Ichii woodcarvings Ichii itto bori
Intricately carved pieces
Displaying the natural beauty of wood grain and color
Ichii Woodcarvings are produced in the Hida region of Gifu Prefecture, and only made from the ichii (yew), which is the prefectural tree of Gifu. The tree name ichii (literally the first rank) is derived from a scepter made of yew wood presented to the Emperor for his coronation about 800 years ago. The beauty and high quality of the scepter earned the title sho ichii (the highest rank).
The characteristic features of Ichii Woodcarving are the use of valuable wood aged 400 to 500 years from among the precious wood in the Hida region, and the carving is done only with chisels and left uncolored to bring out the natural beauty of the wood grain.
An ichii tree is divided into two parts: the reddish heartwood in the center and the whitish sapwood on the outer rings; this exquisite coloration gives pieces their individuality. With the passage of time, the wood color changes and a sheen develops; this is another attractive point of Ichii Woodcarving. Nowadays, in addition to traditional netsuke (intricately carved toggles), decorative objects, and tea ceremony utensils, mobile phone accessories and other items are produced to meet the needs of modern times.
Ichii Woodcarving was established by MATSUDA Sukenaga at the later stage of the Edo period (the beginning of the 19th century). Since his family business was the production of chopsticks, he learned carving and became a woodcarver. One day, when he saw a thickly-painted doll made in the Nara region, he felt sorry because the beauty of the wood grain and carving was hidden, which led to the birth of the uncolored Ichii Woodcarving. It is recorded that MATSUDA Sukenaga wanted to make the maximum use of the beauty of natural wood, and continued his research with a focus on ichii wood, which has outstanding attributes such as an attractive wood grain, two distinctive colors, luster, and is easy to carve. Originally he was a netsuke carver, and with the Ichii Woodcarving style he produced a great number of netsuke, a toggle for hanging a small medicine case or the like from an obi band. The superb woodcarving techniques using ichii from Hida spread throughout the region and were developed among the master craftsmen. In 1975, Ichii Woodcarving was designated as a national traditional craft, and today as a specialty of Hida, the craft is still being passed down through the generations.
General Production Process
- 1. Preparing the Timber
The wood grain patterns and the red and white shading of naturally-dried ichii timber are inspected and suitable pieces selected. As no coloring will be used, how to best present the natural wood color and grain is very important. The timber is then cut to size and roughly shaped using a power saw; a paper pattern may be sometimes used.
- 2. Outlining
The Ichii Woodcarving range includes a variety of different sizes and pieces such as decorative objects, masks, and small items. In this stage, a rough outline is created according to the image of the work.
- 3. Rough Carving
Most of the production process of Ichii Woodcarving is hand-carving work, and depending on the production stage, different types of blades are used such as gouges and borers. In rough carving, artisans freely knock the wood into a rough shape, after which it is sometimes left to dry for 2 to 3 days before moving to the next stage.
- 4. Semi-Finish Carving
Using a variety of small and large chisels the work is more closely carved by paying great attention to the overall balance.
5. Finish Carving
Finally, any intricate and delicate parts are carved with great care as in Ichii Woodcarving, any chisel marks are left as they are; therefore, every single cut greatly affects the finished work and is a test of the artisan’s skills. Depending on the work, it may take one week or more to complete this stage.
- 6. Wax-Finishing
Lastly, melted white wax is applied and polished with a dry cloth. The wax prevents the wood from any dirt or cracking, and effectively draws out the oiliness of the ichii wood. Over time one of the charms of Ichii Woodcarving is their developing luster and sheen.
Where to Buy & More Information
Sakai Dento Sangyo Kaikan