Japanese master woodworker shares techniques

MASTER: Tokyo University of Arts lecturer Suda Kenji was selected by the Japanese Cultural Agency to visit New Zealand as a cultural ambassador.
PATRICK HAMILTON/The Nelson Mail
MASTER: Tokyo University of Arts lecturer Suda Kenji was selected by the Japanese Cultural Agency to visit New Zealand as a cultural ambassador.

Students at Nelson's Centre for Fine Woodworking have been getting the rare experience of seeing a world-renowned Japanese woodworker in action.

Tokyo University of Arts lecturer Suda Kenji was selected by the Japanese Cultural Agency to visit New Zealand as a cultural ambassador.

As well as exhibiting his work at Unitec in Auckland, Mr Kenji has spent this week in Nelson speaking and demonstrating aspects of the sashimono style to woodworking students.

Sashimono is the Japanese word for the traditional techniques employed to create boxes and furniture. Traditionally, the Japanese did not use chairs and tables or beds, but sat on the floor or slept on special mats. Therefore, woodworkers focused on making boxes.

Mr Kenji said the boxes were designed to store objects but utility was not their main objective.

"In the same way a ceramic vase is used to hold a flower arrangement but can also be admired as a three-dimensional art object, so can my boxes be appreciated for their intrinsic beauty."

Woodworking student Larry Spitz, who helped convince Mr Kenji to come to New Zealand, said it was a rare experience for students.

"It's very difficult to get a look at the way someone works in a different culture and how they use different techniques to create beautiful pieces."

Mr Kenji's classes focused on the use of Japanese tools and the application of Japanese lacquer, or urushi.

Mr Spitz said the methods Mr Kenji employed were not like techniques students were used to. "The process and even the tools used are very different. It is a way of thinking about the work that is interesting to see."

He said the work Mr Kenji did was very precise. "Whereas we would be worried about all our sides being level and use a machine to do it, even Suda's rough work by hand is so smooth you wouldn't worry about it."

Mr Spitz said it was rare to have someone of Mr Kenji's ability come to New Zealand, let alone Nelson, as finance was always an issue.

"We would be keen to have him back and he said that he would like to at some stage, but these things cost money."

The main theme of Mr Kenji's exhibition in Auckland is the difference between woodcraft in Japan and in the West.

He returns to Auckland this week before heading back to Japan.

Nelson