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Hometown heritage focus with Satoshi Takahashi #8: Fine art of 'magewappa' bent-wood craft

An artisan, Isao Takashimizu, wraps a wood piece around a cylindrical mold to form the side of a round container at Odate Kougeisha Co. Ltd. in Odate, Akita Prefecture, on Sept. 25, 2021. (Satoshi Takahashi)

In this series, Japanese photojournalist Satoshi Takahashi has been focusing on the diverse heritage of his home prefecture, Akita, in northern Japan. For this eighth article, Takahashi visited artisans in the city of Odate producing the traditional "magewappa," round food containers made of bent wood, such as lunch boxes, trays, steamers and cups.

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    Holding the woodcraft, I was first enthralled by the Akita cedar it was made of; its warm touch, its fragrance, and its elegant straight grains. Next, I was struck by the finesse apparent in the bent wood and the precisely assembled parts.

    Ingredients for an Akita specialty, "kiritanpo" hotpot, are arranged in an "Odate magewappa" container handcrafted by artisans at Odate Kougeisha Co. Ltd. This image was taken at a restaurant, "Hokushu Club," in Odate, Akita Prefecture, on Sept. 25, 2021. (Satoshi Takahashi)

    This was an "Odate magewappa." Though magewappa are produced in various areas of Japan, Odate's are distinguished from others, and it is designated a national traditional craft.

    Bent-wood containers made of Akita cedar have long been a part of household goods. An artifact identical to today's magewappa was unearthed from a former residence of more than 1,000 years ago in Odate in 1999.

    During the feudal Edo period (1603-1867), it developed into a local industry. The lord of Odate Castle, Satake Nishiie, had laid eyes on the precious naturally grown cedar in this territory, and encouraged samurai warriors to manufacture magewappa as a sideline. The skills were passed down for another three centuries, and the trade has today matured into a handicraft.

    The largest local organization inheriting the craftsmanship is the Odate Kougeisha Co. Ltd., where five accredited "traditional craftsmen" and 26 artisans handcraft more than 100 different Odate magewappa products. One of the accredited, Yoshiyuki Miura, 53, said, "I want to hand down this traditional skill to the next generation." He oversees the various stages of the artisans' work needed for completion, such as the sawing, bending and polishing of the material. Each artisan is assigned to a specific stage for more than five years, to master each expertise.

    An ancient household good-turned-traditional craft enlightens the daily lives of modern times.

    (The Japanese original by Satoshi Takahashi was published on December 30, 2021.)

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    Satoshi Takahashi was born in the city of Akita, Akita Prefecture, in 1981. Residing in Phnom Penh from 2007 to 2018, he captured the social problems of Cambodia through his photographs, which were published globally. In 2019, his publication titled "RESISTANCE" (whose subtitle roughly translates to "the undaunted spirit of Cambodians") won the 38th Domon Ken Award sponsored by The Mainichi Newspapers Co.

    More information in Japanese can be found at the following Mainichi Shimbun page online:

    Domon Ken Award: https://www.mainichi.co.jp/event/aw/domonken_archive.html

    In Photos: Akita Pref.'s 'magewappa' bent-wood containers filled with finesse

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