Stylish crafts: Hakone Yosegi Zaiku Marquetry
2 ways of making marquetry: “muku” and “zuku”
An elaborate puzzle box made with the technique of yosegi zaiku
What kinds of yosegi zaiku marquetry are there?
Places in Tokyo where you can buy yosegi zaiku marquetry
MA by So Shi Te
Japanese Traditional Crafts Aoyama Square

There are nearly 1,200 types of traditional crafts made in Japan, about 230 of which are specified by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry. These crafts have been produced with long histories in each prefecture, incorporate many regional characteristics, and all of them express the classic Japanese subtlety, elaborateness and beauty.
This time, we will introduce one of such traditional craft techniques, “Hakone Yosegi Zaiku." Let's look at the complete story of the history and characteristics of yosegi zaiku marquetry with the rich wooden texture that have been passed down in the Hakone/Odawara area.

Stylish crafts: Hakone Yosegi Zaiku Marquetry

Works at the Honma Yosegi Museum of Art

yosegi zaiku marquetry (Honma Woodworking Studio in Hakone)

What is Hakone Yosegi Zaiku Marquetry

Hakone yosegi zaiku marquetry has been actively produced in Hakone town of Odawara City in the Western Kanagawa Prefecture.

Yosegi zaiku is a technique of creating patterns by joining wood together. "Yosegi" means "combined wood", and "Zaiku" means an intricate work; the name represents the manufacturing process of combining various shapes and sizes of wood blocks into patterns. These patterned works are popular worldwide as they show the subtlety and elaborateness of Japanese crafts by hand.

Why has it become ingrained in Hakone?

Pieces of wood are put together to make a pattern

Combined pieces of wood make a hemp leaf pattern as shown on the right side of the image

Why has yosegi zaiku become ingrained in the Hakone/Odawara area in the first place? The reason lies in the local features. 
The origin of Hakone yosegi zaiku can be traced back to an area named Hatajuku in Hakone. It is about a 30-minute drive on the Hakone Shindo, which runs through the mountain path from Odawara Station.

The beginning of yosegi zaiku was when Ishikawa Nihei (born and raised in the Hatajuku area) brought back the technique of yosegi zaiku from Shizuoka in the late Edo period. The technique of yosegi zaiku itself had already originated in the early 17th century and had been used in Shizuoka for 200 years (there are various theories).

It is believed that yosegi zaiku became rooted in the area of Hakone, because it was rich in nature and had various trees in the wild in those days. Ishikawa Nihei started making joinery crafts where yosegi zaiku was incorporated, leading yosegi zaiku to become rooted as one of Hakone/Odawara area’s traditional craft techniques. 

There are currently about 50 craftspeople who make yosegi zaiku marquetry in the Hakone/Odawara area, four of whom are traditional craftspeople. They create most of the yosegi zaiku marquetry distributed all over Japan.

Over 100 different patterns in total!

An example of yosegi zaiku pattern

One appeal of yosegi zaiku is that you can enjoy various patterns

What you are recommended to pay attention to once you have gotten your hands on yosegi zaiku marquetry is its beautiful patterns. The geometrical patterns made with perfect precision is surprising since they are all created by handwork in which craftspeople shave the wood piece by piece and merge the wood chips.
It is said that there are as many as over 100 different patterns. Tortoise shell, hemp leaf, checkered pattern, Shippo Yabane, Nikuzushi .... Many of these auspicious patterns are known to be traditional Japanese patterns since long ago.
Each pattern has its own meaning, so it is nice to find your favorite pattern. It takes at least half a day to finish one pattern. Since studios usually have their own unique patterns, it is recommended that you pay attention to works that are only available at the store when purchasing the yosegi zaiku marquetry.

Use of the Original wood color

Image of yosegi zaiku marquetry

all patterns are finished in original colors of wood

One of the appeals of yosegi zaiku is its colorful patterns. Did you know that they are all made with wood in their natural color? The vibrant colors, including white, yellow, vermilion and green, are all the natural shades of the wood itself, and not added colors. 
Trees vary in softness and color depending on the type of tree, the place where they grow in the wild, and the age. They order wood from all over Japan according to the patterns.

Red…chinese quince, rosewood, zelkova, etc
White…dogwood, Ilex macropoda, camphor tree, etc
Dark brown…walnut tree, Japanese pagoda tree, zelkova, etc
Green…magnolia, Japanese ash, etc.
Yellow…lacquer tree, wax tree, etc.

Characteristics also vary from tree to tree; certain trees are more compatible with each other; some trees are easier to shave; and some are less inclined to get shaggy. Only artisans who understand the strengths and weaknesses of each tree can make tasteful and beautiful yosegi zaiku marquetry.

2 ways of making marquetry: “muku” and “zuku”

Seed plate

Seed plate made by connecting patterns

"Zuku" is a thin-shaved seed plate

There are two major techniques to make yosegi zaiku; zuku and muku.
Zuku is a technique that has been used since the birth of yosegi zaiku. Zuku marquetry is created by creating patterns made by wood chips to make a big seed plate and slicing it as thin as paper with a Japanese-style plane.

