Nagoya traditional paulownia chest Nagoya kiri tansu
Beautiful paulownia wood and high-quality materials
Traditional techniques ensure decades of use
What is Nagoya traditional paulownia chest ?
Nagoya traditional paulownia chests of drawers called Nagoya Kiri Tansu in Japanese, are masterpieces of traditional woodwork made in and around Kasugai City and Nagoya City, Aichi Prefecture. Nagoya Kiri Tansu are a traditional craftwork originating from when Nagoya Castle was built in 1610. They became a popular and indispensable item for dowries. Nagoya, in particular is known for its regional custom of spending large sums of money on dowries. For this reason, Nagoya Kiri Tansu have been much appreciated as luxurious articles perfect as gifts for such auspicious occasions. Nagoya Kiri Tansu are about 20 cm wider than the Tansu of other regions and have a luxurious and splendid finish with gold leaf paintings on the surface and fittings chased with gold and silver. Paulownia is an ideal wood for chests which can be used for generations as they are heat and moisture proof and repel insects; indeed some families are still using their paulownia chests of drawers which were made some 200 years ago. Nagoya Kiri Tansu, much loved for many generations, were designated as a traditional craft by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry in 1981.
In olden times Tansu were not needed since common folk did not have any extra clothes to store. Shelves first appeared as furniture for storing kitchen utensils in the Kamakura period (1185 - 1333), and wardrobes finally started to be made in the Edo period (1603 - 1868). In the 17th century, as the demand for cotton fabrics rapidly increased, more clothes were made giving rise to the need for storage chests. It is commonly said that Nagoya Kiri Tansu were first made by artisans building Nagoya Castle. After the Tokugawa shogunate unified the whole country, society stabilized and trade and commerce prospered; with more money to spend, the demand for high-quality clothes increased, resulting in the spread of high-quality Tansu as furniture for storage. In Nagoya, high-quality Tansu used to be an indispensable item for dowries, although today this custom is slowly dying out; there is also the current problem of a shortage of successors for the artisans to pass on their traditional skills.
General Production Process
- 1. Drying and sawing Each Nagoya Kiri Tansu is made from start to finish by just one artisan and it takes about a month; the work includes as many as 134 processes. The first task after felling the tree is drying the wood and sawing. The tree is dried for one or two years and are sawn into planks. They are then dried for another six to twelve months. It is important to make sure the wood is exposed to rain to remove lye. This is an important process to prevent discoloration and the wood from warping in the later stages of production.
- 2. Preparing the timber As the color of paulownia wood may change over time, planks are cut for drawers and doors while carefully inspecting the condition of the wood and the wood grain patterns. Ideally the front of the completed chest should look as if it is cut from one piece of wood with the wood grains well matched.
- 3. Warpage correction Being a relatively soft and supple wood, any warping is corrected by gently warming the paulownia boards over a fire. The wood is selected with strict judgement so as to improve the quality of the finished chest.
- 4. Joining Several boards are joined to make one board. Surfaces to be joined are carefully planed smooth and coated with glue. To stabilize the joined boards, they are bound and held together with ropes or metal fittings and are then dried naturally.
- 5. Assembling the body The joined boards are assembled using mortise and tenon joints. The life of a Tansu is determined by the quality of the assembly, so the skilled artisan will spend a long time carefully making the joints and assembling the pieces; any mistake in the assembly will ruin the whole chest. Once the chest is assembled, Japanese cedar pegs are used to fix the assembled boards.
- 6. Making the drawers Drawers are made after the body is made. A bottom board is fitted into a frame to complete the assembly of a drawer.
- 7. Finishing Fine adjustments are made by a final planing of the whole body. The surface is also polished with a scrubbing brush-like tool made of grassroots called uzukuri to bring out the beautiful wood grain. A mixture of decoction of the fruit of Japanese green alder and polishing powder is applied on the surface with a brush as a stain. The chest is given two coats and then waxed to protect and polish the wood.
- 8. Attaching the metal fittings Metal fittings are carefully attached while taking into account the proportions of the chest as the final finishing. After going through a thorough inspection, the Nagoya Kiri Tansu is complete.
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