Akita cedar sake pail & barrel Akita sugi oke taru
First-class techniques that reveal
the warmth and beauty of the wood grain
What is Akita cedar sake pail & barrel ?
Akita-sugi Oke Taru are handmade Akita cedar tubs and barrels produced from locally grown cedar timber in the cities of Odate and Noshiro of Akita Prefecture since around the late Heian period (11th century). Products made of straight grain wood with no lid and a bamboo or copper hoop are called oke (tubs) and lidded products made of flat grain wood are classified as taru (barrels). The beautiful grains are characteristic of these tubs and barrels, which are still made in the time-honored way using the skills passed down through the generations. However, they are not just pleasing to the eye, but have superb water absorbency, and the distinctive pleasant cedar fragrance is said to enhance the taste of sake rice wine. They are also very resistant to dampness and scarcely shrink while in use, which helps to avoid the products from warping. Another much appreciated advantage is that the wood adjusts the concentration of salt, making them ideal for pickling vegetables.
The history of Akita-sugi Oke Taru is very old. Fragments of tubs made in the late Heian period (794 - 1185) that were found in the ruins of Akita Castle are considered to be the oldest that remain today. During the Edo period (1603 - 1868), the feudal lord of Akita encouraged the production of tubs and barrels. This became an industry and production of tubs and barrels increased. According to the "Umezu Masakage Nikki" (The Diary of Masakage UMEZU) written by the chief retainer of the Akita domain, sake barrels made of Akita cedar were being used in the castle towns in 1612. The Akita cedar tubs and barrels have been used regularly by common people since the Edo period, and the form of the products have not changed up to this day. From the Meiji period (1868 - 1912) through the Taisho period (1912 - 1926), demands for tubs and barrels increased, and the sturdy Akita cedar tubs and barrels were popular among the people. In those days, they were used in various ways such as wash tubs, containers for cooked rice, and soy sauce barrels, but they gradually went out of use after plastic products emerged in the 1960s. Recently,the warmth of wood and the high quality of the Akita cedar products are gaining attention again.
General Production Process
- 1. Preparing the Timber
Firstly, from the center of a cedar log, using a wedge and hammer, fan-shaped blocks are split to fit the product circumference and depth. The blocks are then further split with a hatchet to make small panels (kure), which are then naturally dried for about 100 days, followed by a further 30 days or so of artificial drying. According to the purpose of the final product, maseme-gure (straight grain panels) or itame-gure (flat grain panels) are prepared.
- 2. Sengari (Shaving)
Using a sen (two-handed special blade), the artisan sits astride an uma workhorse and shaves the prepared kure to the desired size.
- 3. Shojikitsuki (Planing)
A shojiki is a large plane used to align the joints of kure; to complete one tub, 17 to 18 kure are needed. After further planing, a kegata ruler is used to mark out the sizes and angles of the kure, and further planing reduces the kure to the precise dimensions and shapes.
- 4. Kuretate (Assembling Kure)
Kure are secured with bamboo pegs and gradually the tub shape is formed; attention is paid to matching and harmonizing the grain and color of adjacent kure, so that the tubs are both perfectly fitted and pleasing to the eye. A temporary hoop is wrapped around the circumference to prevent any loss of shape to the perfect tub circle.
- 5. Plane Finish
To finish the surface, convex and concave planes with round blades are used to plane the inside and outside of the tub. When planing the inside with a convex plane, the artisan rotates the tub with their feet. Later a groove to fit a base plate is cut on the inside with a kehiki tool.
- 6. Fitting the Hoop and Bottom Plate
After finally fitting the bottom plate and a permanent bamboo hoop, the artisan turns the tub using their hands and feet and tightens the hoop with a mallet. Madake bamboo is the best material for hoops and they need careful shaving to ensure a smooth surface. Finally, the kure are worked and tightened from the outside to complete.
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