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The Divine Material

Updated: Oct 10, 2021

Kai the carpenter makes his hinoki chopsticks with something divine? This is the story of the maker and his precious local material.

These days we have been busy working on a few custom orders. Most of our artisans LOVE custom orders as they feel very connected to the customers few thousand miles away. And there is always new insights coming out of these slow-craft projects. Like Kai's Handmade Hinoki Chopsticks.

Carpenter Nobuo Kai just completed this custom-order hinoki wood chopsticks and it is on its way to Canada. This 30cm long chopsticks is called "o-sai-hashi", for cooking use (grilling, stir-frying, plating etc...). The string makes it easy to hang in the kitchen for drying and storage. Our customer asked to have something well-crafted by Japanese artisan using quality material so it can become a family heirloom. Kai even took the time to have the cotton string dyed with the Japan's signature blue indigo dye.

Then comes the material story, we have Kai's chopsticks in our shop all these time without knowing that the actual hinoki is from a 100-year old tree! Our regular merchandise also comes with a chopstick sleeve case. Kai said the side panels are made of scrap wood from the chopsticks, and the front and back panels are made from a 400-year-old wood panel that he possesses.

I believe all carpenters have their secret stash of rare wood stock. (Right? Carpenters and wood artisans out there reading this blog).

For those who ordered Kai's chopsticks from us, hope this material story makes your chopsticks even more special. Those who are seeking unique gifts with Japanese quality, history and artisan stories, please consider Kai's Hinoki Chopsticks!

Trees of this caliber is seen as Divine in Japan and people pay their utmost respect in maintaining them. The only time it gets chopped down would be when the tree is damaged in natural catastrophes like hit by lightning or when it has gotten sick and have to be removed. And if any divine tree has to be removed, a religious ritual will be performed and the trunk will be carefully installed at the shrine so forest professionals and visitors can continue to pay tribute.

A 2000-year old Sugi cedar tree is being enshrined in Aso. Two cedar trees (one male, one female) were planted by the first homesteader/inhabitant of Aso some 2000 years ago. The male tree died during a fire in 1818 and female tree was damaged in a typhoon in 1991. The local foresters cut it down and enshrined the trunk at the 2000 year old shrine. The deity of the Kokuzou Shrine is known to bring cultivation and prosperity to the Aso region, with all the Divine trees enshrined on site, this place is seen as a special powder spot where people in agriculture and forest/timber industry would frequently visit.

The day we visited and met with local forester Mr. Yamabe, he was telling us another sacred tree has to be cut down, his team of lumberjacks would all participate in a prayer ritual before the cutting. What are some of Mr. Yamabe's effort in maintaining forest industry? How did Kai obtain such special wood stocks?