Yakusugi Cedar Handicrafts

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Yakusugi cedar is a world-heritage-designated tree that grows on Yakushima Island. The title Yakusugi only applies to trees that are more than 1,000 years old—those under 1,000 years old are called kosugi, or small cedars.

Yakushima Island has a very harsh environment, where the local saying goes that “it rains 35 days a month.” Many typhoons pass through the area as well. The island’s soil is also granite-based, with extremely low nutritional content. Yakusugi cedars that have survived under these conditions accumulate rich quantities of resin, and develop a fine-grained quality.

This precious wood is used to make Kagoshima Prefecture’s Yakusugi cedar handicrafts. However, lumbering of Yakusugi cedar has been banned since 2001, meaning all modern handicrafts are produced using deadfall and leftover stock from previous periods of history.

Yakusugi cedars were offered in the form of taxes from the Edo Period (1603-1868), and though they were lumbered in large quantities at the time, only the highest quality trees were actually transported to the mainland. The numerous leftover trees were called domai-boku, or trees buried in the soil, and they have been preserved in their natural forms for 200 years thanks to their high resin content. Further, as Yakusugi cedars grow on thin soil above granite, many are felled by typhoons and strong winds, meaning fallen branches and stumps from Yakusugi cedars can be found in great quantities.

Yakusugi cedar handicrafts represent a means of making use of these already-available resources. The resin-rich quality of the wood not only prevents decay, but as it gives off a beautiful gloss the more it’s used, it is a choice material for general woodwork as well.

With the wood’s age and its growing scarcity due to the lumbering ban, it’s becoming a growing luxury—a natural material with multifarious shapes and grains that are uniquely attained from the severe environment of Yakushima Island.

Yakusugi handicrafts include everything from furniture to chopsticks, artwork and accessories. They all emit a beautiful gloss and have a classical Japanese quality, sure to only become rarer as time goes on.

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Photo by 屋久杉館 乾 らんま店

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