Japanese Paulownia Wood Baby Bear | Kuma Bokko

Most of the folk craft in wood has disappeared in Japan with the exception of a few small towns in the mountains that continue to produce woodcrafts today. Woodcarving developed from small beginnings in the Hida mountains in Takayama, where rather special small woodcarvings were left uncolored, simply taking full advantage of the beautiful grain of the Paulownia tree. Since then, this craft has always been representative of the woodcarving done in the area of Gifu prefecture.

Paulownia, or Kiri wood, is grown throughout Japan and develops a characteristic, beautiful, very light, fine-grained wood which continues to be used for furniture, toys, puzzle boxes, clogs (geta), and sports equipment. Making such use of the qualities of the wood as it is, pieces like small, carved animals all bear witness to the skills of the carvers, who show terrific attention to detail. Pieces that are carved from a single piece of wood are particularly impressive, but all the items made, such as masks, zodiac animals, and religious figures, (Buddha, Daruma and Kannon) are highly valued.

Paulownia is known in Japan as the “Princess Tree”. It was once customary to plant a Paulownia tree when a baby girl was born, or to make it into objects celebrating the birth of the baby (hence a baby bear or zodiac animal representing the month of the birth), or to construct a clothing or storage chest (tansu), as a wedding present to the daughter when she married in preparation of having a child.

This baby bear, (kuma bokko), has a loveable expression, and is representative of the natural material and custom technique. The darker lines represent the annual rings left by this fast growing tree and which are seen in most Paulownia wood products. This baby bear has eyes of black onyx. The paper banner indicates the prefecture and place it was made. From the 1950’s. Dimensions: 3-0”h x 1-7/8”w x 1-3/4”d

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