The Wagatabon wooden tray by Shibaji Ochiai

The nearly submerged handicraft





The wooden tray made by Shibaji Ochiai has a calming quality. For this reason, I no longer use it only to serve tea, but more often use it as a plate for my breakfast toast or muffin; it has then become an indispensable item on my breakfast table. Since the wood has deeper ridges,  it allows the steam from the freshly toasted bread to seep away through the ridges or to be absorbed by the wood. The toast can stay crispy even if it is left on the plate for a while.

This kind of wooden tray is called Wagatabon. Wagatabon originates from an abandoned Japanese village in Ishikawa Prefecture called Wagata. The village was once famous for producing wooden rooftop. The locals utilized the extra pieces of wood left from making the rooftop and turned them into everyday items, Wagatabon was one of them. The Wagatabon was not made for sale, nor was it sold as souvenir; it had an unornamented simple design that was made merely for practical use.

The practical beauty of Wagatabon had been overlooked by the public until Shōwa 40, when the entire Wagata village was flooded due to the dam leakage. Wagata that had only less than a hundred villagers was then ironically known to the public. Precisely at the same time, the famous lacquer-ware artisan Tatsuaki Kuroda was impressed by the beauty of Wagatabon and decided to revive the handicraft. However, the technique was in fact passed on by Kuroda’s apprentice, Shinichi Moriguchi. He spent decades to visit villages around Wagata to meet with people who could make Wagatabon and held workshops in various place in Japan. Through his effort, the nearly lost handicraft was reintroduced to the Japanese household.

The Wagatabons Shibaji Ochiai made are crafted in a finer manner with sharper contour and a more modern design. Traditional handicraft is not at all incompatible with the metropolitan city.