One of the most beautiful forms of art in Japan is the art of inlaying woods known as “marquetry.” It is a typical woodwork which can be found in Hakone (箱根), a town in Kanagawa Prefecture (神奈川県). It can often be found on the finest furniture and can also be seen in elaborate patterns and various colors. They are so unique that woodwork of this kind can hardly be found in the country. Hakone, being abundant in woods, makes an ideal location for such kind of unique craftsmanship. Let’s try to learn how this fine art blossomed in Japan through the years.
Marquetry is the process of inlaying different woods together. This means that a material is set onto another surface but recessed for a bit so the inlaid material will be on the same level of the surface. Marquetry is a technique used to form decorative patterns, designs, or pictures. It has been around for thousands of years and is actually considered as a drying form of art today.
Most of the time, the inlaid material is wood, but sometimes ivory is used, as well as straws, stones, jewels, gems, metals, and so on. This was commonly practiced in the Egyptian and Romanian times and was widely used by the aristocrats.
The simplest form of marquetry only uses two sheets of veneer (thin slices of wood). These are glued together temporarily and cut with a fine saw which produces two identical contrasting panels. In modern times, the craft mostly uses knife-cut veneers which require a lot of time and effort. To make the finished piece more three-dimensional, the process of sand shading is incorporated.
As of today, marquetry is still considered traditional that’s why it is also facing some criticisms. As a form of art, most people believe that dyed, stained, painted woods, plastics, or other artificial products do not belong in it. As such, it becomes a challenge to most craftsmen. The process of making beautiful pictures is a tedious one. It is not only about cutting each piece but paying particular attention to the minute details as well.
When it comes to beautiful art, Japan has always been known as one of the best producers. Art in the country has a very distinctive style and marquetry is one of the methods used to produce such quality art.
Since the method of marquetry uses wood, Hakone became a very promising location. It is one of the foremost areas abounding in woods. The products produced through this technique are considered valuable traditional handicrafts and the technique has been passed from generation to generation since the Edo period.
As of today, many of the products can be found in Odawara (小田原), a city located in Western Kanagawa Prefecture, and its underlying neighborhood. One of the popular products of this type of woodwork is the “yosegi-zaiku” which looks like a mosaic work made by using natural fine grains and textures of woods. Several shops are selling these with most of the items having various natural colors of woods. Though it is a typical product in Hakone, it has been regarded as a traditional handicraft by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry.
Hakone has a unique way of doing marquetry. First, each of the different colored wood pieces is planned according to proper thickness in the pattern of a Yosegi. They are fastened with glue following the order of the pattern. Each layered wood is perfectly sawn in order to fit its Yosegi mold. The pieces which have been cut are accurately planed and the glue is completely spread out on each. Then, these pieces are tied together and glued again.
In order to form a larger pattern, each block of a unit pattern is sawn into several slices. Again, these are glued together which results into a plate called “Tanegi.” The process of cutting and gluing is repeated in order to make larger pieces. This plate will be carefully shaved into thin sheets by using a big plane. These shaved sheets are known as “duku.” After which, they will be ironed and stuck on the product. It is quite mathematical how the pieces of woods are actually combined together in order to come up with various designs and patterns.
Hakone Marquetry is indeed one of the priceless forms of art that you can check out in Japan. Just by looking at how beautiful the resultant products are would incline you to look past the price and buy some. Some of these do not only look unique and stunning but are also useful such as the beautiful boxes created through the method where you can put in some of your items. These intricate wooden boxes come in gorgeous designs and are often sold as souvenirs in the country. The incredible patterns on them will make you wonder how people actually make it. Different colors of the products come from the wood with no dying nor staining done in order to achieve the effect. Hundreds of patterns and possible combinations are used in order to come up with a wide range of products which can be used on a day-to-day basis.
If you’re looking for a popular souvenir in Hakone, the Karakuri Box, which is also known as the Japanese Magic Box or Puzzle Box, is worth a try. This box requires you to move certain parts of it in order for you to open and close it. You may do so by using sliding movements but more modern designs can be manipulated by additional actions such as spinning, hitting, rotating, and so on. These have been historically made in the Hakone area and they come in different sizes.
Moreover, some of these Karakuri Boxes have been designed to look like cakes which are ideal for girls. These designs look cute and tasty and serve as a suitable place for small accessories, as well as a special gift to somebody. There are some stores in Tokyo that sell these items if you’re interested.
Indeed, marquetry is a form of traditional art worth looking into when in Japan, especially when visiting Hakone.
If you’d like to learn more about Japanese Hakone Marquetry, you can watch the whole crafting process in the video below: