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Edo Moku-Chokoku Wood Carving - A Traditional Craft of Tokyo

This video, titled "Edo Wood Carving ❖ Traditional Japanese Crafts [NipponTsuTV]" (江戸木彫刻❖日本の伝統工芸【日本通tv】), was created by "NipponTsuTV."

From 0:24 in the video, we see an interview with Kishimoto Tadao (Goto Masahiro). Kishimoto is a third-generation craftsman of the Goto style of Edo Moku-Chokoku wood carving.
Having served as a representative advisor of the Japan Woodcraft Association, he is a well-known name in the world of Edo Moku-Chokoku wood carving.
His work includes the carvings on the Main Gate of Naritasan Shinshoji Temple (成田山新勝寺総門), as well as cultural works in sites such as the Ryogoku Kokugikan (両国国技館). These have earned him a Medal with Yellow Ribbon.
Kishimoto Tadao’s beautiful sculptures can be seen from 1:10 and 17:23 in the video.

The Kishimoto workshop is wrapped in the comforting scent of wood, with the rhythmic thuds of craftsmen at work as background accompaniment.
Experience works of art being born from the skilled hands of craftsmen in the video.

Creating Edo Moku-Chokoku Wood Carvings

Traditionally, zelkova, cherry, and cypress wood are used for the sculptures.
To match the intended design, a sketch is carved into the wood using a saw.
Following that, using a chisel and a mallet, excess parts of the wood are chipped away.
This process is called "arabori" (荒彫り, rough carving).

In the video, Kishimoto is in the "fine carving" (中彫り, nakabori) stage.
During this stage, the pattern is further developed using a chisel and carving knife. Intricate details are carved with the utmost care to create an exquisite product.
There are various types of chisels and carving knives, and the craftsmen skillfully make use of 200-300 types.
Other woodworking tools such as planes are used as well.

Kishimoto treasures his tools to the utmost, and never neglects their care.
This dedication of the craftsmen is what protects the tradition of Edo Moku-Chokoku wood carving.

The History of Edo Moku-Chokoku Wood Carving

Image of Nikko Toshogu Shrine in Tochigi Prefecture, a World Heritage Site
Photo:Nikko Toshogu Shrine in Tochigi Prefecture, a World Heritage Site

Edo Moku-Chokoku wood carving dates back to Edo Period Japan (1603-1868), when the Tokugawa Shogunate was at the height of its power.
Distinguished craftsmen from all over Japan gathered in Edo as part of their official attendance service (参勤交代).
They competed to best one another in terms of skill, and thus, Edo Moku-Chokoku wood carving was born.

Yomei Gate at Nikko Toshogu Shrine (日光東照宮の陽明門), a World Heritage Site, is a masterpiece created through the combined efforts of these craftsmen.
Eventually, from among the carpenters who carved as part of their service, "domiya horishi" (堂宮彫師) and "shaji chokokushi" (社寺彫刻師) who specialized in the carving of temples and shrines, emerged.
In contrast to Buddhist masters who used chisels and small knives to carve Buddhist statues, these craftsmen developed a way of carving that didn't require the use of small knives. This led to the development of Edo Moku-Chokoku wood carving.
Their works include architectural carvings, parade floats, and portable shrines.
You can also see the works of Edo Moku-Chokoku wood carving at the shrines and temples that are also Cultural Properties of Japan.

During the Meiji Period (1868-1912), besides traditional Japanese methods, craftsmen began exploring Western forms of carving and sculpting.
There are actually Edo Moku-Chokoku carvings in the interior of the Western-style National Diet Building (国会記事堂).
Kishimoto Tadao was involved in this as well, creating a fusion of Japanese and Western culture.
In the video, Kishimoto states, "Doing my job and making customers happy. That's what makes it all worth the effort."

Summary of Edo Moku-Chokoku Wood Carving

For many decades, craftsmen such as Kishimoto have been protecting the traditional culture and crafts of Japan.
If you're interested, why not try experiencing this traditional craft for yourself?

Written By
Last Updated : Jul. 4, 2022
吉田 梓(Azusa Yoshida)
A caregiver and writer who loves scary stories and haiku. Hobbies are kokedama and horse races.

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Edo Moku-Chokoku Wood Carving Is a Traditional Craft of Tokyo. The Sculptures Are Known for Their Intricate Designs and Elegant Beauty. Even Now, Highly-Skilled Craftsmen Continue To Preserve This Important Japanese Culture
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