Shaving a seed plate

Making zuku by shaving a seed plate thin

Since “zuku” as thin as paper tends to roll up, a heated iron is used to straighten it out when molding the maquetry. To complete one craft, the straightened zuku sheets are pasted with glue to a joinery craft In the old days, nikawa (glue extracted from animals) was used as glue. Since so many sheets of zuku can be made from one seed plate, a large number of works can be produced.

Zuku slices thin as paper

Zuku slices thin as paper

The important point is to make a seed plate according to the shape of the joinery craft, instead of making a big seed plate and cutting it according to the shape of the craft. This way, beautiful patterns can be made without waste.

Muku marquetry is an inscribed seed plate

Works of muku

a seed plate is shaped to make a work. The original seed plate is shown on the right side of the image

Muku, on the other hand, is a new technique of yosegi zaiku that originated in the Showa period. It is a technique that carves out a seed board with connected patterns to reshape it into a work. The shaping method of allows you to enjoy the patterns on the inner face of the seed plate. However, since only one work can be made from one seed board, they cost more than zuku marquetry.

Muku yosegi zaiku

a sake cup made with the muku technique (Honma Woodworking Studio in Hakone)

In addition, another characteristic of muku marquetry is the simplicity of having one type of pattern, whereas in zuku, many patterns are connected to make a seed plate. With the appealing designs of inner seed plates, muku offers enjoyable expressions that are different from those of zuku.

An elaborate puzzle box made with the technique of yosegi zaiku

Image of a puzzle box

puzzle boxes are classic yosegi zaiku marquetry

What are puzzle boxes?

When you hear Hakone yosegi zaiku, what comes to your mind first? Maybe many of you think of puzzle boxes on which zuku sheets with beautiful patterns are pasted.
Puzzle boxes are gimmick boxes made with the Japanese kumiki (linked wood) technique. Puzzle boxes have a mechanism where they can be opened by sliding the faces in a specific order. Only people who know the sliding procedure can open them. They have a similar appeal to treasure boxes.
The procedure to open a puzzle box consists of at least of four steps. Some puzzle boxes need up to over 1,000 steps. Even one mistake will prevent you from opening the box.
Also, puzzle boxes are assembled without using any nails or glue. Craftsmanship is exercised to add concavities and convexities to pieces of wood, allowing smooth sliding, and beautiful assembly into a box shape. For the advanced technique, elaborateness, as well as the uniqueness of concept, puzzle boxes are also popular among foreigners.

A High-performance treasure box! How to open a puzzle box

Now, I will introduce how to open a 4-step puzzle box
① First, slide the side down
yosegi zaiku open 1

② Slide the top lid part to the side that was slid in ①
yosegi zaiku open 2

③ Slide down the opposite side from slide ①
yosegi zaiku open 3

④ Slide the top lid to the side from ③
yosegi zaiku open 4

It opened!
Puzzle box that opens with 4 steps

The important point is that you cannot close it unless you follow the same sliding procedure as when you open it. 
It is recommended to use this as a treasure box to hide a valuable.

Is this also yosegi zaiku marquetry? What are wood inlays?

Inlaid paintings

wood inlays

Wood Inlay: draw pictures by combining wood pieces

Yosegi zaiku is a crafting technique of joining wood pieces together. Wood inlays, a noteworthy type of yosegi zaiku marquetry, have a different taste from the joinery works and puzzles boxes that were introduced above.
Inlays refer to plates made of gold, silver, etc., on which patterns are inscribed, and the patterns are “drawn” by placing other materials into the carvings. In wood inlay, only wood with its natural color is used as they create patterns, and then draw pictures. What comes in handy here is the precise and sophisticated technique used for yosegi zaiku. Wood is shaved and carved out precisely, and artisans familiar with color tones of wood choose wood pieces that suit the patterns. This is the origin of wood inlay as yosegi zaiku.

Where can we see wood inlays?

Because wood inlays are not as well-known as other woodcrafts, shops in Tokyo usually do not carry wood inlays. If you would like to see the real works even just once, we recommend you go to yosegi-zaiku studios or shops in Hakone and Odawara. Some of these places display reproduction of famous Japanese paintings as wood inlays. The closer you see them, the more you can enjoy the looks of wood pieces that have been fit with perfect precision.
It is also a tasteful feature that wood colors change after many years in display. It is also a culture unique to Japan to enjoy seeing a wood inlay as its shade turns amber.

What kinds of yosegi zaiku marquetry are there?

yosegi zaiku marquetry

yosegi zaiku marquetry (Honma Woodworking Studio in Hakone)

There are various products of the Hakone yosegi zaiku, including joinery crafts, puzzle boxes and muku sake glasses. Many of them are small articles for everyday use. Here, we will introduce items that are especially popular among women in their 20s to 40s.

