A photographic introduction to items from the collection

Collections Originally Archived by the Ōtsuka Museum of Traditional Implements and Tools

1. A Pair of Collections Bundled together

The National Museum of Japanese History holds two collections originally archived by the Ōtsuka Archive of Woodcraft and Lumbering History: (i) the Collection of Folk Implements from the Hida Region (F-169; hereinafter referred to as “the Collection of Hida Folk Implements”) and (ii) the Collections of Carpenter’s Ink Pads Originally Archived by the Ōtsuka Archive of Woodcraft and Lumbering History (F-235; hereinafter referred to as “the Collection of Ink Pads”). The former was purchased in February 1990 and the latter was bought in two separate transactions in FY1993 and FY1994. They originally formed part of the collection of the late Mr. Yūji Ōtsuka in Gifu City.

He was born in Gifu City in 1917. After graduating from a commercial high school, he was engaged in his family business of lumbering, which had been founded in 1908. In 1945, he restructured the business into a joint-stock company called Taihi Lumber and assumed its presidency. Having realized that rapid economic growth “drastically changed the sense of values in lumber and the relationships between people and trees” (Ōtsuka, 1986, p.1), he started to collect wooden implements and lumber tools, mainly from the Hida and Okumino regions, in the 1970s. Then in 1979, he established the Ōtsuka Archive of Woodcraft and Lumbering History at his office in Hioki, Gifu City, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of his family business. Seemingly, he collected as many as 2,000 implements and tools for the museum.

He established the museum because he had “found it his mission to preserve wooden implements and tools valuable as research resources when seeing them disappearing” (Ōtsuka, 1986, p.1). However, after his death at the age of 71 in 1988, the Ōtsuka Museum was closed down due to a lack of successors. Therefore, the National Museum of Japanese History purchased a part of the collection in fear that otherwise the valuable research material collected by the lumber expert would be scattered and lost.

The collections obtained include chests of drawers, large oblong chests, screens, tables, signboards, abacuses, coin counters, cash boxes, pothooks, candle stands, paper-covered lamp stands, tobacco trays, pillows, spades, mortars, mallets, wooden bowls, buckets, scoops, cake molds, wood hammers, forestry tools, snowshoes, sledges, log sleds, ladders, sawing tools, carpentry tools, thatching tools, pulleys, masks, lion-dancing masks, Gifu paper lantern production tools. Although those of the same kind are treated as a set, there are actually an enormous number of items. For example, according to the collection database of the National Museum of Japanese History, the Collection of Hida Folk Implements consists of only 609 sets, but actually a set of the cake molds (F-169-226) consists of 41 items; a set of the forestry tools (F-169-307) of 31 items; a set of the tools (F-169-424) of 86 items; another set of the tools (F-169-426) of 78 items; a set of the printing blocks (F-169-494) of 189 items; and a set of the Gifu paper lantern production tools (F-169-497) of 1685 items. In other words, it is a huge collection consisting of an enormous number of items sorted into different categories, and a quick glance at the database will not show how large the collection actually is. Among this vast number of implements and tools, this article introduces carpenter ink pads, carpentry tools, and Gifu paper lantern production tools, each of which consists of an especially large number of items.

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2. The Collection of Ink Pads

The Collection of Ink Pads was displayed at the special exhibition of Disappearing Tools and Rituals of Carpenters in the summer of 1996. This exhibition focused on the design of ink pads and their role as a ritual tool in architecture. Mr. Ōtsuka was also interested in the design and religious elements of ink pads, collecting various ink pads not only made in the Hida and Okumino regions but also around the Japanese Archipelago and Korean Peninsula. His collection consisted of 58 Korean, 233 early modern Japanese, and two modern ink pads and a set of 15 bamboo ink pens.

Most of the Korean ink pads were made in the Yi Dynasty period (from 1392 to 1910). As shown in Photo 1, many of them are a complicated design inspired by animals such as the turtle, tiger, squirrel, and bird. Another feature is their great variety of production materials ranging from bamboo to metal to stone and white porcelain (See Photo 2); in contrast, the Japanese ink pads are mainly made of zelkova.

