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MARQUETRY - HISTORY

Yosegi-zaiku (寄木細工) is a type of traditional Japanese parquetry which originated during Japan’s culturally rich Edo Period.

It has been increasingly well reputed in foreign countries. 

Yosegi are commonly found on the outside of Japanese secret boxes (himitsu-bako) or puzzle boxes, but may also be used to create or decorate many other items such as trays, chests, jewellery boxes, vases, photo frames, drink coasters, etc. 

The physical length is usually measured in the traditional Japanese units of measurement called the sun (pronounced "soon"), with one sun equal to approximately 3 centimetres (1.2 in), hence a "5 sun" box would measure about 15 centimetres (5.9 in) in length.

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, the craftmen 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.

A technique that brings natural coloured woods to life.

Yosegi Zaiku marquetry, or wood mosaic, originated in Hatajuku in Hakone. The wood mosaic technique is said to have been created here by a man named Nihei Ishikawa in the late Edo period (1800s), and the craft has since been passed down from generation to generation.

Hakone wood mosaic products are handmade artworks in which the different tones and grains in natural colored woods are combined to create detailed geometric patterns. These mosaics are then finely carved using a specialized plane and affixed as decoration to small boxes, chests of drawers and other items.

The craft has 200 years of tradition, with a history dating back to the late Edo period. It is said that its designs were modeled on the cobble-stones of Hakone’s old highway. The Hakone region is the only place in Japan where Yosegi Zaiku is produced. The wood mosaic techniques are a unique and precious marquetry art which is unparalleled elsewhere.

This technique has real depth to it. There is also an inlaid woodwork technique called Hakone Moku Zougan. What is even more amazing is the technique called “Hakone Moku Zougan”, or inlaid woodwork. Like wood mosaic, this also uses natural colored woods, and is a wood art technique that depicts pictures or patterns by inlaying them using a woodworking machine saw. This method has a 130-year history: it was devised in the mid-Meiji period (1880s).

MARQUETRY - HOW IT'S MADE

The mosaic work is made by making use of natural fine grains and textures of wood. Timbers of different colors are cut into oblong rods of desired sections. Spindle tree (Euonymus spp.) and Ilex macropoda are used for white, aged Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) for black, Picrasma quassioides, mulberry (Morus alba) and Chinese lacquer tree (Toxicodendron vernicifluum) for yellow, camphor tree (Cinnamomum camphora) and Maackia for brown, black walnut (Juglans nigra) for purple, Japanese cucumber tree (Magnolia obovata) for blue and Chinese cedar (Toona sinensis) for red. The rods are then glued together to form the section of geometrical design pattern. The sectional surface is sliced into thin plates of wood, which are glued onto boxes and other handicraft works. To add to the glaze and sturdiness of the surface, finishing coatings of lacquer are applied.

The manufacturing method is divided into a “layering method” and a “cutaway method”. The base wood is thinly shaved with a specialized large plane into paper-thin sheets of wood to create the artwork. The technique of operating the machine saw teeth requires careful attention and a high level of skill. Nowadays, the Hakone-Odawara region is the only area where this method is preserved, and it is a valuable traditional craft technique. I have to take my hat off to its excellence.

There are three types of technique of Moku Zougan inlaid woodwork: “cutaway inlay” (cutting one layer), “layered inlay” (cutting two layers) and “carved inlay”. Various timbers are used for the base wood plate, with different lumber qualities and hardness, so considerable skill is reportedly required for the respective processing techniques.

 

The main timbers used in Hakone Yosegi Zaiku wood mosaic and Moku Zougan inlaid woodwork are: white woods (Ilex macropoda, Japanese spindle tree, dogwood), yellow woods (Picrasma quassioides, Japanese wax tree, lacquer tree), light brown woods (pagoda tree, Japanese cherry, Japanese Zelkova), dark brown woods (Japanese Zelkova bogwood, walnut (imported)), gray woods (Japanese whitebark magnolia, Japanese whitebark magnolia bogwood), black woods (Katsura bogwood, ebony, black persimmon), and red woods (Chinese mahogany, Rengas (imported)).  Look, listen and admire. It is said that “to understand true beauty, you have to understand the process”.