Knowing about the primary and secondary types of Japanese wood and their use in carpentry, woodworking, and ordinary applications can provide us with more information about their importance in making utensils, decorative items, and construction.
Several species are known as primary sources of wood harvesting in Japan:
- Japanese cypress
- Japanese cedar
- Red pine
They have been used for years in the construction industry. However, there are other species and sources of wood harvesting that are less common. Therefore, their use is limited to specific applications. Some of them are listed below:
- Old Japanese cedar
- Japanese umbrella
- mulberry tree
- Japanese Elm
On the other hand, as Japan is one of the importers of wood from countries like Russia, it is important to know about the demand for lumber in the modern day.
Especially, the construction industry in Japan needs to import products such as wood veneer sheets to make plywood boards and rafters for building roofs.
In this article, our aim is to introduce primary and secondary types of woods that are important for Japanese carpentry and woodworking. We will also discuss the imports of wood in the modern day to meet the demands of the building and plywood industry.
Performance and Aesthetics of Japanese Wood
Wood, a common and traditional material in the Land of the Rising Sun, Japan, plays a significant role in the daily lives of its people. This wooden material is employed as one of the most crucial elements in constructing homes and everyday objects. However, Japanese woods are primarily renowned for their unique characteristics and distinctive aesthetics.
Japan’s islands, spanning over 3000 kilometers, are situated in diverse climatic conditions. These varying conditions include cold polar winds and semi-tropical ocean currents, resulting in vastly different growth conditions for tree species in different regions. Therefore, native Japanese trees can produce highly specific types of wood that are particularly suitable for specific applications in certain areas.
Primary types of Japanese wood
Hinoki (Japanese cypress)
This is one of the most popular types of tree species in Japan. Hinoki grows in Honshu, Kyushu, and Shikoku. However, the trees that grow in Kiso are more famous. They are known as Kiso Hinoki
Characteristics of Hinoki
Japanese cypress has a lemon-like scent. The color of Hinoki is light and pinkish-brown.
The wood of this tree is rich in straight grains. It is also known as a durable type of wood that is highly resistant to rot.
From hundreds of years ago, Hinoki has been used by the Japanese to build temples, shrines, and palaces.
For example, Osaka Castle and Horyuji Temple are made by using woods harvested from Japanese cypress.
Also in carpentry and woodworking, it is popular to use Japanese cypress wood for making baths, and wooden cups, known as masu.
Sugi (Japanese cedar)
Japanese cedar is the national tree of the country. Traditionally, the tree was planted around shrines and temples.
The highly prized species grows in Yoshina, Akita, and Yakushima.
This tree is soft and has a low density. It is also insect resistant. Its color is reddish brown to light red. You can find beautiful grains in its wood.
Sugi is primarily used for making pillars and boards. In carpentry, it is common to use Japanese cedar for making polished logs, and ceiling boards, and manufacturing furniture.
In the past, it had been used in shipbuilding, wooden barrels, and Kumiko.
Akamatsu (Japanese red pine)
Akamatsu is an ornamental tree. So, it was an important part of traditional gardens in Japan. But, today the style of living in Tokyo and many parts of the country have changed.
Even though, you can find Japanese red pine from the northern parts of Honshu to the Shikoku, Kyushu, and southwards.
Quality and color
The color of the sapwood of this tree is pale yellow to whitish. But, the heartwood has a light reddish brown color. The grains are straight with an even texture.
Compared to common species, the wood of this tree contains more resins.
As a whole, Japanese red pine wood can be considered as a strong, highly resistant, and light product.
The primary use of this wood is for lumber production for the construction industry. But, as it is highly resistant to rots, Japanese red pine was an ideal choice for building bridges in traditional applications.
This is one of the main species that is widely planted for harvesting its wood for timber production. Many old temples in the country have their beams made using red pine wood.
Secondary types of Japanese wood
Secondary types of wood in Japan are often more expensive than other types of wood. Therefore, their use is limited to special applications.
Jindai Sugi (old Japanese cedar)
Old Japanese cedar woods can last more than one thousand years. They’re buried in the marshes or lake beds.
So, what’s special about Jindai Sugi?
It has iron contents that provide a rich color from grey-brown to black to the final wooden products.
As this wood is extremely rare, its uses are scares and limited to precious items. It is also used to make utensils that are used for tea ceremonies in Japan.
Koyamaki (Japanese umbrella pine)
This tree is among conifer species and has a rich texture. Koyamaki is among top five rare species in the country. The trees that grow in Kiso and Nagano have a better quality.
What’s special about umbrella pine?
Japanese umbrella pine has a noble color. It’s white and contains transparent resin.
As, Koyamaki is resistant to water, it’s commonly used for bath tubes and yuoke.
Sashimi plates and cold items that are among tableware, such as ice pale and pitchers are also made by this wood.
Kiri is known as the empress tree in Japan. It’s also referred to as the princess tree. Why?
A Kiri tree is planted at the birth of each girl in the aristocracy. According to tradition, when the girl grows and gets married, a kimono dresser of kiri is given to to her after she settles in a marital home.
Paulownia wood has fine grains. It’s very light and warp-resistant. It is worth mentioning that this tree is among the fast-growing hardwoods in Japan.
In carpentry and woodworking, Kiri is used for making boxes, chests, and clogs.
Keyaki (Japanese elm)
As a symbol of a number of cities in Japan, this tree is often planted as an ornamental tree.
Quality and color
Keyaki has a hardwood. It is heavy and has a beautiful grain. The color of sapwood is whitish-yellow. But, the heartwood of the tree has a yellowish-brown color.
Uses and application
It is considered a secondary source of wood products for manufacturing furniture. Keyaki is also a good choice for making ornamental items and fine bowls.
