Nagiso Wood Turnery

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Japan has a gold mine of traditional craftwork gifted by the resources of nature, and Nagiso Woodturning of Nagano Prefecture is the one that shows the beauty of mystic nature and its power embedded in wood.

Nagiso machi is located in the southwest part of Nagano Prefecture, with about 94% of its land covered by forest. It has the smallest population in the prefecture – about 4,800 people, according to the 2010 data. Yet in such a small town, there are a number of historic and cultural heritages, including “Tsumago-jyuku” – a post station – which was certified as an Important Preservation District for Groups of Historic Buildings, “Momosuke-bashi” Bridge, an Important Cultural Property, and “Nakasendo” Trail, which is designated as a national historic site.

The woodturning which has been fostered in Nagiso machi involves a processing of shaping thick wooden boards and logs by grinding them with a plane while turning them on a wheel at the same time. In 1980, it was certified as a Traditional Craftwork by the Minister of International Trade and Industry.

The artisans (called kijishi) take part in the entire process themselves, from selecting wood, drying, woodturning, coating to the sale of their products. The beautiful grain of broad-leaved trees in Kisoji – zelkova, conker, kalopanax pictus and cercidiphyllum japonicum and so on – is used as natural patterns. The material trees are around 100 years old. The trees hewed out from mountains are first cut into big pieces depending on the size of each product, then ground roughly and dried, sometimes for more than 10 years. By doing so, one can prevent distortion, which can occur during the production process or after use.

The Nagiso woodturning has been used in everyday life for the making of trays, bowls and snacks or sweets containers. Recently, new products such as ballpoint pens and business card holders have been produced as well. While these items take the shape of tools that help people in contemporary society, they still show the power of life, as if their innate qualities were awakened by the techniques of kijishi artisans. Looking at the gently-shaped round forms and the countless layers of grain lines, one senses the peculiar nature of a tree’s lifespan, as its decades or centuries of history are laid bare to the naked eye. We recommend you take a look at these works of art in person.

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