Traditional household items made from natural sawara, one of Kiso’s precious woods

Wooden tubs as containers for storage and transportation, pre-plastic 
Wooden tubs used in plumbing and as containers for storage and transportation were initially simple items made from hollowed-out wood. With time, they developed into rings of bound splints and, in the Kamakura period, yuioke wooden tubs made from slats joined in a circle, emerged. The tubs can be any size, from bath tubs to rice containers, and they are also strong. Their use as items integral both to daily life and to industry therefore became widespread. The strategic promotion of local production during the Edo period meant that such tubs were manufactured in each region. After the war, the increased use of plastic caused a sharp drop in demand for yuioke tubs. However, in recent years, they are one of the traditional utensils that are being reappraised, thanks to the fresh fragrance of their plain wood and their functional beauty.
Long-established maker of Edo yuioke
Wooden materials were brought in from various regions to Edo, an area of high consumption, and craftsmen manufactured tubs as requested. The current lumberyard in Fukugawa, Edo Ward, has been a collection point for high quality timber since early in the Edo period. Okeei, the only surviving Edo yuioke business in Tokyo, began operation in Fukugawa in 1887. Timber was readily available in Fukugawa, and there was also demand from the nearby entertainment quarter. The tubs and rice containers made by founder Shinemon Kawamata gained a reputation for their beauty and strength and were used in many restaurants. Later changes to lifestyles caused a rapid decline in the number of yuioke craftsmen but, at Okeei, fourth generation Eifu Kawamata continues to work as an heir to the craft of Edo yuioke.
Characteristics of Edo Yuioke
Characteristic yuioke wooden tubs are still currently being made in places like Akita, Kiso, and Kyoto, but genuine Edo yuioke are characterized by their clean and simple shape and the solidity of their materials. Rice containers, in particular, constructed to function under moist conditions, have sophisticated solidity[A1] . Tub-making in the past has been divided into specialisms, such as bath tubs, basins and rice containers. Okeei focused on rice containers from the time of its second generation craftsman Eikichi Kawamata. Skill is required to construct the body and the lid of such tubs with the necessary exact fit, and it is said that rice container makers were respected even among yuioke craftsman.  Please confirm if the translation conveys the intended meaning. 
Traditional hand-splitting of natural sawara from Kiso
The slats for the sides of the Edo yuioke wooden tubs are split by hand. First, the nata blade is placed against the cross-cut log (of the correct length for the height of the tub) and hit with the wooden mallet to produce quartersawn slats. The wood used comes from 300 year-old natural sawara trees from Kiso. Natural wood has advantages unrivalled by other materials, such as an even rate of contraction because of the precise position of the year rings, high level of natural oils, lightness when held, and the delicate fragrance of the wood. In recent years, natural wood has become harder to obtain because of limits on felling imposed by the Forestry Agency, but the taste of generations is being preserved.  
Avoidance of warping of the wood
As a natural product, timber is prone to warping, but human ingenuity has found a way to overcome this. The use of quartersawn planks reduces the likelihood of warping significantly. Also, wood from the outside of the log, known as the sapwood, is likely to warp, as it contains a lot of moisture. The tubs are therefore made from heartwood alone. The hand-split side slats are dried naturally for about six months, and also dried in a wood-fueled kiln for 24 hours. These preparations mark the beginning of the tub-making process.
Beveling the slats (outer side)
First, beveling. The sen is a two-handed bladed tool unique to yuioke craftsmen, who use it to pare the outer side of the slats.
Beveling the slats (inner side)
Next, the inner side is beveled, using a specialized sen.
To join with no gaps
Joining the side slats neatly with no gaps is the very essence of yuioke. The contact surfaces are finished smoothly as the angles are constantly checked.
Planes for paring the tub inside and out after it has been joined
The fresh beauty of natural sawara plain wood is brought out by the repeated paring of the surface. After the tub’s side slats have been joined, it is pared inside and out with a round plane.  
Tools passed down through the generations
A different plane is used for each component of the tub, each process and each size. Some planes have old chisels which are better quality and, in many cases, the same plane has been used for generations.
New yuioke shapes
Yuioke, with their fresh plain wood side slats bound by thin German silver hoops, fit in well with modern interior design, making them sought after. In his work, fourth-generation Okeei craftsman Eifu Kawamata seeks shapes and applications suitable for modern lifestyles while preserving the traditional quality and function of Edo yuioke.
By: Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University in collaboration with Kyoto Women's University
Credits: Story

Information provided by Okeei

Photo by Minamoto Tadayuki

Supported by Hitotoki,Wedge

Text written by Tanaka Atsuko

Exhibition created by Taoka Yuri, Kyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Directed by Maezaki Shinya, Kyoto Women's University

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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