Official traditional craft in Japan

What is Sendai Tansu?

The production of Sendai Tansu (chest of drawers), originally a local industry in Sendai, is a traditional Japanese craft. It was designated by the Japanese government as an official traditional craft in June 2015.
Each piece is made by hand using only naturally grown trees such as zelkova, chestnut, cedar and paulownia. The surface is finished with kijiro-urushi lacquer, which becomes more transparent as the years pass. The hardware in the form of lavish toreutics gives Sendai Tansu a sophisticated appearance.

The design of today’s Sendai Tansu was established around the period between 1830 and 1877, based on ‘samurai-style tansu’, an item for samurai and merchants.
In the early 20th century, many Sendai Tansu were exported to Europe and America.

Manufacturing process of Sendai Tansu

Sendai Tansu are made under a division-of-labor system among craftspeople who work, respectively, on the wooden base, lacquer and hardware. Each craftsperson applies a specific set of professional techniques in manufacturing a tansu.

Wooden base: Traditional techniques are used to create elaborate panels for the top, sides and bottom of the tansu out of timber taken from naturally grown trees.

'Woodworking Tools'
The wooden base is made with hand tools such as planes, saws and chisels.


'Natural Seasoning'
Divided into panels, the timber is stacked in a well-ventilated area for natural seasoning to prevent finished products from warping and distorting.

'Conversion of Timber'
The timber is converted according to the drawings and in consideration of the wood grain and the part of the tansu for which it will be used.

'Assembly'
Each panel is assembled and finished with a smoothing plane. Sometimes iron nails and adhesive bonds are used to increase the strength.

Lacquer: Traditional Japanese ‘urushi’ natural lacquer is used. The surface is finished with the kijiro-urushi lacquering technique, which causes the urushi to become more transparent over the years, allowing the wood grain to show through.

'Coating Tools'
Spatulas, brushes and other tools are used depending on the purpose.

'Smearing with Spatulas'
After the basecoat process, raw urushi is smeared on with a special spatula to showcase the wood grain.

'Polishing'
After the drying process, the piece is polished with magnolia charcoal so that the urushi remains on the wood grain. The processes of smearing with spatulas and polishing with water are repeated until the wood grain becomes flat.

'Final Polishing'
After the overcoat, the piece is polished meticulously to ensure every single inch is sufficiently washed and polished.

Decorative hardware: Mostly embossed iron hardware. Typical design motifs include dragons, peonies, lions, arabesques and family emblems. Craftspeople use as many as 1,300 kinds of tools such as chisels and hammers to chase the metal, finishing it off with urushi baking.

'Tools for Hardware Making'
Hardware is produced using anvils, tools to round off corners, chisels and tables for chisels.

'Carving'
Using the carving chisel, the lines and patterns are engraved on the piece.

'Repoussé'
After the base carving, the hardware is hammered from the reverse side on a lead table using a repoussé chisel. Then it is chased from the outward-facing side with a chasing chisel to refine the design. By repeating these processes, the raised design appears on the hardware.
The hardware is trimmed with a cutting chisel and goes through the finishing processes of chamfering, filing and rounding off the corners.

'Corrosion prevention and color finish'
After repeated processes of applying urushi with brushes and baking, the piece is completed with a wax finish. Hardware made of copper is exposed to corrosion prevention and coloring processes using sulfide.

The Works

'Sendai Tansu (Approx. 60 cm wide)'

Solid zelkova wood with a kijiro-urushi lacquer finish is decorated with handmade hardware depicting lions.

'Sendai Tansu (Samurai-style tansu; Tansu for men)'

This is a typical Sendai Tansu. Solid zelkova wood with a kijiro-urushi lacquer finish is decorated with handmade hardware depicting dragons.

'Sendai Tansu (Approx. 135 cm wide)'

Solid zelkova wood with a karaki-nuri lacquer finish (a painting method emphasizing the transparency of the urushi) is decorated with handmade hardware depicting dragons.

'Sendai Tansu (Tansu for accountants)'

Solid zelkova wood with a karaki-nuri lacquer finish (a painting method emphasizing the transparency of the urushi) is decorated with handmade hardware depicting peonies.

Message

-Sendai Tansu Historical Museum

Wishing to pass down the Sendai Tansu and to share information about this unique item (including its history) around the globe, we opened the Sendai Tansu Historical Museum. We look forward to welcoming you.

Address: 4F Yunome Furniture
2-7-3 Honcho, Aoba-ku, Sendai, Miyagi

By : Sendai Tourism, Convention and International Association
Credits: Story

仙台箪笥協同組合

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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