- Wood, bamboo crafts
Odate bentwood Odate mage wappa
Light, beautiful cedar crafts
a fusion of the warmth of wood and skilled hands
What is Odate bentwood ?
Odate mage-wappa is a bentwood craft produced all over the city of Odate, Akita prefecture. This craft is well-known both domestically and abroad for having a beautiful curved shape and being lightweight. The key feature of Odate bentwood is the beautiful grain of natural Akita cedars, which gently absorbs moisture, and maintains the freshness of cooked rice kept in a bentwood rice tub or bento box. This distinctive appearance of Akita cedarwood makes even the simplest shaped pieces look elegant.
Since Odate bentwood is made of natural wood, careful handling is required in daily use, but with proper maintenance, each item will last for many years. To avoid scratching, Odate bentwood must be gently washed with only lukewarm water as cleansers, scouring brushes, or hot water will damage the surface. The items must be wiped with a soft and dry cloth right after washing. Also it is recommended to store in a well-ventilated place out of direct sunlight. In addition to lunch boxes, a versatile range of products has been developed including trays and coffee cups, making them popular for a wide range of ages.
The origin of Odate bentwood is believed to date all the way back to the Nara period (710-794), when woodsmen made magemono or bentwood containers from cedar wood. Excavations into Heian period (794-1185) sites have revealed containers likely to be bentwood.
In 1600, after their defeat at the Battle of Sekigahara, the family of Yoshinobu SATAKE, was relocated to Odate Castle in what is today Akita prefecture by the Tokugawa shogunate (feudal military government). At the time, people living near the castle were extremely poor and barely able to feed themselves. To help end such poverty, the lord thought to make good use of the abundant Akita cedars growing in his domain by encouraging the production of this craft. He ordered the farmers to deliver timber from the mountains to the castle town to pay their land tax, instead of paying with rice like always. Also lower-ranking samurai were ordered to produce mage-wappa as a sideline. Finished products were sold and distributed to some areas of northwestern Japan.
Akita cedar is peeled into thin strips and softened by steeping in hot water, before bending to shape and stitching with wild cherry bark. The same techniques have been passed down through generations of craftsmen. In modern times, lunch boxes made of heat-resistant aluminum or steel, or low-priced plastic have appeared on the market, leading to a reduction of mage-wappa production. However, the anti-bacterial properties of natural Akita cedar has drawn attention because of focus paid to food safety. Odate mage-wappa are increasingly appreciated and loved by people who want authentic traditional articles or natural healthy products for children to use.
General Production Process
- 1. Logging and selection
Mage-wappa are made from very old Akita cedar trees specially selected for their quality, and after being cut down, the logs are dried for several years. Careful selection and planing of each log is important because being made of natural wood materials, every piece is unique and the wood stands out. After a log is quartered, thin planks are cut along the straight grain. Then the planks are planed into thinner strips after determining the thickness and length suited for the finished item. Both ends of the strips will be joined after bending so they must be planed according to the final product's diameter.
- 2. Boiling
The wood is soaked in cold water overnight. Then the wood must be immersed in boiling water for fifteen minutes before shaping. To make it easier to bend the wood after its several years of drying, watching over the temperature of the boiling water is important. Heating up the wood will make it soft and ready for bending.
- 3. Bending
The distinctive curves of mage-wappa are created by wrapping the warmed and newly-pliable wood around a round hard form. A different method is placing the cedar material into a form called a goro, and rolling the form to make the wood rounder before wrapping it around the product mold.
- 4. Drying, gluing, cherry bark stitching
Once the shape has been formed, the wood is held with wooden clamps, and dried for about two days and nights before carving the joint ends. Glue is applied to the joint ends, which are then clamped for a further three hours so that they stick. Using tanned wild cherry bark the joint ends are stitched and sanded to give a smooth surface finish. The process of stitching with wild cherry bark is the point when the artisan can display their talents and individuality.
- 5. Fitting the base, assembling, and finishing
Fitting the base of mage-wappa requires patience and skill. On the inside of the item, a groove is cut with a small knife. After doing a final check of the wood, a thin layer of glue is applied and the base is inserted. Excess glue is carefully wiped away and the finished piece is set aside to dry. For plain mage-wappa, production is now complete. Some mage-wappa are coated with persimmon tannin before the application of Japanese lacquer to give a shibaki or transparent caramel lacquered finish.
Where to Buy & More Information
ClosedMondays (open if Monday is a holiday and closed the next day)
Business Hours9am to 4:30pm
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