Wood Types

Primary

The primary types of wood used in Japanese carpentry and woodwork are Japanese cypress (Hinoki 桧), Japanese Cedar (Sugi 杉) and Japanese Red Pine
(Akamatsu 赤松).

TypeAboutQualitiesUses
Japanese Cypress (Hinoki 桧 ) Japan’s best-known tree species, grows in Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. The cypress grown in Kiso (‘Kiso Hinoki’) is particularly famous. Lemon-scented, light pinkish-brown, with a rich, straight grain, and is highly rot-resistant. Long term durability.Building temples, palaces, shrines, noh theatres, baths and masu (wooden sake cups). Horyuji Temple and Osaka Castle are both built from Hinoki.
Japanese Cedar
(Sugi 杉)



The national tree of Japan, commonly planted around temples and shrines. Famous Japanese cedar comes from Akita, Yoshina and Yakushima. Fragrant, weather and insect resistant, soft with a low density. The wood is light red or reddish brown with a beautiful grain and develops character with use. Pillars and boards, ceiling boards, polished logs, furniture, barrels, shipbuilding and kumiko.
Japanese Red Pine
(Akamatsu 赤松)
Widely cultivated for timber and as an ornamental tree. Akamatsu are an important feature of classic Japanese gardens. Found from northern Honshu and southwards to Kyushu and Shikoku.Heartwood is light reddish brown, sapwood is pale yellow / white. Grain is straight, with a medium, even texture and oily feel (high resin content). Wood is strong, light and highly resistant to rot. Construction lumber. It’s resistance to rot made it ideal for bridge building in ancient times. Many old temples contain akamatsu, in particular the beams. 

Secondary

The following types are less common owing to their scarcity and the resulting price is often very expensive.

TypeAboutQualitiesUses
Old Japanese Cedar (Jindai Sugi 甚大)Japanese cedar said to be one thousand to several thousand years old, found buried in lake beds or marshes. Iron content of the wood gives it a deep grey-brown sometimes black, rich colour.Extremely rare and scarce hence used for precious items only, including tea ceremony utensils and flower vases.
Japanese Umbrella Pine (Kōyamaki こうやまき)These richly textured conifers are one of Japan’s five sacred trees. The best examples are grown in the Kiso area in Nagano prefecture.Beautiful white colour with transparent resin. Seen as a noble colour.Commonly used for bath tubs or yuoke and onsen bath tubs as it’s resistant to water. Tableware for cold items such as sashimi plates, pitchers or ice pales.
Paulownia (Kiri 桐)Also known as the Empress Tree or Princess Tree, tradition dictated the aristocracy would plant a kiri tree at the birth of a girl. When she weds and settles into her marital home traditionally a kimono dresser made of kiri would be given.Very light, fine-grained, and warp-resistant. The fastest-growing hardwood. Chests, boxes, and clogs (geta). Low silica content reduces dulling of blades, making it the preferred wood for boxes holding tools.
Japanese Elm
(Keyaki 欅)
The tree is a symbol of a number of Japanese cities and prefectures. It is often grown as an ornamental tree and used in bonsai.A beautiful grain, it is a hard, heavy and dense wood. The sapwood is yellowish-white and the heartwood is yellowish-brown.Furniture, such as tansu chests, cabinetry and fine ornamental and household items such as bowls. Considered the ideal wood for the creation of taiko drums.

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