Wagatabon- The Japanese Chestnut Tray

Since my trip to Japan last year I’ve been working with North House Folk School to invite Japanese craftspeople to come and teach. I believe that there is much to learn from Japanese craftsfolk. I’m not talking about just the physical skills alone, but also their craft ethos—ideas of beauty and aesthetics, views about the natural world and the use of hand craft on a daily basis to name a few.

This has culminated in an awesome workshop being offered during Wood Week, March 2019 at North House Folk School, MN.

Shinichi-san showing me a few antique trays at a small museum in Yamanaka-onsen.

Shinichi-san showing me a few antique trays at a small museum in Yamanaka-onsen.

My friend Masashi accompanied by another master woodworker, Shinichi Moriguchi will teach two, two-day classes on making the wagatabon or wooden tray. According to Masashi this will be the first time a Japanese green woodworking project will be taught outside of Japan! This is a big deal and a very special opportunity.

When we visited Yamanaka Onsen I was introduced to these simple and very beautiful trays. I really enjoy the texture and simple tools used to create them. The antique ones showed signs of years of use and had developed a fantastic patina. Shinichi-san gifted me one that he had made and it’s been in constant use in our house.

Here is the story:

The wagatabon is a type of wooden tray that used to be made by roof shingle makers in Wagatani village, Ishikawa, the snowy area of Japan. It is said that the trays had been made there since early 17th century. The makers used to cleave green chestnut logs to produce shingles, and kept the good ones to carve trays in winter. They exchanged their trays for clothes and food. Large ones were used for carrying bowls and plates, small ones for keeping small tools. Deep ones were also used for giving an offering of rice and grain to their ancestors at the small shrine in their houses. In 1961 the whole village was evacuated because of the construction of dams which flooded the area, and the craft died out. The beauty and simplicity of the wagatabon was then re-discovered by several craftspeople, including Tatsuaki Kuroda, Japan’s first living national treasure in woodwork. Since then a small number of craftspeople have been making them for daily use.

Wood Week is one of the best times to attend a class at North House if you are into woodworking in any way. There are many great classes scheduled during the week. If you’ve been on the fence about attending, this year will be one you won’t want to miss.

Sign up here.

Masashi will also be the featured instructor which means he’ll be giving a presention on one of the evenings as well as a demonstration of setting up and using the Japanese hand plane or kanna.

I hope to see you there.

A few small trays.

A few small trays.

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