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Akita's Traditional Cedar Buckets and Barrels

This time, we'll introduce how Akita's traditional Japanese crafts, cedar buckets and barrels, are made.
The origin of making craft arts using Akita cedar dates back to 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 woodworking skills, and they mastered the process of making everyday households goods.
Because of the high quality and the beautiful appearance of these goods, they have become popular as souvenirs as well.
There are many different types as well, not only cedar barrels, but also candy dishes, flower vases, sake barrels, beer mugs, sushi buckets, bathtub buckets, umbrella stands, wooden containers for cooked rice, and more.
Many are sold online as well.
You can have a look at completed versions of these goods at 4:00 in the video.

You can see how the traditional craft is made 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, Akita.

At 1:03 in the video, the artisan describes how Akita cedar is know for its "good color softness, and pleasant fragrance.
It can be said that Akita cedar crafts are a suitable material to make a container for preserving foods and daily products.
The rich forest in Akita, covered in deep snow, has made the woodworking culture of Akita 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 various tools.
This process is important to make the side of the finished products.

2. Formatting panels
The tool to shave the planks is called a "sen" (銑).
This technique is derived from traditional Japanese sword crafting.

3. Fine planing the panels (1:41)
The craftsman describes how the "bonded surfaces with no gaps and precise angles are what give the container its integrity."
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 iron nails are used to join the boards, they would rust and eventually break.
After the boards are joined, metal hoops are fitted on both the inside and outside surfaces to keep it stable.
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. Several hoops are fitted on the barrel and firmly tightened.

6. Bottom plate adjustments (3:30)
The last fine adjustments are made on the bottom plate, removing more gaps, and sanding it the surface is smooth.

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

Summary of Akita Woodworking

What did you think?
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 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 aesthetic purposes and practicality.

The "Akita Woodworking Summit" sponsored by the Akita University Cooperative Society, was held at the Akita Castle ruins near the university in 2019.
Many people were able to experience the beauty of Akita woodworking and the skills of traditional artisans.

Consider picking up your own traditional Akita woodworking goods and experience the profound culture of Japanese artisans.


Written By
Last Updated : 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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