It is said that Sendai Chests were created by a local carpenter during the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568-1598). They are solid, yet elegant chests made of zelkova or chestnut wood. The surface of the wood is finished with kijiro lacquer to create transparent coating to bring out the beauty of the grains.
As Sendai Chests were originally made for warriors, they are contrived to contain long things such as a sword or a hakama (a formal men’s divided long skirt). They are also characterized with elaborate metal fittings on which patterns of dragons, Chinese lions, peony flowers and arabesques are hammered out. About 70 to 80 iron fittings are attached to one chest. This elaborate ironwork adds elegant and artistic flavor to a solid chest for men.
Further improvement has been made in skills and techniques, and products in new styles that fit the modern life have been added to the traditional product line. Going through a history of 500 years, they still keep on changing to add colors to people’s lifestyles.
Okawa paulownia chest is traditional furniture made in Okawa City, Fukuoka Pref. Furniture production in Okawa City has a history of 470 years and the city is Japan’s largest furniture production center. Okawa, which is located on the downstream of the Chikugo River, used to be a distribution center of lumber. Furniture production in this area started in the Muromachi period (1336-1573), when Kumenosuke Enokizu applied his knowledge of ship carpentry to wood work. Then in the late Edo period, Kasaku Tanoue, who learned furniture making techniques of China and Holland, established the foundation of furniture-making in Okawa. The Paulownia chest is generally known for its damp-proof and fire resistive properties together with the beautiful grains. In addition to these merits, Okawa paulownia chest has a burglar-proof mechanism inside, giving special contrivance to metal hardware. Okawa paulownia chest is made of the top quality straight-grained boards, which gives massive appearance. It is a high-finished traditional product.
Nagoya Paulowina Chest manufactured in Aichi Pref. is designated as Traditional Craft Product. The making of this woodwork started about 400 years ago, when carpenters were gathered from all over the country to build Nagoya Castle. After the construction the workmen settled down in the castle town of Nagoya and started to make chests and nagamochi (Japanese trunk). In the Edo period, the culture of Owari clan, which controlled this area, was flourishing and commoners could afford to obtain expensive kimono made of silk fabric, which had been produced actively in this area. Accordingly the demand for the furniture to store clothing rapidly increased and the techniques in making wooden products including chests developed. As the trees to be made into expensive timber called “Kiso wood” grew in abundance in adjacent Kiso district, wooden products were actively produced in Nagoya and became known to all over the nation. The handmade techniques have been handed down for a long time and presently Nobori-dansu (a large-sized chest with sliding doors), Nakabiraki-dansu (with hinged door), and Isho-dance (clothing chest) are mainly produced.
According to a historical record, the making of chests in the Senshu region (the southern part of Osaka Pref.) started as early as 300 years ago. In the early days boxes and simple cabinetry items were made of cork tree (Phellodendron japonicum) and paulownia that were locally obtained. From the late Edo period to the Meiji period a large producing district was formed firstly around the city of Sakai and it gradually expanded all over the Enshu region. The feature of this craft is that the straight grain of paulownia is exploited and wooden pegs and joints are used in assembly. The material boards are fully air-dried for one or two years to prevent impurities from appearing on the wood surface. Paulownia boards of more than 20 mm thick are used, and for the front of the drawers the boards with clear straight grains are selected. The wood surface is then scrubbed and polished to improve the appearance. The paulownia chest is very durable, so if it is treated carefully especially with damp, it should last for 100 to 150 years. Most of the chests are made to order now.
'Mizuya's Professional Kuon' is a furniture workshop which specializes in Mizuya furniture. There are many explanations of the word 'Mizuya'; in old times, Mizuya was the room where a master of tea ceremony prepared before serving the guests. In the Edo period, Mizuya came to indicate the furniture near a kitchen. 'Mizuya Tansu (drawer)' is one of their most well known pieces of furniture. Kuon designs furniture to fit Japanese life and the care they put into the design can also be seen in the finish of the coating. There are two ways to finish the coating; 'Kuon finish' and 'Mizuya finish'. For both ways, the furniture is repeatedly coated and dried. This gives the furniture a well worn and aged look and the furniture has a dignified air and an unmistakable presence. Kumon uses two kinds of solid woods, Tamo and Nara, both are strong with beautiful lines. Based on the traditional craft style which is firmly rooted in Japanese life, Kuon designs and produces furniture matched with modern lifestyles. Such craft workshops are very rare in Japan. Kuon aims to produce 'furniture which will last 100 years.' Kuon furniture has warmth that will stay with the family and last for generations.
Mikuni Dansu is a handicraft of Mikuni-machi, Fukui Pref.. It is a solid and
dignified chest coated with red Shunkei lacquer and reinforced with
brilliant black iron. The chest was first made in the late Edo period in the
collaboration of woodcraftsmen, metal workmen, and lacquerers. The town of
Mikuni on Mikuni Bay was once a prosperous port town, where people could get
everything needed for daily life including clothing or food brought in from
Kansai area. The town was also a production place of daily necessities,
which led to encouragement of excellent handicraft skills in this town.
These various ornamental chests with iron hardware forged and worked by hand
have the gloss of lacquer that has not faded for over 100 years. The
beautiful design combined with practicability is the pledge of the pride
taken by the excellent craftsmen having reached the top of their profession.
Kamo City, Niigata Pref., called “sho-Kyoto (little Kyoto) of Echigo”, is located in the central part of Niigata Pref. It shows sober atmosphere that reminds us of the historic city of Kyoto. Being on the Kamo River that flows into the Shinano River and the Agano River, the city has been a traffic hinge of this region and flourished as a lumber distribution center. The city also has been closely tied with Kyoto and the making of Kamo Paulowina Chests started at around the same time when silk textile industry was introduced. Its history dates back to Tennmei era in the Edo period (about 200 years ago), when Shoemon Maruya, a carpenter, first made the chest out of Japanese cedar timber. The paulowina chest is characterized by its damp proof, fire resistive and mothproof properties. Paulowina is light in weight and rarely distorts, expands or contracts, so that it long keeps the original beautiful shape. This excellent property together with beautiful grain and warmth of wood has been fascinating people for 200 years. Kamo Paulowina Chest was specified as the Traditional Craft Product by Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in 1976.