Osaka-senshu traditional paulownia chest Osaka senshu kiri tansu
An elegant appearance and solid quality wood
The finest skills of artisans and refined craftsmanship
Osaka Senshu Kiri Tansu are wooden chests of drawers made in an area around Kishiwada City and Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture. They are made from Paulownia wood, much appreciated for its durability and excellent moisture- and fire-resistant properties. In olden times they were a popular item for dowries, especially as they were elegant and made of thick solid planks of good quality. Osaka Senshu Kiri Tansu are distinguished from many other Kiri-tansu in Japan by the quality of their high-level jointing techniques known as hagi (jointing); indeed with their delicate and graceful structure and being hand-made by artisans, they are sometimes praised as the top Kiri-tansu in Japan. Their volume of production is very low because of the high-level techniques required to make them; further increasing the scarcity value of the impressively beautiful Osaka Senshu Kiri Tansu.
The origin of Osaka Senshu Kiri Tansu is not clearly known, but as the name of an artisan making tansu appears in Naniwazuru, a literary work written more than 300 years ago, it is assumed that the basis of the craft had already been established by the mid-Edo Period.
In the Edo Period, Osaka lay almost in the middle of Japan and due to the policies of the Edo shogunate had developed an expanded urban area. For this reason, Osaka as the center of commerce, earned the nickname of Tenka no Daidokoro (Kitchen of the Country). The strong development of commerce in Osaka is considered to have had a significant influence on the manufacture of Osaka Senshu Kiri Tansu in the late Edo Period. One reason for this is that tansu for storing a large number of articles were needed in such a commercial center. In addition, thanks to the development of agriculture in the Kinki Region, the increasing number of prosperous farmers created a demand for Kiri-tansu as status symbols displaying their wealth.
General Production Process
- 1. Drying and Sawing
Excellent quality paulownia wood, such as that found in Aizu, is used in the making of Osaka Senshu Kiri Tansu. In recent years, due to over-felling in the country, there is a shortage of mature trees. Nowadays, logs from Virginia and Pennsylvania in the United States, which are close to Aizu in latitude, are increasingly used. Although such quality timber is very expensive, it is indispensable for the making of high quality Osaka Senshu Kiri Tansu .
The logs are first sawn by checking their itame (flat grain) and masame (straight grain) and attention is paid as to how best utilize the wood grain patterns. The sawn wood is naturally dried for one to three years; exposure to wind and rain for a long period helps remove, aku (substances causing discoloration) and allows wood of excellent quality with few blemishes to be obtained.
- 2. Preparing the Timber This process is key to the making of Osaka Senshu Kiri Tansu. Planks are assessed to best display their beautiful wood grain by constantly keeping in mind the appearance of the finished tansu.
- 3. Correction of Warpage As the wood dries it will naturally warp, and this is corrected by gently heating over a fire and applying pressure.
- 4. Hagi Process The hagi process unique to Osaka Senshu Kiri Tansu is used to make wide wood planks. The sides of planks are glued and joined together, which requires high-levels of skill, since the wood planks need to have matching wood grains when joined together.
- 5. Preparing the Planks In this process, the planks are cut to the dimensions of parts including the tansu top board, the boards for the body part, drawers, hinged doors, and sliding doors. The surfaces of the wood planks are planed.
- 6. Joint Process Mortise and tenon joints or box joints, in which the ends to be jointed are cut with a concavo-convex shape to allow assembly without nails or screws. Accurately cut tenons ensure no movement as the joint sections interlock to increase strength, making the tansu extremely durable and ensure a long-life.
- 7. Assembly of the Body For the body, inclined hozo called arikumi (dovetail tenons) are cut. In the assembly of the body, arikumi are tapped home with a hammer, followed by a light planing to remove traces of assembly.
- 8. Drawers and Sliding Doors Drawers are made by fixing the bottom board with wooden nails. Sliding doors are made while closed. As even little gaps are not permitted for drawers and sliding doors, they are planed in units of 0.01 mm, which requires high-level planing techniques and skills.
- 9. Finishing
In finishing, a small brush-like tool or uzukuri is used to bring out the wood grain, and a liquid obtained by mixing polishing powder and yashabushi (Alnus firma) is used for coloring. By repeating the coloring process, the beautiful wood grain is increasingly burnished.
A final wax polishing is given, followed by attaching selected fittings.