Perfect for a souvenir! Key chain

Yosegi-zaiku key chain

Yosegi-zaiku key chain

Key chains made by joining wood pieces together are perfect for souvenirs from trips in Hakone. They are popular for their lovely designs from which you feel warmth of wood as well as for their reasonable prices. They are about 500 yen.

Chopstick rests: perfect for your dining table

trendy and lovely chopstick rest (Hatakeno Chaya, Hakone)

Yosegi-zaiku chopstick rests are popular since they are easy to introduce into everyday life. These chopstick rests are available at Hatano Chaya, a shop located in an area called Hatajuku in Hakone. Chopstick rests are available at almost all stores that carry yosegi zaiku marquetry. Just by introducing them to your table, you can feel the Japanese spirit. They are about 500 to 800 yen each.

Places in Tokyo where you can buy yosegi zaiku marquetry

It is quite hard to go all the way to the Hakone/Odawara area just to purchase Hakone yosegi zaiku marquetry. Finally, we will introduce some places in Tokyo where you can purchase these items. How about directly experiencing the beauties of yosegi zaiku marquetry at a shop in Tokyo that you can casually stop by?

MA by So Shi Te, a place for special items reserved by the owner

MA by So Shi Te

an extensive collection of crafts ordered by the shop owner Mr. Kofune

Located at a 1-minute distance by foot from the Ginza Line Gaienmae Station, MA by So Shi Te is one of the shops you should visit if you want to buy yosegi zaiku marquetry in Tokyo. As well as yosegi zaiku marquetry, you can find many crafts that are easy to incorporate into everyday life. 

The name of the store “MA by So Shi Te” is the combination of “MA”, which means room in Japanese, and “So Shi Te”, or “and”, which is a conjunction that leads to a next event. The name refers to the owner's hope that the store will become a place where good turns of events will come to the customers through the room that is the store.

Gimmick boxes and yosegi zaiku marquetry

Gimmick boxes and yosegi zaiku marquetry are also available

Mr. Kofune purchases all the crafts carried at this store directly from artisans. People tend to have the impression that you don't appreciate traditional crafts until you get old, but recently there has been an increasing interest in them among young people in their 20s or so.

<img src="" layout="responsive" Coasters with cute modern patterns

As for the appeal of yosegi zaiku marquetry, Mr. Kofune says, "Yosegi zaiku marquetry can be used as modern interior decorations by modernizing the patterns, so I am eyeing them as crafts that easily gets incorporated into modern life. It will be a great pleasure if customers find them to be useful in their everyday life, instead of just considering them as souvenirs."

A photo frame with hemp leaf and turtle shell patterns

Mr. Kofune's recommendation: photo frame with hemp leaf and turtle shell patterns (tax-excluded 3,050 yen)

The store's recommendations are photo frames with auspicious patterns. The hemp leaves are amulets, and the turtle shell pattern means hope for longevity. These photo fames make for a perfect gift .If you learn the meanings of the patterns, you will be able to enjoy yosegi-zaiku items even more.

Japanese Traditional Crafts Aoyama Square: a place where traditional crafts from all over Japan gather

The interior view of Aoyama Square

Japanese Traditional Crafts Aoyama Square in Aoyama

Located at a 5-minute walk away from Aoyama Ichome Station, Japanese Traditional Crafts Aoyama Square is a store on the first floor of the NMF Aoyama Itchome Building. traditional crafts representing Japan, including lacquerware, china ware, wood products, castings, and kimonos (textiles) gather at this store, which cooperates with craft production areas from all over the country.

The interior view of Aoyama Square

Traditional crafts from all over Japan displayed in order

This store’s appeal is that you can meet new traditional crafts anytime you stop by since they display crafts according to the time of traditional events such as the Girls' Festival (March 3) and the Boys’ Festival (May 5), and offer temporary exhibitions by area and genre.

Corner for yosezi-zaiku items

Corner for yosezi zaiku items

They purchase yosegi zaiku products produced by artisans in the Hakone/Odawara area in cooperation with the tourism association. There are various products in display such as trays with zuku sheets pasted on them and muku sake cups.The most popular ones are, of course, puzzle boxes.

Yosegi-zaiku puzzle box

Puzzle box popular with amongst foreigners (4.8 inches 7 steps, tax excluded 2,900 yen)

Many foreign visitors come to this store.
A staff members says, "Puzzle boxes are appealing in design, but many foreigners buy them because of their mechanism." The mechanism where the box is opened by specific steps of sliding fascinates foreign visitors.
It was on a weekday morning that we visited the store, but there were about 10 customers waiting outside with excitement before the store opened. Japanese traditional crafts are loved by both foreigners and Japanese people.

Introduce Japanese tradition into your everyday life with yosegi zaiku marquetry

Hakone yosegi zaiku marquetry is a traditional crafts produced in the Hakone/Odawara area. If you directly see their beautiful geometric patterns and elaborate handwork by artisans, you will surely get fascinated by them. If you would like to actually touch and see these works, make sure you check the related articles. We hope you'll find your own favorite item.