Japanese Crafts – Hakone-Yosegi-Zaiku Marquetry

In any country a lot of crafts will develop depending on the natural resources which are available, if a village in Fukuoka has a lot of good clay then people will find a way to create beautiful pottery, if an onsen village in the north of Japan has wood and lots of visiting families, then craftspeople will make wooden toys. Alternatively if an area has a wide variety of trees in abundant supply then this will lead to a concentration on wood crafts. In Hakone this led to the making of a craftwork which has detailed geometric patterns using different kinds of wood which have different colours.

The history of Hakone-Yosegi-Zaiku marquetry

In Kanagawa prefecture near the town of Hakone there are mountains which have all kinds of trees, meaning that it is possible to benefit from the availability of wood with different colour and not rely on any kind of artificial colouring. At the same time Hakone was on the road between the big cities of Osaka and Edo (Tokyo) and was a frequently used resting place due to its hot springs (onsen). So it was that in the 19th century that wood craftspeople realised that they had plenty of customers, and plenty of wood, and decided to create something special.

The result was Hakone-Yosegi-Zaiku marquetry, beautiful boxes with complex patterns in a variety of colours, they can be used as jewellery boxes, or for anything really. They became a famous must-buy souvenir for all travellers to Hakone who took their souvenirs back to their hometowns across the whole of Japan.

The making of Hakone-Yosegi-Zaiku marquetry

In fact there are two kinds of this craft, there is Hiki-mono (lathe work) and Sashi-mono (cabinetwork). Hiki-mono crafts are made by a turning lathe and used to make a variety of products such as tableware, toys and even tables.

Sashi-mono refers to the more famous boxes whose surfaces have been decorated.
A craftsperson will very carefully select the wood which they want to use; this is then sawn and dried over a few months. The box itself is then constructed by thin pieces of wood being squeezed together in a vice onto sticky paper, the surface is then planed to make it thinner and smoother, and then this surface is glued onto a plain wooden box.

This craft was designated as a traditional craft of Japan by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry.