Sasano Bori - Japanese tradition and craftsmanship

Japanese tradition of woodworking fascinates and amazes us constantly. This is not the first time I have entered this world. You remember of course Kumiko, an art of woodworking that produces delicate Japanese sliding doors or decorative panels with painstakingly crafted wood designs. I turn again to Japan for another tradition that impressed me primarily with its simplicity and value. It is Sasano Bori, the traditional art of making wooden figurines.

wooden figurines
photo source: pref.yamagata.jp

An art over 1000 years old

Sasano is a region in the Japanese city of Yonezawa, the birthplace of the art more than 1200 years ago. Bori, in Japanese, means carving, carving. The craft has been passed down from generation to generation, and was known only locally until the 17th century. Then, during the time of the shogunate Yozan Uesugi, because the economy was developing very slowly, it was decided that the craft and figurines should be promoted throughout Japan. The action was a success, and the figurines became known throughout the country and then around the world.

The figurine is carved from a single piece of wood and is the element that makes this art special. Everything - the figurine, the decorations, the posy - is made by working with art and patience on a single piece of wood. And the tools are specific and traditional. They use a kind of chisel that looks more like a cleaver and is called Sarukiri and Chijire. The Sarukiri chisel is used by the craftsman as a knife, making delicate carvings on the piece of wood.

The wood used is also special. It has to be both hard and flexible to shape the wings made by carving. Koshiabura and Enjyu species, found in Japan and China, are used. Figurines can be picked up and lifted by the wings without breaking them. Over time, the colour of the wood takes on different tones and darkens.

wooden figurines
photo source: 2013.mingei.org
wooden figurines
photo source: fujichubo.n-do-jp
wooden figurines
photo source: etsy.com

High-value figures passing from one generation to the next

One of Japan's most famous Sasano craftsmen is Tona Kanpu. He is the sixth generation of a famous family of Sasano carvers. She started working at the age of 11, and now, at 67, she has her own shop with photos of Kanpu on the walls with famous Japanese actors, mayors and ministers from around the world.

Sasano figurines are so important that when the Prime Minister is appointed he is given a gift of one. When a person becomes CEO in a fairytale they also receive such a figurine as a gift. And when a child is born the traditional gift is a Sasano figurine that is exactly the height of the child at birth.

Wooden figurines are made to be handed down from generation to generation.

wooden figurines
photo source: bushcraftru.com
wooden figurines
photo source: terapeak.com

About the author

Mihaela Radu

Mihaela Radu is a chemical engineer but has a great passion for wood. She has been working in the field for more than 20 years, wood finishing being what defined her during this period. She gained experience working in a research institute, in her own company, as well as in a multinational. She wants to continuously share her experience with those who have the same passion - and more.

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