One of the first things we noticed when obtaining an older, high-quality pot or stone is that it often comes stored in a wooden box. Known as a kiri-bako, these lightweight but very strong boxes keep things safe and allow for your collection to be stacked when storing them away.
There are several people in the US that makes these boxes and the wood can be purchased in the US to make your own. Often when acquiring a pot or stand in Japan, we have kiri-bako made so that the shipment has a better chance of arriving intact. After shipping several stands to see them broken or destroyed the investment in the kiri-bako became more of a necessity than a luxury.
In our search, we discovered a kiri-bako maker in Osaka, Japan. Soichiro Kobayashi is a third-generation maker of kiri-bako. On his web site he refers to them as Paulownia wooden boxes. Paulownia wood can be obtained from China at very reasonable prices; however, Sochiro explained to me that he purchases his Paulownia from North American because the grain is so much straighter.
Communication with Soichiro was excellent and he was very careful to understand our requirements. The order was for 11 boxes; ours and our friend Paul’s. We provided exact measurements of each object; pot, stone and stand. Next we decided which style of box would be best. There are numerous designs available based on the size of the object, how you wish to access it and how large it is.
The company is small but they have a significant output of high quality boxes. From the photo you can see lots of wood working equipment and Paulownia everywhere!
Katsumi Saito has been making Paulownia boxes since he was 12 years old. He is a very skilled craftsman and with his years of experience you can be assured your box will be of the highest quality.
Tetsuko, Soichiro’s wife, also works on the production team. Note from her picture that these boxes can be made in all sizes including quite large.
The first thing we noticed is the quality of the Paulownia. The grain is very straight and the finish is superb. The framing used on the lids was an extra touch that we did not expect. It is this attention to detail, in our opinion, that separates their work from those making boxes in the U.S.
One of the stands we purchased from Japan and shipped to the US arrived damaged. Fortunately, our friend Jeff knew an antique restorer in San Francisco and we were able to have it repaired. It was nearly impossible to tell that it has been damaged as their work was superb. To avoid this from occurring again, we decided to have a box made for it; see photo above. This type of box has two parts – top lid and container underneath.
Notice the detail in the lid with the cut-outs to allow for easy lifting of the lid from the bottom container. We really appreciated this design for its simplicity and protection. The box was also fitted with material so that the box could be tied. This provides a way to carry the box.
One of the tell-tale signs of how old the kiri-bako might be is the beautiful patina that it takes on over the years. We were never quite clear on how this occurred but in speaking to Sochiro he explained why. “We practice the “Uzukuri-shiage” to show the grain beauty. The Uzukuri method is the traditional process which has been applied since Edo period, to emphasize the grain by rubbing the surface and embossing. It results that the surface of wood gets strengthened and does not get damaged easily. The box also has an insect wax, Ibotaro. Ibotaro is a natural wax which has the high melting point. Varnishing it over the surface makes it elegantly glossy especially for Paulownia wood. This method gives the wood surface preservation.”
Overtime this wax begins to turn a beautiful shade of amber that gives it that aged patina that we so much appreciate.
Another service Sochiro provides is written documentation on the outside or inside of the box. Note, that this can add considerable costs to the box. We had 11 boxes made at the cost of ~$650. The addition of writing on the box added another ~$300 in charges. You will have to decide if the additional cost is worth it. Our writing fees we higher due to the amount of Kanji characters used in the description. Since some of our most valuable pots, stands and stones were going to be housed in the kiri-bako we thought the additional cost for having them documented was worth it.
If you think you might like to have one or more made, please click on the following URL:
Please let Sochiro know that you found him from our blog. He was kind enough to answer our questions and send us photos so we would like for him to know his time was well spent. We have no business arrangement with him therefore there is no monetary relationship. Our only hope is to provide you with an excellent source to have kiri-bakos made to house and protect your collection.
Shipping cost were reasonable as the boxes are lightweight and can be stored inside each other (depending upon sizes of course) to reduce the overall package size. Communication with Sochiro was excellent with an acute attention to detail.
Share with us what you have made by his company. If you have other questions, please feel free to contact us.