How Much Wood Would A Woodchuck Chuck?

Posted by on Sep 24, 2011 in Aomori, Travel Volunteer Journey | One Comment
How Much Wood Would A Woodchuck Chuck?

I’ve always admired Japanese products. More often than not, they’ve got an elegance to them, a tactility that makes them a pleasure to use.

I remember the first day I saw a Sony Playstation. It had been imported to a shop in my home town early, of the European release. The graphics were, of course, mind-blowing at the time, even though the shop’s television could only display them in black and white (the foreign machine wasn’t fully compatible with the British one). But as pretty as the games looked – and they really were gorgeous – it was the feel of the controller that had everyone in the shop drooling.

Here it was, rounded and smooth and unlike anything anyone had ever used before. It felt so intuitive and reliable and responsive, like a glove in reverse. (Of course its boxy, impractical  ancestors were of Japanese design too, but for the purposes of this daydream, we’ll ignore that). In other words, the Playstation had us won over with its design, let alone its processing power. American author Nicholson Baker knows what I mean.

And it’s just that kind of look and feel that the Bunaco company in Hirosaki, Aomori prefecture, has captured with its ergonomic wood products. Using pliable beech wood – abundant in this area – the basic technique behind it involves tightly winding thin strips, then pushing them out, like wooden clay. It sounds simple, but it’s been winning them awards for years. Into the bargain, the end products are terribly eco-friendly because the wood is harvested locally and cut so thin.

It’s all very delicate when the professionals are doing it. Alas, when Katy and I are offered the chance to make our own bowls in the workshop, things are a touch less refined. The technique for shaping bowls uses a tea cup as a kind of rolling pin to gently force the wood into place. It takes the seasoned pros a few seconds to whip up something out of nothing, but it’s a skill that requires precision and force, a bit like a martial art.

For me the precision is an issue (I top-load the bowl, then snap the wood at the bottom trying to correct the mistake), while Katy struggles to muster enough force to really shape the wood at all.

The company is growing fast, but for now all of the production is carried out here. It’s safe to say our efforts didn’t leave anyone worrying for their jobs.

So we left, tails between our legs, to take a stroll in the afternoon sun around the gardens of the Hirosaki Castle Park.

Much of it dates back to the 16th century, Japan’s Edo Period, but like most Japanese public gardens, it’s still tremendously well planned and maintained. Even the entrances are as of old; stylish, with gigantic gates and doors that look, as Baker would say, worn into place.

In other words, it’s all just as it should be.









1 Comment

  1. iphone 5 design
    October 7, 2011

    It is a subject near to my heart cheers, in which are your make contact with specifics however?