Yakushima Time

Yuji Kashima / Woodshop Kikori

On the island of Yakushima, people who work in the mountains are called “yamashi” (literally “mountain masters”).

When you pick up a piece made with wood from the precious cedar trees native to the island of Yakushima, you might ask, “Shouldn’t these unique and often ancient trees be protected? Where do the trees come from that are used to make these products?” The cutting down of Yakushima cedar trees began in earnest in the Edo period (1603-1867). Woodcutters walked a full day, deep into the mountains, and cut the trees they found there. This work, with axes, took days of labor. They then hewed the wood into roof shingles which they carried on their shoulders back down to their villages. The shingles were then sent to the Satsuma Domain as land tax. The stumps of these trees can be found here and there in the forest. These stumps are called “domaiboku” in Japanese, or “trees buried underground.” And ever since the Yakushima cedar became a protected species, these stumps have been used for woodwork.


As one of only a few young “mountain masters” Yuji Kashima used to cut the huge, buried tree stumps and haul them out, working with great enthusiasm. The older woodsmen watched as he became more skilled, and they looked forward to his future as a woodsman. But Mr. Kashima suffered a sudden misfortune. When atop a tree, securing a wire to hold it in place, he fell. He escaped death but was badly injured.


The woodsmen work deep in the mountains in locations reached after hours pushing their way up through the forest, often in the absence of a trail, danger ever beside them. Unfortunately, Mr. Kashima had no choice but to give up his job as a woodsman.


Mr. Kashima was in utter despair, but in time he found hope in other work with trees, in the world of woodworking. With the support of many others and after a period of training, he opened a shop. He named it “Kikori” (meaning both “woodsman” and literally “tree heart home”). This tiny shop is on the main road that, following the coast, circles the island. When you enter, you are wrapped in its friendly atmosphere. This may come from the woodwork displayed here.


The shop is wrapped in the faint scent of wood.


The one-flower vase above is also made with Yakushima cedar (Machilus thunbergii).

Having worked directly with the old tree stumps in the forest, Mr. Kashima says, “I want to make products in which you can feel the forest and imagine the woods in which these trees stood.”


Customers smile when they take these tree-stump shaped one-flower vases into their hands. Mr. Kashima uses Yakushima cedar and other trees naturally found on the island. When you take a piece softly in hand and look at it, you can feel the life and warmth of the tree. Mr. Kashima has not forgotten his time as a mountain master, as a woodsman, and is proud to have had that experience. In his woodwork, crafted by “a woodsman who has come down out of the mountains,” one can hear the voice of the forest.

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