Nibutani carved wooden tray Photo:Nibutani folk handicraft association

Nibutani carved wooden tray Nibutani ita

Cultural heritage of the Ainu that express
the wooden texture and traditional patterns


What is Nibutani carved wooden tray ?

Nibutani Ita is a carved wooden tray produced in Biratori-cho, Saru County, Hokkaido. The origin of the town name, Biratori-cho, is an Ainu word for a cliff, Pirautouru. The characteristic of Nibutani Ita are its patterns. A spiral pattern called Mourenoka, a thorn-shaped pattern called Aiushinoka and an eye-shaped pattern called Shikunoka (all three words are Ainu) are combined to express a beautiful Ainu design. Furthermore, Nibutani Ita always has carved scale-shapes called Ramuramunoka which fill the space between the other patterns. The tray was used daily in the days of the Ainu and it is valued as a delicate craft by modern craftsmen today.


Nibutani carved wooden tray - History Photo:Nibutani folk handicraft association

Although Nibutani Ita is assumed to be a tray because of its shape, a song in the folklore of Ainu, Uepekere, mentions Nibutani Ita as a plate on which food was served directly. Blades were a must item for Ainu life and to be able to use the blades skillfully gave men status. For this reason, an Ainu man would put all his energy into making a carved wooden item for a woman who he fancied when they reached marriageable age. With this background, the Ainu-carved wooden items, including Nibutani Ita, have long been used as expensive gifts, presents for exchange or commercial items.
During the Ansei era (1854 – 1859) at the end of the Edo period (1603 – 1868), it was recorded that Nibutani Ita was among the gifts to the Bakufu (government) of the Matsumae Domain. In 1873, Nibutani Ita was exhibited at the EXPO in Vienna. Nibutani Ita was designated as a traditional national craft for the first time in Hokkaido in March 2013.

General Production Process

Nibutani carved wooden tray - General Production Process Photo:Nibutani folk handicraft association

  1. 1. Sokodori (making the base of the tray) Nibutani Ita uses wooden boards made from, for example, Cercidiphyllum japonicum or walnut tree grown in Hokkaido. The wooden boards have to be dried for three years before being used. Firstly, an Arabori (rough carving) is carved into the dried board and the depth of the tray can be adjusted in this process. Sokodori is the process of carving carefully and making the base of the tray smooth and even, using a kind of spatula shaped knife called a Kawadachi Bocho (flat spatula-like shape with blade at the top). During the Arabori processs, a machine called a Senban that carves while rotating cannot be used for the square Nibutani Ita, so a square tray takes longer to make compared to a round tray.
  2. 2. Finishing the back Nibutani Ita is a wooden product so the back also has to be treated carefully. The edges have to be neatly rounded by Mentori (chamfering). This process determines how good it feels to touch when the product is finished.
  3. 3. Carving pattern The pattern on the surface of the tray needs to be designed. The pattern on the Nibutani Ita is a combination of a Moreunoka pattern (meaning ‘quietly carved’ spiral), Aiushinoka (pattern in the shape of thorns) and Shikunoka (eye-shaped pattern). The balance and composition of these patterns determine the look of the tray.
    When the design is decided, the outline of the pattern is carved using a V-shaped gouge. This work is referred to as Sentori. Using a gouge, the tray is deeply carved to give a three-dimensional effect. Chisels are used today to carve the delicate lines. However, in the days of the Ainu, only a small knife, a Makiri, was used for carving. Therefore, the ancient Nibutani Ita had plain but strong lines.
  4. 4. Doublet carving The main pattern on Nibutani Ita tends to be Aiushinoka and the pattern is carved by shaving inside slightly for doublet carving. The expression of Nibutani Ita is enhanced by the three-dimensional effect of the doublet carving.
  5. 5. Ramuramunoka (scale) line carving Ramuramunoka lines are carved between the Mourenoka and Shikunoka using a chisel called an Into that is used to carve seals. When Ramuramunoka lines are carved, the wood grain has to be in a lengthwise direction. Ramuramunoka lines are often used between patterns for Nibutani Ita.
  6. 6. Lifting up Ramuramunoka The squares carved in Process 5 have to be lifted up one by one to make scale shapes. When the scale shape is made, the scales have to be lifted towards the center from the left and right. Half of the squares are carved in this process. The expression unique to Nibutani Ita is determined by the texture of the Ramuramunoka lines.
  7. 7. Finishing Details have to be finely and carefully tuned to finish the Nibutani Ita.

Where to Buy & More Information

Biratori Ainu Bunka Joho Center

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