Sou Shugi Ban - Why nobody in Japan has a clue what it means, and other interesting facts
You’ve probably seen it before and if you’re anything like us, it’s likely you fell in love with the aesthetics of it right away: Sou Shugi Ban, or commonly referred to as burned wood furniture.
If you’re a little bit into Japanese-style design, you may have figured out that the wood-preservation technique originated in Japan. And as we are seeing more and more of this technique applied in European designs, we deemed it necessary to dive into the history of Sou Shugi Ban and how it’s applied today.
Sou Shugi Ban…. or not.
Sorry to break it to you, but Sou Shugi Ban is actually not the correct term for this technique. It’s okay if you didn’t know, because neither did we. A quick Google search actually showcases countless incorrect references to the technique, for example:
“Shou sugi ban is a Japanese term that means "charred cedar board." True to its name, shou sugi ban involves charring cedar planks, then burnishing the burnt wood with wire brushes and sandpaper before sealing it with natural oil.”
Because it’s not really ‘true to its name’, is it? For those wondering, it is actually yakisugi.
An entirely different name indeed. The reason for that is rather complex to get into, but to make a long story short: because of Japanese history and its complicated relationship with the Chinese language forming a new mash-up between the two languages, a set of different linguistic rules were produced. Now, apparently unbeknownst to a foreigner, they mistakenly directly translated the characters according to how they thought the characters should be interpreted (bless their heart) and as a result, us Europeans have been blindly adopting the term which in actuality…. doesn’t really mean anything. At all. Not a single thing.
We’re by no means linguists, so for specific explanations we do recommend you seek out professional advice, but now that we’ve established sou shugi ban is pretty much a hollow term, let’s take a closer look at what yakisugi means.
According to nakamotoforestry.com, yaki means burnt or heat-treated, while sugi means cypress or as we know it, Japanese cedar. To be specific, the exact reference would be yakisugi-ita, with ita meaning ‘plank’.
Makes a lot more sense, doesn’t it?
Humans have a long history of woodwork throughout every corner of the world. What yakisugi specifically refers to, is the act of using heat treatment thin planks of porous cypress. The result? Both water- and fire resistant. Which is why, according to experts, it is so important to understand the origin of the technique, so it can be used in a productive fashion as well rather than solely for its aesthetic purposes.
We could dedicate an entire blog to the practical approach of yakisugi, and guess what? We will. Stay tuned for the follow-up blog if you want to learn more about how to apply this technique and what to avoid.
Yakisugi influences in contemporary furniture design
Loving this technique even more now you are aware of its significance and meaning? You’ll be happy to learn that one of our beloved partners, WDSTCK, has a beautifully designed burned wood coffee table. Perfect for larger living rooms, and durable too. And the best part? You can order them in custom sizes, so feel free to reach out and explore your options together with us.
Check out our online webshop to learn more about the Burned Coffee Table by WDSTCK.
Thank you for reading our blog and if you have any questions or remarks, let us know! Reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As much as we try to conduct proper research, we base our information off of peer-blogs by what we deem expert sources. For detailed information, we recommend you visit our source as they do a much better job at explaining this cultural phenomenon than we ever could. We are grateful for their willingness to educate us about this beautiful Japanese tradition.