Compared with these ink pads of the Yi Dynasty, the Japanese ink pads are simpler in design. They are distinguished by the shape of their shallow container for a pad of cotton soaked in ink; the one with a horizontally long container is categorized as a Kanto type, the one with a rectangle-shaped container as a Kansai type, and the one with a slim container as an ichimonji type. Among them, the ichimonji-type ink pads were commonly used in the Hida region, where the collector lived (See Photo 3). This type is easy to carry though the ink pad dries up soon since the container is quite small compared with that of the Kanto type.

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3. Carpentry Tools

The collection of the carpentry tools originally archived by the Ōtsuka Archive of Woodcraft and Lumbering History is characterized by the fact that each of the tool boxes has a large amount of tools. There are six boxes of carpentry tools, a set of 44 carpentry tools without a box, and a box of tools for setting the teeth of saws. On the basis of all available information, it is estimated that some of the tools date back to the Tempō period (from 1831 to 1845). Most of the others are considered to have been used in the modern times.

It is worth noting that the types of tools contained in each box are different. They are largely sorted by work process. Another interesting point is that there are a wide range of tools for detailed work. For example, the tool box of F-169-422 contains many chisels and planes (Photo 4); the boxes of F-169-423/425/427 include many planes (Photo 5); the box of F-169-424 keeps many gimlets, chisels, and rasps (Photo 6); and the box of F-169-426 has modern tools such as drill dispensers and screwdrivers (Photo 7).

In particular, this collection has an extreme variety of planes with different forms and functions, which enables a close comparison of the differences in structure between diverse planes such as jointer planes for rough finishing; flat planes, which are most frequently used; concave planes used to form a convex surface; convex planes used to form a concave surface; and rabbet planes used to make rabbets on door sills and the like.

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4. Gifu Paper Lantern Production Tools

The Gifu paper lantern is a lantern with a shade made of a bamboo-strip frame covered by thin, durable Mino-washi paper with picture on it. This type of lantern is mainly used for Bon Festival (the Feast of Lanterns). Its production process involves diverse professional craftsmen, such as kuchiwashi to produce upper and lower shade rings (called kuchiwa); eshi to design and draw sketches; surikomishi to paint the sketches; and harishi to make bamboo frames and cover them with the painted paper. Among them, the tools of kuchiwashi are possessed by the National Museum of Japanese History, transferred from the Ōtsuka Archive of Woodcraft and Lumbering History (See Photo 8).

Kuchiwashi means a wood craftsman. They produce not only upper and lower shade rings but also other wooden parts of paper lanterns and lamps, such as lantern handles, candlesticks with bases, and lamp stand legs. Moreover, there are various types of paper lanterns and lamps in addition to Bon Festival lanterns, such as Boys’ Festival lanterns, paper-covered lamp stands, and mini paper lanterns. Therefore, there are diverse kinds of kuchiwashi tools. Among them, harikomi frame and tsume used to make shade rings in a form in which the paper shade can be safely stuck into the shade ring (by pasting inner and outer rings, called hariuchi and harisoto, onto the top board called kuchi) are particularly important and large in number (See Photo 9). There are also various kinds of planes and marking gauges to produce lantern handles and lamp stand legs with different curves (See Photo 10). Thus, the collection of Gifu paper lantern production tools is valuable research material that can convey the atmosphere of lantern making workshops.


  • Ōtsuka, Y. Sumitsubo [Carpenter Ink Pads]. Ōtsuka Archive of Woodcraft and Lumbering History, 1986
  • National Museum of Japanese History, ed. Ushinawareyuku Banshō no Dōgu to Gishiki [Disappearing Tools and Rituals of Carpenters]. National Museum of Japanese History, 1996

OGURA Shigeji (Ancient Japanese History, Research Department)