A friend recently told me he’d had his hair cut with a pair of $10,000 scissors, reputedly the highest-quality in the world. He hardly needed to add that his barber ordered them from Japan, the land where those truly dedicated to their craft spare no expense of money, time, or energy to take each small step closer to perfection. The rigorous traditions behind that extend far back into history, especially in the making of paper, swords, and, as you can see in the video above, marquetry, patterned veneers which use wood — and only wood — to create elegant and elaborate geometric patterns to apply to the surfaces of all sorts of objects: artistic, functional, and anywhere in between.
In 2012 and 2013, Gucci Japan went around filming the world of masters of traditional arts and crafts all around the country and assembling them into the video series “Hand,” some of which we featured here last year.
Its four-minute short on marquetry, as practiced by Noboru Honma of Hakone, has especially dazzled its viewers by revealing how almost unreal-looking aesthetic precision can result from one man’s work with nothing more than saws, sanders, and woods of various natural colors. These woods, which include cherry, dogwood, ash, mulberry, and camphor, can make about 60 different canonical patterns combinable in an infinitude of ways.
You can learn more about traditional Japanese marquetry, or yosegi-zaiku, in the Technigeek video above. It pays a visit to another woodshop, not far from Honma’s in the neighboring city of Odawara. (Both Odawara and Hakone are located in Kanagawa Prefecture, an area known for its woods.) Kiyotaki Tsuyuki, the craftsman in charge, works with a group of younger yosegi practitioners with the aim of pushing the form’s boundaries and keeping it relevant to the times. “Yosegi is about beauty, the detail in the pattern, and the colors,” he says. “It’s about design, using it in your daily life, or enjoying it as art. If it’s fun to look at and easy to use on any occasion, you’re more likely to love it and enjoy being around it.” Especially if you understand the work — and in some sense, centuries of work — that went into it.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.