What is Kitayama Sugi and Kitayama Maruta?

Located about 20 kilometers to the north-west of the city of Kyoto in the Kitayama Mountains is the village of Nakagawa. Nakagawa has practiced ‘Kyoto Kitayama Forestery’ for centuries, meticulously raising the Japanese cedar (cryotomeria japonica), called ‘sugi’ in Japanese. The product of Kitayama forestry is the Kitayama Maruta, literally, Kitayama log, or pole. This material is used in the most refined and sophisticated Japanese architecture. Historically, the foresters of Nakagawa have the proud distinction of serving the Imperial Household for the construction of palaces, villas and tea houses and well as selling their wood to aristocrats throughout the country.

During the Muromachi era (1394-1428) the main aspects of Kitayama forestry and Kitayama Maruta production were developed. The trees are pruned of trunk branches every three years to create a pole that is completely free of knots. After trunk cutting, bark peeling, mountainside vertical semi-drying the logs are brought down to the village and are hand polished with a special quartz-free sand gathered from a local waterfall. Next the logs are split to the center pithray and then naturally dried in a special warehouse.

Sen-no-rikyu, the father of the modern Japanese tea ceremony was active during the Muromachi era and as his perfecting of the tea ceremony involved the refinement of tea house and domestic architecture. He found the straightforward, unadorned natural beauty of the Kitayama maruta poles to be ideal for his aesthetic vision. After the passing of Rikyu, the practitioners of Kitayama Forestry strived to continue to perfect their production techniques to produce wood even more in tune with Rikyu’s aesthetic ideals. (If you are unfamiliar with Sen-no-rikyu, think of him as the Leonardo da Vinci of Japan.)

Generally, the varieties of Kitayama cedar products are Kitayama Migaki ‘Polished’ Pole, Kitayama Artificially ‘Distressed’ Pole, Kitayama ‘Natural Distressed’ Pole, Kitayama Planed Grain Exposed Pole, Kitayama Taruki Pole.

The characteristic color of the wood is created naturally and is said to be soft and lustrous like young, healthy skin. This color deepens with the passing of time. The special natural drying process creates a product that is naturally resistant to cracking as the wood’s moisture content fluctuates with the annual change of seasons.

The unique beauty of the Kitayama Maruta products are of course well suited for traditional Japanese-style architecture and are also often harmoniously used in contemporary and even Western-style architecture, creating a special interior atmosphere and expression. We, the traditional foresters or Kitayama, hope that architects, artisans, designers and carpenters abroad will be able to use our products in their projects overseas.

Kitayama Maruta poles have 600 years of history and are heavy with the feeling of Kyoto’s unique and refined culture. The Kyoto Prefectural Government has designated Kitayama Maruta Pole a ‘Kyoto Traditional Artisan Industry Product’. The Kyoto Kitayama Foresters’ Association has registered the trademarks for both Kitayama Sugi (Kitayama Cedar) and Kitayama Maruta (Kitayama Pole), and the name may only be used by certified producers, ensuring the authenticity and exceptional quality of the product available in the marketplace.

The Nakagawa village foresters of Kyoto’s Kitayama Mountains, many generations on, still strive to make the ‘honmamon’ (local dialect for the ‘real thing’), authentic Kitayama cedar products in the tradition that they have inherited from their ancestors and endeavor to pass it on to the next generation.