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Goin’ Japanesque!

Inami Chokoku 1: Traditional Craft from Japan’s Best Wood Carving Technique

In a two part article including this one, we will be introducing a traditional Japanese craft called the Inami Wood Carving. The first part will be an introduction about its history and some finished pieces. Photo:


About Inami Wood Carving


Inami Chokoku or Inami Wood Carving is a traditional craft of Nanto (formerly called Inami-machi) of Toyama Prefecture. It uses high quality wood from camphor and zelvoka trees. Their skill of using over 200 types of only chisels and carving knives are considered to be the highest in Japan. They do not even use files, yet they are able to express the smooth curvature in their carvings. Each work is carved out of single pieces of wood.


The History of Inami Wood Carving

Taishido, Zuisen-ji Temple (瑞泉寺太子堂)

This Zuisen-ji is a temple that has a deep relationship with Inami carving. Since the temple was first built in 1390, it has a history of being burnt down many times. With each rebuilding, it has become more and more exquisite. The carving techniques used in rebuilding the temple are the techniques used in Inami carving today. Therefore, it can be said that the Zuisen-ji is the very birthplace of the Inami carving.

The Inami carving has been used for many other famous temples and shrines such as the Honganji Temple of Tsukiji, Tokyo and Nikkō Tōshō-gū. The usage gradually spread to the “ranma (transom)” (to be explained in more detail below) of common homes and to the common people. Ranma has become such a representative product made in Inami carving that many people associate the ranma itself with Inami carving. Ranma made in Inami carving expresses Japan’s finest wood carving techniques with about 250 years of history.


Types of Inami Carving

Here we introduce some works that proudly show Japan’s finest skills. There are some traditionally Japanese products as well as products made in recent years which mixes the traditional and the new.

1. Ranma


Shiro Shoin, Nishi-Honganji Temple of Kyoto (京都西本願寺・白書院),

The ranma or transom is an element in a Japanese structures washitsu room. Its purpose is for lighting, ventilation and decoration. In the photo, the piece above the open sliding door in the center is the ranma. In actuality, it is an element that is essential to a washitsu style room more so because it exudes the prestige of the washitsu room or the building itself rather than for its practical reasons of lighting and ventilation.

2. Tsuitate


Tsuitate refers to a partition used in a Japanese room. It can be moved around. When it is placed in a room, you can immediately divide the space into 2 smaller rooms. It helps make practical use of widely open washitsu rooms. Similar to the ranma, the tsuitate is often decorated with intricate designs. It is similar in function to a simplified sliding door (fusuma).

3. Nameplate

Nameplate with the Surname Matsui (松井),

How about a wood carved nameplate for your home?

4. A Figurine


An owl that looks like it’s about to fly away. Looks realistic.

5. Modern Works: Collaboration with a Motor Vehicle

Viewt Toyama

Wood paneling interior that utilizes the techniques of Inami carving that is used in ranma

6. Modern Works: Collaboration with Star Wars

A wood carved poster,

7. Modern Works: Collaboration with a Guitar

Dragon Sword Ryuken (龍剣),

An electric guitar that’s sold at 1.95 million Japanese Yen; so powerful, it looks like it’s going to jump out at us.


All these works are made from single pieces of wood using chisels only. Hope you can sense the high levels of craftsmanship in these works.

See here for part 2: Inami Chokoku 2: Highlights from the City of Japan’s Best Wood Carving Technique

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