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#040 Horiuchi Woodcraft2015/11/10

Woodcraft, bringing calm to people while protecting the forest environment

Developed Japan’s first “wooden medical toys.”

The wooden box is opened to reveal a tiny hospital room and a tiny operating theater made completely of wood. It includes a cute little bed and a cute little stretcher, and even a cute little intravenous drip stand. The doctor and nurse start using these toys to explain to a sick child what treatment or examination they are about to undergo, and to reassure the child, “It’s all right, there’s nothing to be frightened of.”

These kinds of “medical toys” are attracting attention at the coalface of medical treatment today. Small children often fear medical examinations and treatments that they have to undergo in hospital, and these wooden toys in the shape of medical equipment are used to explain procedures in a way that is easy for children to understand. By letting the children play with them beforehand, it helps to ease their fears.

Prepara Wood Surgery Set. After listening to explanations of examinations and treatments while playing with these toys, children become better able to face the procedures with a positive attitude.

Horiuchi Woodcraft, in Ashigarakami-gun in Kanagawa Prefecture, very close to Odawara, is the only manufacturer of medical toys in Japan. Odawara is a traditional woodcrafting regions, with a history stretching back more than 1,000 years of urushi lacquerware and yosegi parquetry. Horiuchi Woodcraft founder, Mr. Ryoichi Horiuchi, who was born in the area, trained as a kijishi (woodcraftsman), making the base wooden bowls and other receptacles that are lacquered with urushi to create Odawara lacquerware. After ten years of his apprenticeship, he set out on his own at the age of 28 in 1993. Since starting his company, Mr. Horiuchi handles all aspects of the business himself, from planning through to manufacturing and marketing of the finished products.

“I entered the world of woodcraft due to the influence of my father, who was himself a woodcraft artisan, I decide I may as well become a kijishi. I even took about two years off from my apprenticeship to travel the world. I did things like circumnavigate Australia by motorbike,” he smiled. His gentle smile, surrounded by an impressive beard, is very striking.

Mr. Ryoichi Horiuchi, proprietor of Horiuchi Woodcraft. His business is currently three-pronged: the manufacture of novelty merchandise commissioned by the local Kanagawa Prefectural government, the development and manufacture of wooden medical toys, and OEM supply to other companies.

After setting out on his own, Mr. Horiuchi spent several years doing sub-contracting work for the lacquerware wholesaler where he had served his apprenticeship, but that work started to dry up considerably from around 2000. With the change in modern lifestyles, like many other traditional crafts, demand for lacquerware itself had declined.

“For about three years, I was forced to do temporary work in completely unrelated industries. I still loved wood, however, and I really wanted to make a living working with wood. I realized that there was no point in sitting around waiting for the sub-contracting work to come to me. I decided to develop my own, original products to distinguish myself from my competitors.”

Receive FSC Certification and Manufacture Environmentally Friendly Products

As an artisan, however, there was much that Mr. Horiuchi did not know about product development. He attended myriad seminars to learn as much as he could. While attending a lecture on ISO14000 at a craft institute, he learned about the concept of “green buying,” that is buying things that place as small a burden on the environment as possible.

Feeling that wooden products would also need to become environmentally friendly, Mr. Horiuchi started making wooden stationery items and novelty goods using local wood. While presenting his wares at exhibitions of products made with materials produced in Kanagawa Prefecture, he continued to study about forests, and in 2004, he obtained FSC Forest Certification.

Horiuchi Woodcraft is able to stamp the FSC Certified mark on its products made with certified wood, including OEM products. The FSC forest certification scheme is an international scheme in which independent bodies assess and certify the appropriate management (planned harvesting and planting) of forests.

Today, more and more companies are considering the environment and obtaining FSC certification, but at that time, the scheme was virtually unknown in Japan, and it was extremely unusual for a company as small as Horiuchi Woodcraft to obtain certification. Nevertheless, even back then, Mr. Horiuchi had a clear view of the direction and convictions of his business.

“At that time, my children were still small, and I also wanted to protect our rich forests and to preserve a good environment for my children. Today, Horiuchi Woodcraft proposes the making of products made of wood that are kind on the environment and on our minds and bodies, and strives to contribute to a closed-loop society, to preserve our forests, and to reduce global warming. Our process, from purchasing the wood through to processing, is fully integrated, and we use our website to inform our customers about tracking of FSC certified wood and what happens to the timber after the trees are felled.”

Forest environments have become an issue of global concern. Thanks to its use of certified wood, Horiuchi Woodcraft has received orders from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to make novelty merchandise, and, despite its small size, the company’s position has received high praise.

