Nikko carving is a traditional handicraft in Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture. In 1634, the 3rd Shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu declared that he was going to give a large-scale improvement to Toshogu Shrine, by which it was rebuilt into the present magnificent forms. Then he assembled as many as 1,680,000 workmen including miya-daiku (carpenters specialized in building temples and shrines), horimono-daiku (specialist carpenters engaged in transom sculpture), lacquerers, metal workers, and painters from all over the country. Among them, 400,000 were horimono-daiku and what they made at their leisure was the origin of the present Nikko carving.
After the construction of Toshogu Shrine, some of the horimono-daiku settled in the town of Nikko and were engaged in repair work or improvement work of Toshogu, while kept on making wooden trays or furniture, which were sold to sightseers as souvenirs. Since the Meiji period (1868-1912), a large number of Nikko carved products have been exported.
Most of the products are made of chestnut wood. Nikko carving products have a warm feeling of wood and a nice taste that is created by careful handiwork. There are also expensive products made with Tsuishu technique, in which thick layers of solid lacquer is engraved with designs.
Miyadaiku are specialists in the construction of shrines and temples. As miyadaiku stay and work in a construction site away from home for many years, they are also called “peripatetic carpenters.” Different from ordinary carpenters, miyadaiku never build the same building because there are no shrines or temples of the same design in this country. The building they build will stand for hundreds of years by being given many repair works, miyadaiku need to acquire not only excellent carpentry techniques but also knowledge in various fields including archaeology and geology. Using more than 300 kinds of tools, miyadaiku use elaborate traditional wood joinery techniques called “hikite” and “tsugite,” where no nails are used. These elaborate skills are transmitted orally from a master to an apprentice.
There used to be several hundred miyadaiku in Japan, but now there are only about one hundred. Some of the famous miyadaiku are Tsunekazu Nishioka, the Master Carpenter in the Showa Grand Renovations at Horyuji Temple, Kahei Sasaki, who directed the renovation of Asakusa Kannon Hall, and Shoji Matsuura, the specialist in preservation of cultural assets and directed the repair work of the five-story pagoda at Kaijusenji Temple in Kyoto.
A chisel is a tool used for making a bore hole or carving a channel in a hard material such as wood, stone, or metal. The origin of a chisel dates back to the Stone Age. In Japan, it was during the Asuka period (the 6th to the early 8th centuries) when a chisel in almost the same shape as today first appeared.
Chisels have a wide variety of uses. Many types of chisels have been devised, each specially suited to its intended use. There are so many different types of chisels that even a metalsmith who is specialized in making chisels doesn’t know the shape or use of a particular chisel, which he knows by name.
As a chisel is an indispensable tool for carpentry, it has contributed to constructiong various historic buildings existing in Japan. Just stand in front of those buildings to think of bygone days and imagine that this small tool did exist in those days and was used by an ancient craftsman in the same way as it is today. You will feel history more familiar than ever.
The old house of the Sanbyakuda family in Wakasa Kyodo-Bunka-no-Sato Park in Tottori Prefecture was a house of a village head, the Sanbyakuda family. It was originally located in the village of Yoshikawa in Wakasa Town but was relocated to and reproduced in this park. The old record shows that the house was constructed in 1694 and it took 819 workers more than one year to complete the construction.
The house is built in the Irimoya-zukuri style with a thatched roof with 7.5 bays wide and 4 bays deep, which was typical to the Inaba area (present-day the eastern part of Tottori Prefecture). It has three rooms, each of which faces the doma (earth floor) space.
Highly elaborate techniques such as the planer finish on the surface of the pillars indicate that the house was built by the carpenter specialized in building temples and shrines in Banshu area (present-day the southern part of Hyogo Prefecture).
Local lumbers were processed to be used for the main beams and sleepers under the floor. The wooden ornament added to the ridge of the thatched roof, which is typical to the old houses in the Chugoku region, gives a stately impression, which is befitting to the village head.
Kamakura-bori is a traditional carved lacquerware craft from Kamakura in Kanagawa Prefecture.
During the Kamakura period, various artistic objects were imported from the Chinese mainland. Among these, carved red and black lacquerware (Chinese 'diaoqi' or 'tsuishu' and 'tsuikoku' in Japanese) had some of the greatest influence on Japanese craftsmen. Many of these craftsmen began to make their own designs, using these objects as models.
In the late Muromachi period, the tea ceremony became popular and Kamakura-bori were used as tea implements. In the Meiji period, carved wooden objects for everyday use were designed and used for broader purposes.
Powerful and bold designs in relief colored with Macomo Indian ink and expressed in peculiar forms emphasize the solidity of Kamakura-bori. These are features not seen in other wood carving in Japan.
Kamakura-bori embodies the warmth of Japanese trees, and expresses a depth of color and density of carving. As artistic objects, Kamakura-bori harmonizes these three characteristics..