Edo woodworks & joinery Edo sashimono
Hidden joinery showing chic Edo
Elegant craftsmanship and beautiful lacquered wood
Edo Sashimono is wood furniture made in the Taito, Arakawa, Adachi, Katsushika, and Koto Wards in Tokyo. Sashimono refers to furniture and small items made using mainly hand-cut dovetail joints and with no nails; the word sashimono is derived from the traditional practice of measuring with a monosashi woodwork ruler.
Edo Sashimono are characterized by their restrained ornamentation, and their simple lacquering techniques that bring out the natural beauty of the mulberry, zelkova, or paulownia wood grain; even today when we look at an Edo Sashimono work, we can feel the chic style of Edo and by gone days. Kyo Sashimono (Kyoto-style wood furniture) were particularly known for storing tea utensils and used by the Imperial Court and aristocracy, whereas Edo Sashimono were used by samurai families and townspeople including merchants, and Kabuki actors. To show the quality of craftsmanship and wood, and also to underline that these pieces are not heavy and rustic, but rather chic and smart, sometimes light thin boards may be purposefully used.
The joints of Edo Sashimono are made in such a way that they are barely seen from the outside. Despite their delicate appearance, Edo Sashimono are quite sturdy and can be used for many generations.
The origins of sashimono were the Kyo Sashimono produced as part of the court culture of the Heian period (794-1192). In the Muromachi period (1336-1573), carpentry skills evolved, giving rise to sashimono-shi (professional cabinet-makers) who made such furniture items as chests of drawers and display cabinets, and square- or round-shaped boxes for storing tea ceremony items used for the Imperial Court and nobles. Kyo Sashimono developed along with the tea ceremony culture known as chanoyu. Sashimono also include Osaka Karaki Sashimono derived from the Chinese joinery techniques studied by Japanese missions visiting the Tang court.
Edo Sashimono began in the Edo period (1603-1868), when the Tokugawa Shogunate relocated artisans from across the whole country to establish artisan towns specializing in a particular craft such as blacksmith, dyeing, and carpentry in the Nihonbashi and Kanda areas. In the middle of the Edo period, as handcraft manufacturing developed and demand increased, the carpentry work was subdivided, and consequently, sashimono-shi was established as a separate profession along with kuden-shi (temple and shrine carpenters) and toshoji-shi (artisans of doors and shoji screens)
Edo Sashimono continued to develop and was designated as a traditional woodwork craft by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry in 1997.
General Production Process
- 1. Drying
Since the beauty of the wood grain is important in Edo Sashimono, the wood materials such as mulberry, zelkova, paulownia, or cedar are purchased from specialists in decorative timber, not from general timber merchants. After the logs are delivered, they are sawn into a variety of thicknesses and sizes, and then stacked outside the workshop and left to dry.
- 2. Preparing the Timber
How the timber is cut is essential as it will help the beauty of the wood grain to stand out. Wood is cut to size taking into account how to best display the unique features of the wood grain. The timber thickness is measured using a line-marking gauge and ruler, and planed to size.
- 3. Joint Processing
Wood is carefully planed to the exact dimensions, and then dovetail joints are marked and cut by chisel. Joints must be absolutely perfectly cut, or they will not fit; the accuracy of the joints showcases the precision and high-level of skill needed for the craft. It is not too much to say that the workmanship of Edo Sashimono rests on its accurate and hidden joinery.
- 4. Temporary and Final Assembly
Firstly, the piece is temporarily assembled to check that the dovetails are aligned and firmly interlock. After a thorough inspection, the piece is disassembled and then a strong glue is applied to the surfaces of the joints, which are first fitted by tapping with a fist. A hammer is then used to ensure all parts fit closely and firmly.
- 5. External Finishing
The surface is planed smooth while checking for fine scratches by fingertip, and corners are rounded off. For finishing, scouring rush plants or sandpaper is used to polish the surface and it is again checked by touch.
- 6. Lacquering and Attaching Metal Fittings
Finally, urushi (lacquer) is applied. Large-sized items are lacquered by a nushi (lacquering expert), but most items are lacquered by the sashimono-shi. Lacquering can take several days as many coats of lacquer are applied; it involves brushing on a single coat followed by a day of drying. When lacquering is completed, metal fittings are attached to finish an Edo Sashimono.
Where to Buy & More Information
Taito Municipal Edo Shitamachi Dento Kogeikan
ClosedOpen Every Day