Vintage Ichii Ittobori Zodiac (single-cut yew-wood) carving of Akita signed Ryoho

This is a Japanese vintage Ichii Ittobori wood zodiac (Okimono) animal carving from the 1960s. This piece was crafted by and signed on the underside by Ryoho, who worked in the Hida Takayama area of Gifu Prefecture. Carving techniques inherited by craftsmen such as Ryoho date to the 5th and 6th centuries, with wood carving in the Hida province being conceived and produced by a group known as the “Artisans of Hida”. Continuing to this day, these craftsmen have been involved in construction work in Kyoto, in which Ittobori-style carving was employed in temple architecture, statue carvings (Buddha), Yatai Festival floats (see image), and decorative figural carving. Today, the wood from the precious Ichii (Japanese Cedar [Jomon Sugi/Hinoki] / Cryptomeria), tree is still used to make items for the Emperor’s coronation ceremony and for important occasions such as the on-going temple reconstruction ceremonies at the Grand Shrine of Ise.

As noted, this piece is made of Japanese Cedar, which is an evergreen yew tree from the mountain areas of the Hida Province. The origin of the name of the tree, “Ichii,” is from a story told concerning the Heiji Emperor. About 800 years ago, when the Emperor was presented with a Yew wood carving, he greatly appreciated the superior quality of material (Ichii) and the exemplary craftsmanship. The wood so out-shined other wood products that the Emperor gave the tree the bureaucratic status called “Shoichii”, the highest title (later its academic name became formally “Ichii”).

At the end of the Edo Period (1868), Sukenaga Matsuda was considered the Japanese Van Gogh because of the sharp cuts he created in his amazing Ittobori-style carvings. Matsuda established the unique craft of Ichii Ittobori (single cut yew-wood carving) in “netsuke”, by using 40-50 different kinds of chisels in which the wood, after carving, was never stained, (only oil-finished), so as to emphasize the unparalleled beauty of the yew grain. Matsuda became a mentor to many wood carvers. His style has been handed down to his successors (one being Ryoho), in an effort to continue the production of such uniquely elegant masterpieces based on the old traditions, as well as incorporating new carving techniques now seen throughout the Hida region, especially in Takayama. Considered the center of Ittobori-styled wood crafts, local artists faithfully carried on the Ichii craft as seen in this zodiac animal carving (The dogs eyes are inlaid with horn). The cedar wood exemplifies the perfect combination of hardness and oiliness, making the wood extremely easy to carve, and the especially fine grain produces an exquisite surface when carved and polished. The wood is reddish in color, (interestingly referred to as Akita), at the core, getting paler on the outer layers, which adds extra interest for the carver. This combination of rich mellow color and natural luster of the wood, together with the decisiveness of the cutting and finest detail, gives this piece an exemplary distinction. This carving is in its original marked cardboard box, with a traditional cloth wrapping. 19th/c. Dimensions: 3 ¾”h x 4-0”w x 2-0”d

In addition to the above information on Ichii Itto bori please note:
The Akita dog is represented by this “Year of the Dog” (Inu) carving. The Akita has played a large part in everyday life in Japan, and hence is a prized zodiac animal. People born in the years of 1910 1922 1934 1946 1958 1970 1982 1944 2006 2018 are ruled by this zodiac.

The Ancient Japanese Ise Shrine (Ise-jingu) — Known as the Grand Shrine of Ise (Ise Daijingu), its great significance is indicated by its official name – Jingu “The Shrine”. A popular place of pilgrimage, the Ise Shrine has been designated a National Treasure (kokuho) by the Japanese government. In addition to its religious importance (Shinto), the Grand Shrine of Ise is beloved for its beautiful natural location and simplicity of architecture. It stands within the “Sacred Forest of Ise Jingu,” a dense forest of Japanese cypress (hinoki, cryptomeria), most of which is used for the ritual reconstructions of the shrine buildings. Naiku (the Inner Shrine) is dedicated to Amaterasu Omikami, the sun goddess and supreme deity who is considered the ancestor of the imperial family. Geku (the Outer Shrine) is dedicated to Toyouke Okami, the goddess of food, agriculture, industry, clothing, and shelter.

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