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“Sendai Tansu” – a traditional craft across time

2019/03/07

"Sendai Tansu (chest of drawers)" has been nurtured by a long history and tradition, and with its dignified beauty is appealing to many people. We will show you how the three skilled craftsmen, the "joiner", "lacquerer" and "engraver" turn a solid cabinet, into a beautiful piece of craftsmanship of timber, lacquer and iron.

Sendai Tansu has been officially designated as a national traditional craft. The history of the Tansu created by the expert skills of the joiner, lacquerer and engraver dates back to the end of Edo. It is said that the skills of craftsmen of the Sendai clan extended to the artisans of the castle town and spread. In the Meiji and Taisho eras, the furniture was useful for samurai and merchants to store swords and Haori, a short Japanese over garment. The robustness of the joining, the beauty of the lacquer accentuating the wood grain, and the splendor of the metal fittings were highly valued overseas. Exports of the items flourished and one third of the domestic production was sold to Western countries such as Germany, and the United States.

"Joinery" The woodgrain creating strength is the essence of Sendai Tansu.

The base of the Sendai Tansu is made from wood such as zelkova and chestnut. The joiner is responsible for everything from considering the patterns of the woodgrain, to woodwork and assembly. As the Tansu are made to be used for a lengthy period of time, the smallest error cannot be excused and delicate and careful work is required. The main Tansu is created using a traditional joint technique called "three-panel set / five-panel set", and combines pieces of wood without using nails. The doors are finished with a special technique called "Soridome" to stop them from becoming misshapen through twisting or warping. Some Tansu has a hiding space for important items in the drawer.

One of the artisans who finishes the timber for the Tansu with skill is Mr. Shigeharu Masuno. He formed the "Kobo (Studio)
Mokkousha" in Tomiya City. He entered the world of woodwork because he was amazed by the beauty of work created by hand when he was a child. Mr. Masuno's ability to identify good quality wood and finish it skillfully is not only highly appreciated with his Sendai Tansu but with his order made furniture.

"You can’t just be skillful. You have to try to convey the goodness of it as well." Mr. Masuno works with wood every day in his studio to make items for those waiting for his work created by hand.

"Lacquer" The shine of lacquer making the Sendai Tansu more beautiful and charming.

The lacquer that makes Sendai Tansu a craftwork of beauty is applied using a technique called "Kijironuri" which emphasizes the woodgrain of the zelkova timber. The high-quality sheen is created by applying an undercoat, middle coat and top coat and repeatedly polishing and then reapplying the lacquer. In addition, this lacquer coating does not only add beauty to the Sendai Tansu but also makes it extremely strong. It can also be said that another beauty aspect of the Tansu is that the Tansu change color over a long period of time.

A 12th generation lacquerer is Mr. Yoshikatsu Hasebe of the "Hasebe Sikkou (lacquer works) Co. Ltd." located in Aoba-ku, Sendai. Due to a decrease in the production of Japanese lacquer and soaring labor costs the work environment for lacquerers has changed considerably. However, Mr. Hasebe says "I want to portray the goodness of craft made by hand which cannot alter while also accepting changes".

"Joiners, lacquerers and engravers. Because its the clash of each techniques, I can never offer inferior work” laughed Mr. Hasebe showing the pride as a craftsman.

"Metal Fittings" The gorgeous and luxurious fittings that become characteristic of each house.

An important feature of the Sendai Tansu is the beautiful decorative metal fittings. It is the work of the engraver to create patterns in the metal such as dragons and Chinese lions which are popular overseas, and elegant peony flowers loved by Japanese for a long time. It takes about 200 various metal fittings to finish one Sendai Tansu and make it robust. The fittings are made of mainly iron, and each one is created carefully. The characteristic designs depend on the artistic sense of the engraver.

Yaegashi Eikichi who owns “Yaegashi Sendai Tansu Kanagu (Metal Hardware) Kobo (Studio)” in Wakabayashi-ku, Sendai, is a professional engraver with 60 years of experience. The engraved features characteristic of the Yaegashi family are to feature dragons, Chinese lions and peonies to their main design and you can feel the power from its completion. True to the pride of a craftsman he said, "We also incorporate new designs into the traditional ones. In response to orders from customers, we create various designs. We have pride and can never say we cannot do one."

Mr. Yaegashi uses over 1,300 different types of tool to create the iron fittings, all of which are handmade. "This work suits me because I enjoy it and find it interesting." Says Mr. Yaegashi, as the delightful sound of hitting metal echoes again today in the workshop.

"Sendai Tansu History Museum" conveys the history and tradition of Sendai Tansu.

The Sendai Tansu History Museum, conveys the charm of Sendai Tansu. There are various exhibitions such as displays of Sendai Tansu from throughout the ages, as well as pictures and images of the history and production process.
A characteristic of the Sendai Tansu is that it has the width to accommodate a sword (about 120 cm), which is called "Yarogata Style". Okada Kazuhiko of the Sendai Tansu cooperative says that Tansu of modern design styled in color and size to suit modern lifestyles are now being created. The Sendai Tansu, which are loved and handed down from generation to generation will continue in the future by combining tradition and improvement to suit the times.

Sendai Tansu History Museum where you can see valuable historic artefacts on display.
Sendai Tansu with modern designs, yet incorporating traditional craftsmanship.
"In recent years, smaller items are becoming more popular due to housing conditions. I think that we should change what we can to suit the times, and maintain the craft techniques for the future" says Mr. Okada.

It is said that the Sendai Tansu, which combines practicality and artistry, can be used for over a hundred years. It is a traditional craft of which Japan is proud and combines the three techniques of craftsmen who are skilled as "joiners", "lacquerers" and "engravers".
They are perfect as gifts for someone special, as a treasure to handed down in the family for generations, as wedding gifts or as a memory of building a new house.
Why not select a Sendai Tansu as a souvenir?

Sendai Tansu History Museum
4 Fl. Yunome Furniture Store, 2-7-3 Honcho, Aoba-ku, Sendai
TEL:022-225-8368
Open: 10:00~18:00
Closed: During the end of year and new year holidays
Inspection Tours: Free
http://www.sendai-tansu.com/kougeikan/
*External Link
*Only available in Japanese
Sendai Tansu Co-operative
4 Fl. Yunome Furniture Store, 2-7-3 Honcho, Aoba-ku, Sendai
(Located within Sendai Tansu History Museum)
http://www.sendai-tansu.com/
*External Link
*Only available in Japanese
Sendai Tansu Furniture Repairs Okada Craft
12-17 Korakucho, Shiogama City
TEL:022-365-1890
http://www.remus.dti.ne.jp/~k-okada/index.html
*External Link
*Only available in Japanese
Studio Mokkousha
113 Senoki, Kokuda, Tomiya City
TEL:022-358-1141
http://www.mokkousya.com/
*External Link
*Only available in Japanese
Hasebe Sikkou Co. Ltd.
10-4 Kuzuokashita, Goroku, Aoba-ku, Sendai
TEL:022-302-1505
http://hasebe-sikkou.jp/
*External Link
*Only available in Japanese
Yaegashi Tansu Metal Hardware Studio
164 Yashiki-kita, Shimoiida, Wakabayashi-ku, Sendai
TEL:022-259-2491
http://www.sentabi.jp/artfood/yaegashidtansu/
http://nakata.net/rnp/area/12223/
*External Link
*Only available in Japanese

 

 

*This article has been prepared base on information as of February, 2019.