Yoshitani Woodworks was one of my favorite stops during my trip to Nara back in March. Yuki Yoshitani (the son) of the operation was there to greet me. He was energetic and really wants to visit the U.S. to see Ohtani play in the major leagues. I hope that one day he comes our to watch a game and visit Umami Mart.
Yuki Yoshitani and me in front of Yoshitani Woodworks
For 700 years, Yoshitani Woodworks has been making sanbo (wooden pedestals), used mainly for putting offerings like mochi for the new year. They use a slit technique to bend wood with no use of nails.
Worker bending wood
This technique is protected as a Japanese National treasure. They were very generous in showing me all the steps except for when they make the incisions in the wood for the technique (it's a 700 year-old secret, and they'd like to keep it that way).
Yuki-san is appropriating this technique to make other items like trays, coasters, boxes, and tongs. Since my visit, we have imported their items into our shop. The coaster have proved to be very popular. They are beautiful as they are functional.
New items that Yuki-san is making using the 700 year-old slit technology
Yoshinosugi is Japanese cedar from the Yoshino region of Nara. Yuki-san tells me that the middle of the wood is used for studs and lumber, while the outside is used for small things like the sanbo and trays. Yoshinosugi has a soothing minty smell and is known to be very dense and hard to crack.
Yoshinosugi stacked up along the side of the road near Yoshitani Woodworks
Here's a tour of their production facility. On the day I visited, they were making sanbo (which still remains their main product).
Workers feeding wood pieces into planer
Shavings discarded from planing wood. These shavings are used for packing material.
More wood coming out of a planer
Attaching the frame to the base of the upper portion of the sanbo
Bending the frame for sanbo
Stacks of sanbo bases and platforms
Like many of the craft traditions in Japan, woodworking is dying. Yuki-san says that there are not enough sons and daughters who are taking over the hard work of harvesting yoshinosugi (cedar). When the forests are not maintained and thinned, the forests do not regenerate. There is currently no real solution to the decline in this type of work. We hope that our appreciation for Yoshitani Woodwork's stunning creations will help future generations consider preserving this special craft.