Hakone wood mosaic

Hakone wood mosaic Hakone yosegi zaiku

Made of trees from Mt. Hakone
An endless array of charming geometric mosaics


What is Hakone wood mosaic ?

Hakone Yosegi Zaiku is a form of marquetry produced in Hakone Town, Kanagawa Prefecture, an area renowned for having the most natural environment in Japan, as shown by the rich variety of tree species found on Mt. Hakone. Such abundant raw materials allow craftsmen to make the very best use of a wide palette of wood colors by combining the delicate shades and tones to create a variety of eye-catching patterns. Traditional motifs found in other craftwork such as kimono or washi (Japanese paper) also appear in the Hakone Yosegi Zaiku pattern book and include such iconic designs as geometric key or hemp-leaf patterns, and fletched arrow or ocean wave patterns. With over 50 tree species and a stunning range of wood colors, the patterns are exquisitely and tastefully expressed.
Originally, Hakone Yosegi Zaiku were produced as souvenirs sold on the famous Tokaido Highway, and the very earliest pieces show clear evidence of their high craftsmanship. In 1984, this form of marquetry was designated as a traditional craft by the Minister of International Trade and Industry, and is now so appreciated as intricate art work that they have outgrown the simple framework of souvenirs.


Marquetry already existed around the early years of the Heian period (794-1192) in the form of high-quality furniture and furnishings, but the seeds of Hakone Yosegi Zaiku were sown some centuries later in the Edo period (1603-1867), when the founder Nihei Ishikawa, living in Hatajuku, Hakone Town, made basic items often from one type of wood or with simple surface drawn patterns. In those days, the glorious arrays of color were still to come, but even so the plain wooden items produced as souvenirs sold at tea shops or hot spring resorts littered along the Tokaido Highway, were much appreciated by the common folk. By the end of the Edo period, many hikimono (lathe-turned) and sashimono (joinery) articles were being produced. Hakone, and it was then the marquetry artistry flowered with designs incorporating intricate and delicate patterns drawing upon the rich variety of tree types; designs still often seen today. With the addition of wooden toys and other crafts Hakone Yosegi Zaiku soon spread throughout Japan as woodcraft much loved by the ordinary people.

General Production Process

Hakone wood mosaic - General Production Process

  1. 1. Drying Firstly, timber is cut and left to season in the shade.
  2. 2. Selecting Materials The types of wood are divided by color and some sample key species and their colors are as follows: White: Ilex macropoda, ilex; Black: semipetrified chestnut, ebony; Brown: padouk, rengas; Green: magnolia; and other types of wood give shades of gray, yellow, and red.
    A key aspect of marquetry is to select wood colors to match the designs. There are numerous kinds of patterns, and the basic ones are: squares and octagons, three nested boxes, geometric hemp-leaves, fletched arrows, ocean waves, checks, keys, and basket weaves. In modern times, not only have the traditional patterns been passed down the generations, but new designs are also gradually being introduced.
  3. 3. Trimming Wood Pieces Selected rough wooden tiles are hand-planed to the desired thickness. Then, glue is applied to the wood pieces before stacking them in the order of the pattern color scheme in a clamp. This becomes the base marquetry material.
  4. 4. Planing The next stage is to cut workpieces from the base material. The base material is shaved to an angle of 45 degrees and fitted into a cutting guide to be cut by a handsaw, and then shaved more accurately with a hand plane.
  5. 5. Marquetry In accordance with the pattern, same-shaped cut pieces are combined, glued together, and finally tied with a cotton cord; this marks the completion of the unit pattern section. It is the meticulous production of the unit pattern piece that allows the finished work to be so beautifully detailed.
  6. 6. Uniform Thickness By repeating the gluing of unit pattern pieces, larger patterns can be created. The larger piece is again tied with cord, and hand sawn to a prescribed thickness to produce many blocks, which are then joined together to create a structural pattern; the completed block is called a yosegi taneita.
  7. 7. Shaving to Paper-Thin Sheets Yosegi taneita are shaved with a large plane into many paper-thin sheets, rather like a very thin veneer and are known as zuku.
  8. 8. Processing Zuku The often curled zuku are ironed to flatten, or lined using Japanese paper to help stretch them.
  9. 9. Gluing Zuku In the final stage, zuku are carefully glued on the surface of an item such as a small box. Zuku are used in much the same way as a very thin wood veneer; for solid marquetry wood products, the wooden block yosegi taneita will be used. Marquetry production involves repeatedly gluing different types of wood, and by building and expanding the basic small pattern, stunning and elaborate designs are created, which requires a high degree of precision and painstaking patience.

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Hakone wood mosaic Izumiya

Hakone wood mosaic Izumiya

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