Making ‘Magewappa’ in Akita

Hello fellow Tohoku travelers!

I recently had the chance to visit Odate city in Akita Prefecture, and try my hand at making a traditional Japanese woodcraft called ‘Magewappa‘. Odate City is famous for its long history of traditional Magewappa craftmanship.

A finished Odate Magewappa

The distinguishing characteristic of Magewappa is that the main body of the product is shaped by bending a thin timber board of Akita Cedar into a round/oval shape. Most Magewappa products are used to store food, since it is believed that the wood used has anti-bacterial properties. Magewappa as a craft has existed for many hundreds of years although the technique has evolved and changed over time.

To make a Magewappa, firstly a thin timber board (usually of Akita Cedar) is needed. This board is then put in hot water to soften it and make it flexible (since it has to endure some fairly strenuous bending).

Timber boards in hot water

Then, using a device called a ‘goro’ the board is processed to make it easier to shape.

goro

Board processed with ‘goro’

The board can now be shaped to the desired shape (in this case round) and is fastened by using a wooden clip.

Board being shaped

Board fastened by wooden clip

The board is then left to dry and harden for 4-5 days.

Several Magewappa being dried

As you’ve probably realized by now, this process takes a long time. In fact, all of the steps above take approximately 2 weeks to complete! Now, of course, we didn’t spend two whole weeks in Odate making Magewappa (though it would have been nice!). The ‘making Magewappa’ experience is actually only the finishing of the Magewappa, and it only takes some tens of minutes to a few hours.

So, this is what we experienced!

When we arrived at the workshop, the parts of the Magewappa that needed to be assembled were already waiting for us on top of a table.

The tasks we had to do were not difficult at all. First, we put some glue on the bottom part of the main body:

The glue used here is not dangerous even if it comes into contact with food (since Magewappa is mainly used for food container). Historically, this kind of glue was not always available. In the past they even used pounded rice as glue! It was actually really effective as a glue, but since it was to much of a hassle to make it, they switched to the modern glue.

Next we attached the bottom to the main body:

After that, we added some more glue and attached a ring-like section to act as a base:

We then wiped the excess glue:

Last but not least, the Magewappa were heated to dry off the glue:

Finished! (note: the lid was already finished, we only made the bottom part)

It was quite simple and not complicated at all! It was still interesting though, since we got to learn about and experience for ourselves a traditional and unique Japanese woodcraft.


Other things to see in Odate


Ako-chan, one of the two dogs in the Fureaidokoro (kawaii >///<)

Akita-inu statues and Fureaidokoro near the station:

Akita-inu is the same breed as the famous dog Hachiko. In the Fureaidokoro you can also see some Akita-inu (but no touching, only pictures!).

Akita-inu statues in front of the station

Odate City Museum (大館郷土博物館)

In this museum you can really learn about Odate and Magewappa. It has a collection of Magewappa as well as a very old Magewappa (from the 10th Century)

Official website (Japanese): http://odate-city.jp/museum/

Magewappa from 10th century!

One of the Magewappa exhibits


Useful Information


Odate Bentwood Workshop & Studio

Address: 70, Omachi, Odate-shi, Akita

Phone: 0186-42-7502

Closed: Tuesday, Wednesday, holiday

Price range: 3000 to 5000 yen, depending on what you’re making

Official Website (Japanese): http://odate-magewappa.com/workshop.html

Third Party Website (English, but information is a little old…): https://letsmofumofuakita.jp/en/publics/index/76/

***PLEASE NOTE***: The staff only speak Japanese, so be sure to practice your Japanese first or bring a friend who can speak Japanese (or brush up on your awesome gesturing skills)!

From Sendai:

There are many alternatives to reach Odate from Sendai.

You can directly go from Sendai to Odate, but direct buses are quite rare. Otherwise, you might find it easier to first get to Akita, Morioka, or Aomori cities get a direct bus or train to Odate from there.

In our case, we took a bus from Sendai to Morioka, and then from Morioka to Odate. It took about 6 hours one way (I don’t remember precisely) but it was less than 10.000 yen for the round trip.

If you have the option (and a driver’s license), it is also recommended to travel by car for flexibility. If you are planning to rent a car for your Tohoku trip, don’t forget to ask for a ‘Tohoku Expressway Pass’ for foreign travelers. This pass will give you HUGE discounts on highway fares throughout the six prefectures of Tohoku (Aomori, Akita, Iwate, Miyagi, Yamagata, Fukushima).

 

We hope you enjoyed this post and were maybe inspired to try it out yourself! Not only do you get the experience, you also get the Magewappa to bring home with you! ^^

~ by Hugo (Indonesia) & Joey (Philippines)

 

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