Timber Woodcraft in Shogawa, Toyama

Take your wooden plate home

By Alena Eckelmann    - 3 min read

Shogawa is the name of a river that has its source in the mountains of the Takayama area in Gifu Prefecture. It runs through Toyama Prefecture and flows into the ocean of Toyama Bay.

The river, which flows for 115km through mountains areas, has always played an important part in the life of those people who live near it. In the old days locals utilised the powerful currents of the river to transport lumber downstream to the ocean where it was collected and shipped for sale across Japan. Timber was also used as tax payment to the overlords of the Kaga Clan during Japan’s Feudal Period. Any surplus of timber, after the tax commitment had been met, was used to make wooden items for daily use. However, in 1930 the construction of the Komaki Dam upstream of the Shogawa put an end to the lumber industry as logs could not be transported downstream anymore.

At the current location of Shogawa Water Memorial Park in Tonami City was once a timber station. A small museum and a local woodcraft center, the Shogawa Mizu Kinen Kouen Tokusankan, invite us to come in and learn about the long tradition of woodcraft in this area.

There you can enjoy a demonstration of how to make a wooden plate by using a rotor and some carving equipment, and you can take the soft and light wooden plate, just made in front of your eyes, home!

70 years old Shimata-san, a local of Tonami City, demonstrates his craft and explains it in English. He picked up the skills for operating the machinery from a German craftsman at an international wood carving festival 30 years ago, and he has enjoyed making wooden plates ever since.

First of all, the timber needs to dry outside for three years in order to loose moisture. Then it is cut into smaller pieces and dried more. Next, it is cut into shape by putting the wooden block on a fast-moving rotator and by using a chisel to carve the shape from the outside and from the inside.

Watching Shimata-san while he is carving, wood chips flying around his head, one can see his enjoyment of making these wooden plates and of proudly presenting them to visitors.

What else to do in the area: Shogawa River is now also popular in all seasons for its Shogawa Gorge Cruise, and sightseers enjoy an onsen bath at the Shogawa Onsen Village too.

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Alena Eckelmann

Alena Eckelmann @alena.eckelmann

Founder of Kii Monogatari, my story and the story of the Kii Peninsula of Japan. Originally from East Germany, I came to Tokyo, via Berlin and London, in 2005. In summer 2011 I moved by choice to remote Kumano in the south of the Kii Peninsula where I live, work and play now, and explore every day.The whole of the Kii Peninsula is a Healing Hub for me with its abundance of forest, mountains, rivers, waterfalls, the ocean, friendly rural communities and sacred places. This is where nature meets spirituality, and tradition meets sustainability, the new paradigm for travel post-pandemic. My deep interest is in Japanese nature & spirituality. I love being in nature, in the forest and in the mountains, and I love spending time at temples and shrines.  I am building my life and my work around these two passions. I am a Licensed Forest Therapy (Shinrin Therapy) Guide and a Licensed Kumano Kodo and Koyasan Guide. I am also a Licensed Retreat Facilitator and I am planning retreats on the Kii Peninsula. Last but not least, I have been the Japan Travel Partner for Wakayama and Yamagata since the conception of the platform in 2011! These two prefectures are close to my heart because they are the centers of Shugendo, a spiritual tradition of mountain ascetism. I am a Shugendo Practitioner for over ten years now and received Tokudo in 2016 at a Shugendo temple on Yoshinoyama. Please kindly connect via my Facebook Page Kii Monogatari. Take care, keep well, stay safe! 

Join the discussion

Kim 2 years ago
I love that so many places in Japan still have this wonderful dedication to artisanship - it makes for such special experiences to witness!
Bonson Lam 2 years ago
Thank you for sharing, Alena. I can imagine the hard work and dedication is keeping 70 years old Shimata-san young.