The Odawara and Hakone area is home to the valuable craftsmanship of traditional handicrafts. The time-honored techniques of creating wood and lacquer artworks have survived through the age of mass-production and been passed on through to the modern days. Historically, those techniques have been fostered in many ways – while some of them were honed in the station cities along the Tokaido Road, others were developed in close connection with the religions or daily-life needs of the times. Increasingly, as people have begun to value “authenticity” in every product, our long-established craftsmanship has been more and more highly appreciated.
Hakone Yosegi Zaiku (Hakone/Odawara)
It is said that the original technique of Hakone Yosegi Zaiku marquetry, or Hakone inlaid mosaic woodwork, was developed by a man named “Ishikawa Jinbe” in Hatajuku, Hakone, during the Edo period. As Hakone is blessed with diverse kinds of trees, Ishikawa took advantage of the woods’ natural colors and shades and created geometric patterns with them, which is considered to be the origin of Hakone Yosegi Zaiku. At the initial stage, simple patterns such as ran-yosegi (random yosegi) and tan-i yosegi moyou (pattern unit with basic designs) were the mainstream of the Yosegi Zaiku, but as the techniques advanced further, a variety of delicate, sophisticated patterns were invented and are used in the modern Yosegi Zaiku works. The craftsmanship of Hakone Yosegi Zaiku is surely an unparalleled traditional technique with abundant originality.
(In 1984, Hakone Yosegi Zaiku was certified as one of Japan's traditional arts and crafts by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry.)
In olden times in the Odawara area, woodenware had simply been made of wood found in abundance on the nearby Hakone mountain range. Later, thanks to the production of Sagami lacquer, a lacquering technique was introduced and Odawara lacquerware started to develop. Using the excellent turning techniques, a piece of wood is shaped, polished with scouring rushes or as such, then raw lacquer is rubbed several times into the polished surface to bring out the beauty of the natural grain of zelkova to the full. These are the special features of Odawara lacquerware. Now, a variety of Odawara lacquerware products such as trays, plates, bowls, chataku (teacup holder), jubako (multitiered food boxes), chabitsu (tea box), and rice bowls are available.
(In 1984, Odawara lacquerware was certified as one of Japan's traditional arts and crafts by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry.)
Zougan Zaiku Marquetry (Hakone/Odawara)
The traditional work of art that creates elaborate patterns by inlaying different colors and/or types of wood pieces is called mokugougan (wood inlay) or mokuga (wood picture). Originally, the patterns had been hand-curved using needles and chisels, then in around 1892, “Shirakawa Sengoku” in Hakone Yumoto developed a special processing method using a sewing machine. Later, thanks to the newly invented technique of slicing completed wood pictures using a specially made plane, mass-production of Zougan Zaiku items finally became possible. Now, Zougan Zaiku is widely used to adorn picture frames, miniature boxes and other wooden items.
Kumiki Zaiku Wooden Puzzles (Odawara/Hakone)
Taking advantage of the nature of wood, sterically-designed Kumiki Zaiku puzzles are created by assembling wood pieces without using clasps or glues, the origin of which is thought to be the wood puzzles called chiegi (wisdom wood) and chieita (wisdom board) that existed in the mid-Edo period. In around 1887, this unique craft technique was developed by Yamanaka Jotaro who was a master of the sashimono technique (woodwork that is assembled without nails). The modern Kumiki Zaiku techniques that are the basis for their elaborate designs and excellent craftsmanship have been established by his skilled successors.
At the end of the Edo period, this type of woodwork was developed in Hatajuku, Hakone to create souvenirs for people traveling along the Tokaido Road such as daimyos, or feudal lords, traveling on sankinkoutai (a policy which required feudal lords at that time to spend every other year in their residence in Edo), people visiting the hot springs and other travelers. Back then, local camphor wood was used to make sewing boxes, letter boxes, drawer boxes, cigarette boxes, incense boxes and other such items, and this technique was called Hakone Zaiku. Later on, following the opening of the Port of Yokohama, kosashimono products were exported to overseas countries. Nowadays, a variety of craft items incorporating Yosegi and Zougan Zaiku techniques, are made for daily use.
Himitsu-Bako (Hakone, Odawara)
Small wooden puzzle boxes that are made using the sashimono technique are called himitsu-bako or secret puzzle boxes. The himitsu-bako is an enclosed box, seemingly with no opening, and you cannot even tell which side is the top or bottom. Its mechanism is quite tricky – it is impossible to open it unless you follow the exact step-by-step procedure, such as pushing or pulling a certain side at a time, designed specially for it. Himitsu-bakos that have a distinct feature are called “trick boxes,” and they are highly inventive. Some of them have piano strings built-in and make sounds when the lid has been pulled, while others have built-in springs that force the drawers to pop out. Some of the other inventions include a box in which a coin inserted into it disappears, as well as one that can hold cigarettes and allow just one cigarette to pop out each time you open it.
Hikimono Toys (Odawara)
It is believed that wooden toys such as Heishichigoma (wooden spinning top) and tamanuki (wooden ball toy) have been produced in Hakone Yumoto since around the Keicho period (1596-1615), and nowadays, a variety of hikimono toys featuring wooden cars, kendama toys, yo-yos, wooden toy guns, wooden rattles and wooden bugles are available. Using the elaborate hikimono (turning) technique, we offer a wide range of souvenir crafts, and some of the most popular examples are wooden animals and dolls with movable body parts and/or a sound-producing mechanism.
Kumiko Nesting Toys (Hakone)
Made using the hikimono (turning) technique, kumiko nesting toys come in different shapes such as eggs, dolls and daruma dolls. Highly elaborate hollowing techniques are required to nest numbers of dolls inside, and amazingly, there exists a 12cm high egg nesting toy that has dozens of little eggs nested in it, which is a creation from the early Meiji period. Interestingly, the origins of the Russian Matryoshka dolls are said to come from the Hakone kumiko nesting dolls.
Miniature Wooden Toy Tea Sets (Odawara)
Making these miniature toys requires the hikimono (turning) technique of high precision. Harnessing the natural colors of the wood pieces, everyday items such as saucers, bowls, plates, hibachi braziers and chabitsu tea boxes are made in miniature. One of the most attractive features of these miniature toys is their precision, and they are made duplicating the exact shapes and proportions of the subjects. Amazingly, the miniature yunomi teacups are only 4 – 5 mm in diameter, and the lid of a miniature teapot can be removed and fitted back on, something that can only be realized with the most precise turning technique.