Nagiso woodturning Photo:Shinshu・Nagano Prefecture Tourism Association

Nagiso woodturning Nagiso rokuro zaiku

Top-level artisans make smooth and unique planing
Natural woodwork showing the best of the grain


What is Nagiso woodturning ?

Nagiso Rokuro Zaiku are completely handmade woodwork items made in the area around Nagiso Town, Kiso-gun, Nagano Prefecture. This traditional craftwork originated in the first half of the 18th century and is known for a special skilled manufacturing called Rokuro Zaiku, an unusual type of wood turning.
In Rokuro Zaiku, shiraki (plain-wood) products are made from a round wood slice planed while being turned on a potter's wheel. A very high level of handiwork skill is needed and an extensive knowledge of the properties of wood; masters of the craft are known as kijishi.
Nagiso Rokuro Zaiku are distinguished by their beautiful wood grain that is brought out by this unique method of turning. Nagiso Rokuro Zaiku mainly include kijibachi (plain wood bowls) and chabitsu (lidded containers to hold a tea set). Products are made taking into account the color, grain and type of wood; it is the quality of wood harvested from the verdant forests of Nagiso that makes Nagiso Rokuro Zaiku so attractive to so many people.


Nagiso woodturning - History Photo:Shinshu・Nagano Prefecture Tourism Association

The first historical documents concerning Nagiso Rokuro Zaiku date to the first half of the 18th century and record a shipment of Nagiso Rokuro Zaiku plain-wood products, such as trays, to Nagoya and Osaka. However, the kijishi who made Rokuro Zaiku plain-wood products are believed to have been active in the 1500s, as shown by licenses issued at that time for cutting down trees. Omi county (the former name of Shiga Prefecture) is believed to be the place of origin and it is known kijishi were felling trees to make such products and that they also came and developed the present Nagiso craftwork. In the mid-Edo period, shiraki turneries were also recorded as existing and since then, kijishi in Nagiso gathered together and established Kijishi no sato (Kijishi's village). With the coming of mechanization and then electricity, fewer and fewer artisans carry out their work without powered machinery; today an electric potter's wheel is generally used.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Selecting Wood Each piece of Nagiso Rokuro Zaiku is made by just one artisan from locally grown trees, such as castor-aralia and Japanese horse chestnut, zelkova, and katsura. Trees are carefully inspected and suitable ones felled and the bark stripped off; any marks or stains are removed with tools. The artisan checks the cutting time, the growth process, and characteristics of the wood, according to which the timber will be allocated for the making of a particular item such as a tray or bowl.
  2. 2. Preparing the Timber (from Cross-Cutting to Rough Turning) The selected wood is cut into round slices by cross-cutting. Round slices are placed with the cut surface facing up, and sawn lengthwise, before shaping into a circular or elliptical shape in a process called marume. The outer side of the wood is removed to carefully bring out the wood grain, and finally, a potter's wheel is used for rough turning and planing.
  3. 3. Drying After rough turning, the wood is dried to make it harder by leaving in a location with a stove and irori (sunken hearth) for around three months; the drying time varies according to the size of the wood and the amount of moisture and it can be as long as three years. The degree of dryness is important and periodically the water percentage is measured until it reaches 10%, when the wood is then exposed to the open air until the moisture content rises back to 12%.
  4. 4. Final Turning The wood is placed on a potter's wheel and smoothed; this is a highly skilled task and requires many years of practice to master the technique. Kijishi artisans have a variety of planes according to the article and even make their own planes for such tasks as rough shaping in rough finishing, final turning, and a shaka kanna used for finishing. After final turning, a final light sanding is given with sandpaper.
  5. 5. Tokusa Migaki, Urushi Fuki To finish, pieces are either rubbed with tokusa (horsetail) to bring out the wood grain or given a coating of natural lacquer in a process known as urushi fuki; both methods bring out the attraction and simplicity of natural wood. This smooth surface is a much appreciated characteristic of Rokuro Hiki (wood turning), and such chabitsu, bowls, and trays really do express the warmth of wood.

Where to Buy & More Information

Kiso Kurashi No Kogeikan

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