Intricate mosaics created using natural wood of various colors

The road to Hakone marquetry
During the Heian period, turnery made by hollowing out wood using a lathe has been produced at Hayakawa in Odawara, located at the foot of Mt. Hakone, a national park, and surrounded by an abundance of natural forests. However, as trees that provided the wood for the craft became depleted during the Kamakura period, artisans relocated higher into Mt. Hakone in search of new lands. With the arrival of the Edo period travels along the Tōkaidō route linking Edo (present-day Tokyo) and Kyoto increased and spas were established to accommodate travelers. Hakone’s turnery products thus became souvenir items for the travelers. In time artisans who made joinery cases and cabinets also appeared in the area, eventually inspiring the Hakone marquetry.
Hakone marquetry as an export craft during the Meiji period
Hakone marquetry is believed to have originated in Shizuoka prefecture. Carpenters who gathered to build the Asama Shrine in Shizuoka prefecture as requested by third-generation shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu, remained in the area after the construction of the shrine, eventually creating joinery furniture and marquetry items. The techniques were later brought to Hakone at the end of the Edo period. Wooden items crafted in Hakone including marquetry items were distributed throughout Edo city during the Edo period. After the arrival of the Meiji period, such products were then widely sold to foreign countries. As Hakone was not too far from Yokohama Port, western-style marquetry furniture items were also produced to suit western interiors and even large items were exported.
Species of trees used for marquetry
All the colors including black (jindai trees such as the  Japanese Judas tree and zelkova — jindai trees are trees buried in the ground for a long period of time), white (cornel and Japanese spindle), yellow (picrasma and sumac), green (magnolia), brown (camphor and zelkova)and red (Toona sinesis and box-leaved syzygium) that make up the designs of wood marquetry are all colors of natural woods. Since the Hakone mountain range was declared a national park, it has become difficult to fell trees in the area. In recent years, imported wood has also been used alongside domestically produced wood.
Wood marquetry techniques
Wood marquetry parts are pieced together to create detailed geometric designs by taking advantage of the natural wood color and pattern. The photo shows the taneita or base wood sheet. There are two types of wood marquetry techniques: one where the taneita is thinned down through planing and adhering pieces on small boxes (known as zuku-tsukuri, where zuku is said to be the reverse reading of kuzu meaning the shavings from the planing of the wood, or from the word suku meaning the pieces are thin and transparent) and the other where the taneita is shaved and sawn (known as muku-tsukuri, where muku means ‘spotless, immaculate’).
The making of wood marquetry
Once the design is decided, the necessary parts are roughly shaved using a circular/round planner, before further planed down to make the surface smooth. The angles and size of each piece is precisely shaped to ensure perfect lining of the repeating geometric patterns.
Parts for fish scale pattern are seen in this photo. A square is created from piecing isosceles right triangles together; the squares are then pieced next to one another. Taneita is created by repeatedly piecing these parts together. The pieces are put together according to the desired pattern and it is fundamental to pay attention to the angle of the pieces.
The taneita is not created in one heap to a large size, but only to the size safe for the pieces to stay pieced together. The pieced taneita is allowed to dry for about one day, before further pieces are added.
For zuku-zukuri, taneita made to a thickness that’s easy to handle is planed down to a thin sheet.
Zuku-tsukuri marquetry is a technique where the planed out roll of sheet is adhered to the finish object. It is an original technique that allows mass production.
Modern wood marquetry – 1
This object comes with the mechanism where a drawer comes out when one slides the side. The side is designed with a diagonally placed hemp leaf pattern of alternating colors, creating an optical illusion and making it seem three-dimensional. The finely designed motif creates an interesting result.
Modern wood marquetry – 2
These lids are made using the muku-tsukuri technique. Each lid is made by piecing 6 parts together vertically and horizontally to create a striped pattern. The overall impression changes depending on the colors and pattern used. 
Modern wood marquetry – 3
The wood marquetry of this example shines with a new idea that makes the plates look as if a round shape has been hollowed out of the large striped plate and a different striped pattern is inlaid.
Shaping for the continuation of tradition  
In 2005 a group of young generation of wood marquetry artisans founded the Zoukibayashi group with the purpose of holding their own exhibitions. These artisans come from various backgrounds, including artisans who have become independent from the workshops they were working at, as well as employees and successors of workshops. Their common aim is to propose a new form of traditional Hakone marquetry suited to the modern era, in order to develop new markets for the craft. Meanwhile, the Odawara Hakone Traditional Wood Marquetry Co-operative Association has also been making efforts to protect the traditional marquetry techniques and to ensure the craft is passed on by branding works of members a works of traditional marquetry.
By: Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University in collaboration with Kyoto Women's University
Credits: Story
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