Kyo woodworks & joinery Kyo sashimono
Designs developed through history and culture
A wealth of techniques bringing out the beauty of wood
Kyo Sashimono is a type of wood craft produced in Kyoto Prefecture. Sashimono is a collective name for furniture and furnishings assembled with joints, and it is said that over 500 types of products can be created using the various techniques. There are many familiar paulownia wood products in Kyo Sashimono, such as furniture, tea ceremony furnishings and lathe-turned items.
A defining feature of Kyo Sashimono is its elegant designs so characteristic of sophisticated Kyoto. Kyo Sashimono is said to have originated in the Heian Period, when the court culture keenly pursued superior quality, and the elegant charm of this furniture is still much appreciated today. In addition, as it was born out of both the tea ceremony culture of beauty in simplicity, and the more secular merchant culture of the Edo Period, it has an interesting variety of distinctive features reflecting these influences.
Another characteristic of Kyo Sashimono is the wealth of techniques that have been passed down with artisans developing techniques suited to the needs of each age, and simply adding them to their growing repertoire of traditional and imported techniques; today’s Kyo Sashimono are testimony to the skills and experience of artisans and their hundreds of years of tradition.
Kyo Sashimono is said to have originated in the Heian Period, but obviously wood crafts unique to the country and using Japan’s abundance of forests, were already in existence. Japan was influenced by the influx of stone and metal cultures from China and Korea, and unique wooden crafts mimicking their articles were developed.
The main wooden items produced in the Heian Period were measuring rods used for court rituals. Specialized craftsmen joiners appeared in the Muromachi Period as the increasingly wealthy samurai society led to a demand for furniture such as chests of drawers, shelves and desks.
The demand for Kyo Sashimono increased again in the Azuchi-Momoyama Period due to the spread of tea ceremony culture, and Kyo Sashimono began to be used as part of shoin-zukuri architecture, tatami rooms and tea ceremony equipment and furniture.
A wide variety of Kyo Sashimono began to be produced in the Edo Period, for the samurai and merchant classes and Edo Kabuki actors (Rien-sashimono), all giving rise to the further development of unique techniques. Presently, items suited to modern times, such as champagne coolers and Japanese-style lighting have been produced, and these contemporary designs conveying the warmth of wood continue to win hearts.
General Production Process
- 1. Rough wood preparation
The wood used in Kyo Sashimono include paulownia, cherry, Japanese cedar, pine, Japanese zelkova and Japanese cypress. The felled wood is naturally dried over a long period of time.
The following is a brief description of the production process of a paulownia dresser, one of the major Kyo Sashimono products. Paulownia is resistant against heat and water and has natural insect repellent properties, which makes it well suited for storage furniture. The quality of the wood is also uniform and it does not get dirty easily. Paulownia drawers carefully made by craftsmen using high quality materials have a reputation as luxury goods.
The process starts with the production of the base, which is made over a number of years. In order to prevent any further growth the bark is peeled from the timber logs and then piled sideways and exposed to the weather for over a year. The timber is then sawn to size and naturally dried for over a year. After the wood has been cut into boards and blocks of the appropriate size, it is dried and marked according to the dimensions of the dresser, and then cut and prepared.
- 2. Straightening
Warped or curved wooden boards are straightened by dousing the inner curve with water while the outer curve is held over a fire. A stone weight is then laid on the board for a day and night to straighten out the curve. Balancing the time on the fire to the amount of water is an art requiring years of experience.
- 3. Rough cutting
The straightened planks and boards are then cut to size.
- 4. Sizing
The wood is marked to show the dimensions and shapes by using carpenter’s squares and wooden models. The markings are not made with pencils or ink, but instead fine shallow lines are etched using a shirakaki knife.
- 5. Processing wooden joints
The kumitsugi technique is used to join pieces of wood together. There are various types of joints, such as the two-piece kumitsugi, three-piece kumitsugi and even a five-piece kumitsugi; they improve both the appearance and strength of the furniture.
- 6. Production of wooden pegs
The wooden pegs are made from the utsugi (crenate deutzia) tree. The wood is chopped into blocks approximately 20cm long, and then cut into boards approximately 4 to 6mm thick using a nata hatchet. The boards are cut further along the grain into sticks resembling chopsticks approximately 4 to 6mm wide, which are then shaved round using a knife and cut into the appropriate lengths for wooden pegs. Each stick generally yields around 4 to 8 wooden pegs, which are then roasted with rice bran to remove moisture.
- 7. Assembly
Glue is prepared by thoroughly kneading rice grains with a spatula. The joints are assembled and glued and holes drilled through with a gimlet. A small amount of glue is applied on the tip of the wooden peg, which is then securely driven into the hole by hammer.
The assembled drawers are finely adjusted and plane shaved to a perfect fit.
- 8. Finishing shave
This process involves shaving and finishing the joints and external parts using a hira-kanna plane. The process ensures a smooth and even surface, while curved edges and karato edges are shaved round.
- 9. Finishing
The surface is polished using sandpaper and natural polishing agents such as rough horsetail and muku tree leaves. Finishing processes then bring out the unique features of the wood. In the case of paulownia wood, hana-ibotaro wax, secreted by the white wax scales insect is placed inside a cotton bag and used to polish the surface in a method known as the ibotaro wax wiping finish.
- 10. Decorations
The finished furniture may sometimes be decorated using maki-e, where gold and silver dusts are sprinkled over lacquer drawings, or with zogan engravings. Metal fittings such as handles are ordered and separately manufactured; once attached, the Kyo Sashimono dresser is complete.
Where to Buy & More Information
Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts
ClosedYear end and new year holidays,(December.29-31)