【Introduction to Traditional Crafts】 ~Kabazaiku (Akita Prefecture)~

【Introduction to Traditional Crafts】 ~Kabazaiku (Akita Prefecture)~


Kabazaiku(Cherrybark Craftwork)



【Production area of Kabazaiku】

Kakunodate Town, Semboku City, Akita Prefecture



【What is Kabazaiku?】

Woodwork produced in Kakunodate-cho, Semboku City, Akita Prefecture.

When you hear “birch”, you may think of white birch or birch.

However, it means “bark of wild cherry tree” instead of either.


In Japan, Akita Prefecture is the only prefecture in Japan that has inherited the production techniques and knowledge of wooden products made from the bark of wild cherry trees.

From this, it can be said that it is a very valuable traditional craft.


In February 1976, it was designated as a traditional craft for the first time in Akita Prefecture.



【Features of Kabazaiku】

The characteristics of kabazaiku are that it is made from wild cherry tree bark, that it is resistant to humidity and dryness, and that it is sturdy.

There are lusters, colors, and patterns that can only be expressed with the bark of wild cherry trees, and there are many works that make the most of their unique charm.

Typical examples are tea ceremony utensils such as tea caddies, but there are also many unconventional works such as flower vases and daily necessities such as mobile phone straps.


There are three techniques.




This technique is used when making cylindrical products such as tea caddies.

After wrapping thinly shaved wood like paper or bark around a cylindrical wooden mold, it is pasted together using a hot metal trowel.




It is a technique of sticking bark on the tree that will be the base of the product.

It is used when making box-shaped products such as letter boxes and tables for storing letters and letters.




It is a technique in which multiple layers of carefully polished bark are piled up to create thickness, and then carving is done there.

Because it uses polished bark, it has a luster and is used to make accessories such as pendants and loop ties.



【History of Kabazaiku】

It is said that this technique has been passed down from generation to generation by the Goshono family of Kamazawa Shrine in present-day Kitaakita City.

In the 1780s, this special technique was brought to Kakunodate by the samurai Hikoroku Fujimura, and it spread as a side job for lower-ranked samurai.

At that time, Kakunodate was ruled by the Northern Satake family, but because of the careful protection and development of birch craftsmanship, it developed into an industry that represents Kakunodate.

At that time, small items such as ‘inro’ and ‘tobacco pouches’ were commonly made, and netsuke for attaching such small items to the obi.

There is a theory that it was popular as a souvenir when going to Edo in the era when Sankin Kotai was practiced.


In the Meiji period, many former samurai became birch craftsmen.

In addition, the development of easier-to-manufacture tools and the emergence of powerful wholesalers such as Hasematsu Shoten contributed to the further development of the local industry.


After the Taisho era, Tozo Ono, a renowned master craftsman, perfected the techniques of kabazaiku and made efforts to train craftsmen.

For three years starting in 1942, Soetsu Yanagi and his disciples held denshukai, strengthening the foundation of Kabazaiku.


New techniques are being developed and techniques are being improved.

Not only the important traditional techniques that have been handed down from long ago, but also the spirit of actively creating products that match the times will be passed on to the next generation.



【Production process of Kabazaiku】

①Stripping birch

referring source:Kakunodate Denshiro


Specialized craftsmen strip off the bark of wild cherry trees.

The timing is also important, and it is carried out from August to September when the trees are growing well and the water content is high.

The bark of a tree that has survived a harsh natural environment such as severe cold and snow leaves various traces in the body.

The traces become the expression of the tree and create an attractive flavor.


After making a 40 cm cut in the bark using a special knife, peel it off by peeling it up from the trunk.

In addition, if the bark of the entire tree is not stripped off at once, it will not die.

It is possible to continue while regenerating the bark because the part to be stripped is changed, such as this time this time and that next time.

The regenerated bark is called “Nidokawa” and is used as a valuable material for kabazaiku.


The stripped bark is carefully dried for about two years before being processed.


②Birch shavings

referring source:Tomioka Shoten Co., Ltd.


Birch (wild cherry tree bark) is classified into 12 types according to its condition and color.

Some types are listed below.


・Cracked skin

Bark of the highest quality. Birch with shiny, vertical cracks.


・Crepe skin

As the name suggests, this birch can be seen on crepe.


・Candy skin

A birch with a caramel color.

The type of birch used differs depending on the product, so craftsmen select the one that best suits their purpose and cut it to the appropriate size.

Even if it is the same product, it is possible to enjoy different expressions by changing the birch used.


Moisten the curled birch with water and stretch it out while applying a warm trowel.

After that, the surface of the birch is shaved with a wide knife blade to bring out the luster.


③Glue coating

referring source:Tomioka Shoten Co., Ltd.


Apply glue to the shaved birch and let it dry.



referring source:Tomioka Shoten Co., Ltd.


A paper-like thinly shaved wood is wrapped around a wooden pattern.

After that, while pressing the warmed iron against it, curl it into a cylindrical shape.

After removing it from the mold and pasting the birch on the inside, the process is complete.


⑤Sticking to the body

referring source:Tomioka Shoten Co., Ltd.


Glue is applied to the wood that will be the core of the product, and the birch is attached.

Glue is used instead of adhesive to prevent wrinkles in the pasted area.


For the following two reasons, it is a work that requires years of experience and skillful skills by craftsmen.

・Because a heated trowel is used, it must be kept at a temperature that does not burn the birch.

・It is very difficult to apply a trowel so that wrinkles do not appear.


As I have introduced so far, trowels and glue are often used in the kabazaiku process, so many workshops have a fire to keep them warm.



referring source:Tomioka Shoten Co., Ltd.


It is a work to process the cylindrical top part and bottom part.

After shaving with a small knife, use a planer to smooth the edges.

Apply glue to the upper part and paste the birch using a trowel.

Once the top part is finished, the craftsmen do the same for the bottom and they are done.


⑦Polishing and finishing

referring source:Tomioka Shoten Co., Ltd.


Using natural abrasives such as horsetail, the birch surface is polished many times.

After further polishing with whetstone powder, apply a little beard oil and polish with a cloth to complete.


By going through this process, not only the luster but also the tasteful color of the wild cherry bark comes out.

No artificial paint is used, so you can enjoy the beauty of the material itself.





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