Also, at the introduction of the Forestry Revitalization Division of the Kanagawa Prefectural Government, the company was approached by the Kanagawa Prefectural Children’s Medical Center. This eventually led to the development of Prepara Wood, the wooden medical toys mentioned at the top of this article.

Prepara Wood Doctor’s Bag 10, which was chosen as a Good Toy 2015 and awarded the Forestry Agency Director-General’s Prize. It is often presented at medical conferences, and to date, Horiuchi Woodcraft has sold it to more than 100 healthcare facilities all over Japan. It has also been adopted by healthcare facilities in the United States, Belgium and China.

Global Reach with Local Yosegi Woodcraft and Kijishi Skills

Horiuchi Woodcraft has registered its yosegi stools with Rin crossing. This was the second product that it developed after Prepara Wood.

“We are fortunate to now be receiving many orders for Prepara Wood even from hospitals in other countries, and orders are coming in just by word-of-mouth, without our having to do anything. I also wanted to come up with products that would be easy to incorporate into everyday lifestyles, so that anyone can experience the appeal of wooden products.

The reason he decided to make a stool was that “it is not something that actual yosegi craftspeople would usually make.” With yosegi, small, detailed work is traditionally prized, so the idea of making a stool seat with yosegi was quite a novel and daring one. Moreover, the skill involved in carving the seat into a smooth, curved shape was something that Mr. Horiuchi had honed as a kijishi, carving bowls on a turning lathe.


Ichimatsu Stool (left) and Shimashima Stool (right). A cute and fun stool made with yosegi woodcraft techniques, in which wooden pieces of different colors are glued together to form patterns. The striped Shimashima Stool was awarded the Judges’ Prize at the 7th All Japan Wood Craft Competition.

The workshop in action. Mr. Horiuchi’s skills as a kijishi in creating bowls and trays with turning lathe and plane are evident throughout his work.

“These products are at once typical of Odawara and original, but because I am not very accustomed to marketing, they did not sell very well. As I was wondering what I should do, I learned about Rin crossing in the Small and Medium Enterprise Agency’s e-newsletter, and registered with them in the hope of opening up new sales channels.”

This year, Horiuchi Woodcraft exhibited in the Rin crossing booth at the Interior Lifestyle Trade Fair, and received a favorable response from buyers and people in other industries. In October, the company will also register a new product, a yosegi kendama. This kendama is quite a surprising product, but it is the result of a heartwarming connection and foresight.

“When the kendama was enjoying a boom in popularity in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the region with the overwhelming share of production was, in fact, Odawara. My father also mostly made kendama at that time. When I posted the dead stock that had been in our house from those days on the Internet, I was contacted by a group of kendama aficionados. They told me that kendama was now enjoying immense popularity overseas, and we decided to work together to develop a kendama product.”

Sales of the yosegi kendama, Sanga, began in June 2015. It comes in two designs. Ichimatsu (mosaic) is made with maple and walnut wood (left), and Shimashima (stripe) is made with purpleheart, maple, walnut and moabi (right). In summer, a certified kendama made with FSC certified domestic hardwoods was also put into production.

Through no intentions of his own, Mr. Horiuchi is now making the same toy that his father used to make. “If my father were still alive, I am sure he would be very surprised to learn that kendama is so popular overseas.” This thought seemed to amuse Mr. Horiuchi. His father would also be surprised at the idea of making kendama with yosegi techniques. At the Kendama World Cup 2015, held in July in Hiroshima Prefecture’s Hatsukaichi, the birthplace of kendama, kendama players from all over the world marveled at the beauty of Horiuchi Woodcraft’s kendama. The stocks he had taken to sell at the event completely sold out in no time.

“What most surprised me was being asked to sign the kendama. It is the same with the medical toys, but my impression is that, in the past two or three years, traditional crafts made with Japanese materials have been achieving great recognition overseas, and they are being acknowledged both as items for everyday use and as works of art.”

Mr. Horiuchi is currently extremely busy filling orders for kendama, and he has reached the happy conclusion that demand is now at a stage where he can no longer do it all by himself. He has also decided to launch his product on Amazon USA in anticipation of Christmas sales, so his business looks set to expand even further.

“We are now in an age where even one-person companies like mine can use the Internet to set up accounts and cultivate sales channels overseas, but there are still many things I do not understand or that I am uncertain about. I hope that Rin crossing will help me with advice on creating an English website that will better convey the information, and support me in opening up sales channels overseas.”

Horiuchi Woodcraft

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