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An Encore Comes to an End: Wooden Bento Box of Hakata

Over the years, we tell stories of Japanese traditional craft artisans in lesser known towns outside of Tokyo and Kyoto. We have received tremendous support from all over the world showing your appreciation for these declining crafts. Here and now, in the world of Japanese wooden bento box, an inconvenient reality hits:

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Mr. Taizo Morita always brought big smiles to work.

We are announcing the retirement of Master Artisan Mr. Taizo Morita from ShibataToku Bentwood Shop, maker of traditional wooden bento box.

Hakata Bentwood craft marks the origin of Japan's wooden bento box. Mr. Morita is one of the few remaining magemono (bent wood bento box) Master craftsmen with over 50 years of experience, which means one less pair of skilled hands making beautiful things. Mr. Morita was the protégé of then 5th generation Master ShibataToku Goro at age 24, and he became an independent craftman in his 40s. But after Mr. ShibataToku Goro passed away in 2015, 6th generation successor Ms. Yoshiko Shibata asked Mr. Morita (then age 70) to return to help continue the heritage business. During this 7 years of extended time, they have recruited and trained young apprentices but unfortunately none of them lasted. They either lacked the patience or the talented hands for such skilled craft.

In April 2023, Mr. Morita decided it is finally time to let go of his beloved bentwood craft when his wife fell ill; and at age 77, he wants to spend more time with his family. While working at his age may surprise you, the majority of our artisans (shokunin) are in their 70s. Arthritis and other ailments are common, many still work well into their 80s. Even with his own knee problems, Mr. Morita kept working at Shibata-Toku to carry on the craft.

We are well aware that these past 7 years were borrowed time. Without a master craftsman to take the reins in the wood shop, and without any successor, ShibataToku is once again facing closure after 173 years of establishment.

Uncertainty Ahead

The typically bubbly and energetic Ms. Shibata has been anything but. On top of the halted production of a 6th-generation family business, the thought of letting her clients down weighs on her. The small business is facing immediate drop in cash income. Is ShibataToku going to close for good? Last week, we sat down over beer and sake to discuss what possibility there is and how else we can help.

For now, and maybe forever, the shop is quiet. There is no clangor of tools or aroma of cedar wafting from the wood shop. No artisans rushing down the corridor, arms full of boxes ready for stitching and painting. We are losing yet another dedicated craft family business in Japan, while the historic Maidashi district – the birthplace of Japan's bentwood craft, will soon lose its last magemono shop. (read more about Maidashi bentwood history)

At Taketombo and Goenne Japan, it has been our goal to create awareness and garner support for declining traditional crafts. Many of you are admiring the beautiful hand-work, and some are opting for more healthy and sustainable lunch box options over plastic wares. Building momentum and attention from around the world, we aim to get younger generations in Japan to become interested in this wonderful traditional crafts again.