect, put together; gi = wood (to make) zai = small, sensitive: ku = work.

Thin wood pieces are combined as a surface, or assembled using solid wood to form the patterns. The pieces are glued together into basic units and then cut and placed together to make a continuous pattern. Many different types of functional and decorative objects are made using this technique including boxes, vessels and drawers. The ones I find intriguing are the vessels made using solid wood lengths turned to reveal the pattern of the wood.

Yosegi dates from the 18th Century but was only designated as a traditional Japanese craft in 1984 in the areas of Odawara and Hakone. Different woods are placed adjacent to each other to give the patterns further depth and complexity. Some of these include:

White – aohada, spindle tree, dogwood
Yellow – nigaki, wax tree, lacquer tree
Light brown – Japanese pagoda tree, cherry tree, zelkova tree
Dark Brown – keyaki-jindai
Grey – honoki (magnolia hypoleuca)
Black – katsura-jindai

There are many patterns made alone or in combination and include rokkaku-asanoha (hexagons of hemp leaves), hishi-seigaiha (diamonds resembling the sea and waves) and one of my favourites ran-yosegi (ran = random).

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2 comments
  1. Christina, This was such an interesting post. I lived in Yokohama in 04-05 and as a parting gift from the Kanagawa Govt we were given stationary holders made with yosegi-zaiku and no-one ever explained what it was to us.ie that is was a local manufacturing tradition. If you’d like to see photos let me know. Keep up the good work.

    • My Pleasure,

      Such a beautiful craft. I felt it was my duty to give it the respect it deserves and describe it thoughtfully. The forests in the area of Hakone are also beautiful to walk through.

      Best Christina

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