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Yosegi Zaiku and Zougan Zaiku

History of the Art 

Yosegi Zaiku and Zougan Zaiku are traditional Japanese works of art with a history dating back 1,000 years. It was first created in the town of Hakone, an important stop on the road from Kyoto (the old Capital) to Edo (the new Capital, now known as Tokyo). This road was made famous by Hiroshige in his woodblock print set “The 53 Stations of Tokaido”  Click Here to view the Prints 

The mountainous area surrounding Hakone made it a difficult task for any traveler to make it through without stopping to rest. During the Edo Period, the affluent traveler was carried in palanquins. (sedan chairs) The palanquin bearers (Kagokaki) would wait in Hakone for a group of travelers to make their way down the mountain slopes and into the town in need of fresh men to continue their trip. In an around Hakone, tea shops (Chayas) and restaurants began to spring up to serve the needs of the weary travelers.  

As the town grew, vendors would sell other goods in and around the Chayas. This included arts and crafts made from the abundance of exotic wood from the surrounding forests. During some seasons, the Kagokaki might wait days or weeks for his next fare and began to supplement his income producing arts and crafts to sell to the visitors. 

Over time, the hot springs and amazing views of Hakone  made it a tourist destination that is still popular today. Technology has made the palanquin and the Kagokaki obsolete, but the art they created lives on. 

The Art 

The woodworking arts of Hakone include two basic styles. The first, Yosegi Zaiku, is an intricate mosaic marquetry process that is made into a beautiful veneer. This veneer is used to decorate everything from chopsticks and serving trays to the amazing Himitsu Bako (Japanese Puzzle Boxes). Various woods of different colors are harvested, dried, and shaved or cut into different shapes that are then combined to make the basic patterns. These patterns are then arranged to make sheets that are shaved into the veneer. 

The second type of art work is Zougan Zaiku. As with Yosegi, it all begins with an assortment of woods in various colors. This is where the similarities end. Next, these thin slices of wood are carved into intricate shapes depicting the shades and colors of the picture they will become. The pieces are fitted together to make the final picture.

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