Akita is a prefecture of northern Japan and the cradle of many national crafts. Its abundance in beautiful nature has been used by various art industries, including Odate Bentwood.
Natural Akita cedar is first peeled - by hand or with a sawmill. The peeled wood is then placed in hot water until it has softened. He is then pulled out of the water and wrapped around a special roller to bend it. The overlapping piece of wood is fixed so that everything stays together, and then the constriction is allowed to air dry naturally. Once it has dried, the overlapping flaps are glued together. The overlapping parts are tied together by pieces of Sakura cherry tree bark that are very contrasted. Finally, the lid and bottom are inserted and glued to finish the product.
This trade is called Mage-wappa, which means "curved wood product" and sounds rather funny in Japanese. Wappa, an artisanal wooden product made from fine cedar and cypress wood planks, is popular throughout Japan, but Odate wood is particularly appreciated for its magnificent grain and exceptional aroma. In addition, its flexibility and ring structure are unique and recognized throughout the country. In 1980, Mage-wappa was certified "Traditional Crafts of Japan".
Bento boxes are particularly well known and very popular because of their quality and longevity. The nature of cedar wood helps keep food stored cool and, since most products are not lacquered, the intense aroma enhances the taste of your food. In addition, they prevent bacteria from entering and keep your food cool in summer and warm in winter.
1600 marks the beginning of an important period in Japanese history. The decisive "Sekigahara Battle" is considered the unofficial start of the Tokugawa shogunate; the last feudal military government in Japan. Military commander Satake Yoshinobu was forced to visit the most extreme part of the main island of Honshu, Japan. There, he was confronted with poverty and a small society that was hanging by a thread. The Satake family, living in Odate Castle, tried to find a way to improve the living conditions of the inhabitants of Odate City and finally found a solution to the rich timber supply of the region. At first, lower-ranking warriors were ordered to use cedar wood to make simple handicrafts. As their production increased, instead of paying their annual rice tribute, people were asked to collect more wood in nearby mountain areas. Gradually, the works of art became more complex and the workload increased because they now sold their products in cities up to Edo (modern Tokyo).
Cedar wood has proven to be an ideal food container because of its flexibility, its heat and moisture retention properties and its antiseptic qualities. The wood is also beautifully colored, light and has an excellent aroma that enhances any type of food stored. Located in colder areas, the trees grow relatively slowly, creating a magnificent pattern of annual rings. The finished products are timeless, simple and undeniably beautiful.
The logging of naturally grown Akita cedar has recently been prohibited for forest preservation.
Therefore, current production of Odate mage-wappa is done with 200-year-old cedar that was stocked before the banning, and 100-year-old cedar that was planted specifically for this craft. Both produce slightly different crafts, but the quality remains undisputable.
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