Timber Woodcraft in Shogawa, Toyama

Take your wooden plate home

By Alena Eckelmann   Jun 3, 2018 - 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

Celebrating my 10th year anniversary in Japan in May 2018, the country that I call home now. I lived in crazy Tokyo for 6 years and since 2011 I call the Kii Peninsula (Kumano, Koyasan and Yoshinoyama) my home. I have visited all 47 prefectures of Japan and for the last 4 years I have worked as a guide for foreign visitors. My special interest is in Japanese nature and spirituality. I love spending time in the forest and mountains and I love visiting temples and shrines. I am also a licensed guide for the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails and for Koyasan, the Buddhist monastery, in addition to being a practitioner and guide for Shinrin Yoku (Forest Therapy).   In recent years I have taken visitors to walk the Kumano Kodo trails, the Nakasendo trail, the 88 temple pilgrimage trail around Shikoku Island and to Dewa Sanzan, the three sacred mountains in Yamagata Prefecture. If you look for nature and spirituality in your trip to Japan, then Wakayama, Nara and Yamagata Prefectures are ideal places to get started!

Join the discussion

Kim B 6 months 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 6 months ago
Thank you for sharing, Alena. I can imagine the hard work and dedication is keeping 70 years old Shimata-san young.