Near the famous Kayabuki no Sato thatched village in Miyama, Kyoto lies a small studio called “Meiboku Kougei YAMASHO”, or “Premium quality wood craft studio YAMASHO”.
The owner of this studio is Mr. Hasehira, who crafts hundreds of soulful pieces of furniture and household goods from locally sourced precious wood, of over 40 varieties.
10 years ago, we serendipitously met Mr. Hasehira when he came to our shop bearing a beautiful wooden bento box he had crafted, after seeing Bento&co featured on national TV.
When we saw Mr. Hasehira’s work, we knew right away that we wanted to partner with him. These made in Kyoto boxes that showcased the beauty of precious local wood were truly one-of-a-kind.
Since then, we've been selling Mr. Hasehira’s boxes, which we came to call the Miyama Bento Boxes, and they've brought joy to many members of the Bento&co community!
One of the highlights of our partnership was in 2019 when Thomas Bertrand, our founder, was asked to appear on Fuji Television 27-Hour TV (a national Japanese TV program hosted by the famous Takeshi Kitano) and share about the growing popularity of bento culture overseas. He chose one of the Yusan bento boxes that Mr. Hasehira had made to present on TV.
(The Yusan bento box is a three-tiered box that originates in Tokushima, Japan. Traditionally, small children in this region were gifted their own Yusan bento box by their family which they would take on picnics.)
Footage from the FUJI TV 27-Hour Program
Head chef Michael Michaelidis of top French restaurant Joel Robuchon, prepared a variety of foods to be placed inside Mr. Hasehira’s Yusan bento box, making for a truly breathtaking meal that was broadcast all over Japan.
It’s a true honor to be able to sell Mr. Hasehira’s bento boxes, each one crafted with love.
His process begins with actually sourcing the wood, a labor-intensive process which involves searching the mountains of Kyoto for desirable trees and after negotiating with the land owners, cutting the tree and bringing it back to his studio.
After sourcing the wood, Mr. Hasehira strips off the outer layers, and removes the inner core, leaving the part of the wood with beautiful rings that have developed over the years. At this point, we might think the wood is ready to be transformed into one of Mr. Hasehira’s creations—but not so fast.
The wood must be dried in a cool underground resting place for seven to ten years! A true test of patience, the longer the wood is left to rest and dry the better, as wood with moisture can crack or warp.
Once the wood has been dried, Mr. Hasehira begins carving the wood. This process also requires patience as the carving must take place over the course of several days, with intervals of drying in between sessions of carving. Throughout the process, Mr. Hasehira examines the wood to see how best to display the natural characteristics of the wood. Even though some items are made from the same tree, no one bento box is the same because of the unique grain of the wood.
The other day Mr. Hasehira came by the Bento&co office and we were able to chat with him about his work.
Bento&co: Mr. Hasehira, how long have you been woodworking?
Mr. Hasehira: It'll be about 54 years now.
B&co: How long does it take you to make the bento boxes?
H: For the one-tier bento boxes, it’s about 10 days. For the Yusan bento boxes, it takes about one month. It’s hard physical work because I need to cut the trees and bring them back from the mountain—when they are large pieces, they can be about one or two meters! Now I have some assistants to help me as I can’t carry the wood myself. But since the process begins with searching for wood, it is hard physical work.
B&co: What are the challenges of making bento boxes?
H: One difficult part is aligning the grain/pattern of the wood I use in the boxes. For these boxes, there are two sheets of wood. For the octagonal bento boxes, I make each side individually, and then connect each piece with joints.
B&co: Were you born in Miyama?
H: No, I actually am from Wakayama. But we moved to Miyama because that area was prone to natural disasters like typhoons. My father and grandfather were carpenters but I wanted to try my hand working with Meiboku (precious Japanese woods) to make smaller items like chopsticks, and incense holders and that’s how I got into making bento boxes.
B&co: What do you like about Miyama?
H: Hmm, it’s famous for delicious milk. Also deer meat, and tochimochi (mochi made from pounded horse chestnuts). Actually, when I was little, we would pour rice over milk! The milk makes it sweet and delicious.
We shared with Mr. Hasehira a picture of one of our customers using their Miyama bento and he smiled, happy to see overseas customers using his creations for their bento lunches.
Photo from Marta P.
If you hold one of Mr. Hasehira creations, you will notice how utterly smooth his bento boxes are and how the minimalist design of the pieces allow the natural beauty of the wood to shine through.
Not using paint or stains, the wood is polished with beeswax or coated with a very thin layer of food-safe urethane, allowing you to enjoy the natural color and grain of the wood that has been lovingly crafted.
We’re confident that the Miyama bento boxes will continue to delight fans of woodworking and those who appreciate the unadorned beauty of nature, for years to come.