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Akita's Traditional Cedar Buckets and Barrels

This time, we'll introduce the production process of Akita's traditional Japanese crafts: cedar buckets and barrels.
The Origin of making craft arts using Akita cedar begins before the Edo period(1603A.D.-1868), and after hundreds of years of craftsmanship, a skilled traditional culture had been established.

Industry in Akita's winter months is harsh, as it is covered in deep snow. Because of this, the people developed wood manufacturing skills, and they mastered the process of making everyday households goods. Because of the high quality and beauty of the appearance, they have become popular as souvenirs as well.
There are many different types as well, not only just cedar barrels, but also candy dishes, flower vases, sake bottles, beer mugs, Hangiri, bathtubs, umbrella stands, and wooden containers for cooked rice. Many are sold on the internet.
You can have a look at completed versions of these goods at 4:00 in the video.

You can see the production process of the popular traditional craft in the video. The amazing footage is not something you get to see everyday.

What Is Akita Cedar?

The production process of Akita cedar crafts by proficient artisans is shot at a workshop in Odate city in Akita prefecture.

At 1:03 in the video, the artisan says how the color of the cedar came out very well, and the softness, absorbency and thermal insulation is well balanced.
It can be said that it’s a suitable material to make a container for preserving foods and daily products.
The rich forest in Akita, covered in deep snow, makes original production culture flourish.

Traditional Japanese Crafts- Akita Woodworking

1. Cutting panels (0:44).
Artisans cut the log to the correct size, and chop the dried materials with tools.
This process is important to make the side of the finished products.

2. Cutting the planks.
The tool to shave the planks is called a “Pig iron”.
This technique is derived from traditional Japanese sword crafting.  

3. Precision fitting (1:41)
The bonded surfaces with no gaps and precise angles are what give the container its integrity. It is very important work.
Of the steps in the production process, this is the most important. This delicate step relies on expert handling, experience, and muscle memory.
This is where you see the truly amazing skills of Japanese artisans shine.

4. Assembling the panels (2:05)
Since Akita's traditional wood-works are often used as everyday tools that hold necessities such as water and other liquids, bamboo nails are used. If you use iron nails to join the boards, it will rust and eventually break.
From there, tighten the metal hoops, fitting them smoothly on both the inside and outside surfaces.
After the panels are tightened, the metal hoops are removed.

5. Fitting the hoops(3:11)
A groove is carved out to fit the bottom hoop. Fit both hoops on the barrel and firmly tighten them.

6. Bottoming out (3:30)
At the last fine adjustments are made on the bottom plate, removing more gaps, and sanding it so it is smooth to the touch.

This traditional Japanese craft truly embodies the depths of Japanese craftsmanship.

Summary of Akita Woodworking

How was it?
Did you enjoy watching the precise craftsmanship of these skilled artisans? These artisans do not take their craft lightly, and as you saw in the video, every step in the process is carefully executed to ensure the highest level of quality.
When cutting the plates from the log, they are classified “straight grain board” and “flat grain board” up to appearance of woody texture.
When cutting planks from a log, each plank is categorized as either straight grain or cross grain, based on it's appearance. Each type is properly used for both aethetic purposes and practicality.

The “Akita woodworking summit” sponsored by Akita University's cooperative society, was held at the Akita Castle ruins near the univeristy in 2019. Many people were able to experience the beauty of Akita woodworking and the skills of traditional artisans.

Why not try your hand at Traditional Akita woodworking and experience the profound culture of Japanese artisans?


Written By
Oct. 19, 2020
児玉 勇(Yu Kodama)
A writer who loves Japan and yakitori
Traditional Japanese Crafts: Akita Woodworking. The History and Culture of Japanese Craftsmen Culminate to Create Beautiful Works of Art in Akita Prefecture
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