Finally, Japanese elm is an ideal wood for building taiko drums.
More than a thousand years ago, the Japanese wood industry was influenced by the Chinese wood industry and architecture.
In carpentry and woodworking projects, several types of trees have been harvested for hundreds of years as the primary source of wood.
Also, there are secondary types of wood that are important in traditional applications. So, we tried to introduce some of them.
But, as in modern days, the Japanese wood industry needs to supply the demands from species that grow outside the country, it seems like a good idea to have a look at lumber and wood import in Japan.
Japanese wood import
Japan is an importer of wood veneer sheets buying more than half of its wooden raw materials from Russia.
Wood veneer sheets are important for making plywood boards. As Russian lumbers are known for their high strength, they are also used for building roofs of homes.
It is worth mentioning that Russia is one of the top wood and lumber exporters in global markets. Many countries from the southwest to the east of Asia supply their domestic demand in various sectors by buying Russian wood.
Why Red pine rafters are important for Japan?
In 2020, it was among the top imported types of wood in Japan. But, it is important to note that after the beginning of the war in Ukraine, due to economic sanctions and for political reasons, companies in Japan tried to change their primary source of wood and lumber imports.
This led to a surge in the prices in the construction sector, reaching its highest level in 2022.
Russian red pine rafter is one of the popular types of wood in Japan that is used in building construction.
Japanese Wooden Soaking Tubs
One unit crafted with Japanese woods known for its special beauty is the Japanese wooden soaking tub, known as “wanburo.” These tubs hold a special place in Japanese homes and have a depth of approximately 60 centimeters, allowing individuals to immerse themselves up to their shoulders in water. They are constructed from various water-resistant hardwoods like Hinoki, Hiba, Koyamaki, Nezuko, and Sawara.
One prominent feature of these authentic Japanese woods is that when they come into contact with warm water and steam, they emit soothing scents and create a lasting olfactory experience. The bathing experience in a Japanese wooden soaking tub not only aids in cleansing the body but also transforms into a tranquil and aesthetically pleasing experience.
In general, Japanese woods, with their unique blend of functionality and aesthetics, hold a special place in the culture and daily life of the Japanese people and are considered one of the natural treasures of this land.
Characteristics of Conifer Trees: HINOKI, HIBA, KOYAMAKI, NEZUKO, SAWARA
Goboku’s special woods, five common tree species found in the Kiso and Aomori regions, have distinct properties that equally contribute to well-being and health. However, these characteristics are emphasized differently in individual woods. Therefore, depending on personal concerns regarding aesthetic and functional aspects, the careful selection of wood species is recommended.
One must also mention the art of Bonsai, where the cultivation of common Goboku trees, especially in Japan, is very prevalent. Hinoki and Hiba are the most suitable types of wood for creating harmonious representations of natural elements in miniature form, and there are countless beautiful Bonsai specimens of these.
Relaxing and Antibacterial Effects of Goboku Woods
Thanks to the present phytoncides, such as Hinokitiol, which belongs to the terpene family (volatile substances), these woods emit a distinctive and lasting fragrance with relaxing and antibacterial effects that can be compared to the concept of “forest bathing” (shinrin-yoku).
These essences also contain alpha-pinene, alpha-caryophyllene, and borneol – substances that have relaxing effects on the body, especially when fatigued. Furthermore, they enhance alpha brain waves, reduce blood pressure, and help relax bronchial mucus membranes (in asthmatics). The unique aroma of these woods aids in calming the mind and body and induces a pleasant sensation.
Durability and Beauty of Natural Woods
There are only a few simple rules to follow to ensure that a Goboku wooden bath possesses both functionality and beauty. Softwoods specifically for Goboku are identified by their particular resistance to water. The production of baths is based on a handcrafted processing technique developed over years of experience by selected artisans.
Thanks to natural wood, when touching and seeing this environmental material, you can enjoy a delightful sensory experience – especially considering that the body is entirely exposed during bathing. The therapeutic benefits of hot baths in Japanese wooden tubs have been scientifically proven time and again. They confirm the beneficial effects of soluble chemical agents in water on the organism.
Visually, the use of natural wood aligns with the Japanese concept of aesthetic beauty, which is based on the acceptance and contemplation of imperfection and incompleteness.
I hope this translation helps! If you have any more questions or need further assistance, feel free to ask.
In this article, we introduced several types of trees and species that are known as primary and secondary sources of wood for traditional carpentry and woodworking projects. Then, we had a quick look at the demand for lumber and wood imports from countries like Russia.
We’re going to answer several frequently asked questions about Japanese wood:
What is the Japanese name for traditional woods in the country?
The native name for some of them is listed:
- Camphor laurel
- Magnolia obovate
However, the Japanese use other types of wood for carpentry and woodworking projects. They also import several popular species in the modern day.
What types of wood are considered expensive in Japan?
Several species that are mostly known as the secondary source of wood harvesting are very expensive in Japan. For example, mulberry wood is highly prized for its characteristics.
For centuries, it has been used to make bowls, cabinets, and decorative items.
It is worth mentioning that island wood or Shimakuwa, harvested from mulberry trees in the Izu Islands, is among the top sought-after and expensive woods in Japan.
What type of wood is considered the strongest wood in Japan?
Distylium racemosum, known as the isunoki tree in Japan, is an evergreen tree with strong woods. It has broad leaves and can grow up to 20 meters. You can find it in the eastern parts of the Kanto region.
Why has the wood price increased in Japan?
As Japanese companies import lumber and wood from countries such as Russia, due to economic sanctions or political reasons, the price of wood may increase. For example, in 2022 the prices surged in the construction industry.