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Japanese Wooden Weapons Craftsmanship, the Beginning of the End | In addition to the structural crisis affecting the industry, in 2019, the closure of one of the largest Japanese workshops, Horinouchi, then, in 2020, the covid crisis have for consequences a drastic increase in prices and production times, and mid-term, a probable disappearance of the manufacture of wooden weapons in Japan. To learn more, you can read our article detailing the situation and the measures taken to help this industry.
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Choosing your Bokken & Jo
Information on How to Choose Your Bokken & Jo - Shape & Wood
Until the end of 2019, the wooden weapons proposed by Seido were manufactured by one of the last four traditional workshops in the south of Japan, in the region of Miyakonojo (Kyushu), Horinouchi, Nidome, Matsuzaki and Aramaki. Seido was the only company in the world (including Japan) working with these 4 workshops simultaneously.
Unfortunately, at the end of 2019, the Horinouchi workshop definetely closed. The 2020 covid crisis put a very heavy burden on the remaining workshops, and since early 2021, almost all made in Japan weapons are manufactured by the Aramaki workshop.
We still have a few pieces that come, time to time, from the Nidome and Matsuzaki workshop, but not enough to allow us to give the choice to our customers.
Additionally, as published in a lengthy blog article at the end of 2020, not only the production capacity dropped by more than 50%, but wood quality also significantly lowered.
The current situation is very likely announcing the end of made in Japan wooden weapons but Seido has always been the number one wooden weapons expert in the world and still aim to be. Although we don't do magic, we have an extensive knowledge of woodworking and pride ourselves on the quality of our own Seido finish.
For this reason, we have decided to stop offering varnish vs oil polish finish and switch to "Standard finish" vs "Seido Finish", which we detail in this article.
As for which model and wood you should select, the first thing to determine is your "type of practice". Will you seldom use your weapons? Do you practice weapons at each class? What type of Aikido do you practice?
Beginners and casual weapons practitioners will opt for a light and reliable material such as red oak, and a "classic" shape Bokken. If your practice involves important clashes between weapons, then you will turn instead to the more durable white oak. If you are looking for an original wood, then Isu no Ki is for you.
Sunuke, Camelia, and Ebony woods are recommended for experienced practitioners wishing to acquire deluxe weapons, or for gifts.
Workshop Finish & Seido Finish
For all weapons: all weapons are selected for their structural integrity. We cannot guarantee that they will not have any small knot, but any weapon deemed dangerous by our staff (which includes a quality control by an actual Budoka) are taken apart and destroyed.
Standard Finish (Oiled Polished): the weapon as it is delivered to us from the workshop, with an extra oiling before shipping. Those weapons may have surface imperfections. No splinters, no cracks, no big knot, but not a perfect surface either.
Seido Finish (Oil Polish): the weapon is sanded and oiled several times. Small surface imperfections are fixed to make the weapon at smooth as possible. We focus our finish where the practitioners hands go, there may be tiny imperfections on Bokken/Shoto blades. Then we wax the weapon with high quality made in Japan beeswax.
If you do not need a perfect finish or want to see what comes out of the workshop, then we recommend the standard finish. If you are looking for 'perfect' weapons, the highest grade possible for made in Japan weapons, then we strongly recommend the Seido Finish.
The Weight of the Weapon - It depends on the shape and type of wood
The classic Bokken or 24 mm Jo (8 BU) are the most widely used, both in Aikido, Kendo, and Iaido. The weapons have an average but reasonable weight, and are primarily intended for beginners and casual practitioners.
Small weapons including "Jiki Shinkage Ryu" bokken, bokken made in buna, and jo made in Isu no Ki are specifically designed for working on accuracy and speed. This type of weapons is used in aikido schools who follow the teachings of Hirokazu Kobayashi Sensei, Nobuyoshi Tamura Sensei, or in schools close to the Yagyu style of kenjutsu. These weapons are also often recommended to women, children, as well as to practitioners who suffer from shoulder pain.
Heavy weapons including Iwama Ryu and Keishi Ryu Bokken, 27 and 30 mm Jo, or weapons made of sunuke and ebony are used for "tanren" (reinforcement) work. These bokken may also be used to practice suburi. They allow work to develop power and enhance grip. It is not recommended to start with this type of weapon given the physical constraints that they imposed.
More Information on Available Woods
Click on the "open" buttons to compare different woods.
Ichii Kashi (Standard Red Oak)
Ichii Kashi is a term used to refer to a red wood with characteristics that are so close to red oak that they are often confused, even in Japan. The Ichii Kashi remains an excellent wood since it is the choice for the "standard" Bokken used by the Japanese army (also manufactured by our craftsman). A little lighter than the Hon Akagashi, and almost as solid, this wood makes this Bokken / Jo perfect for beginners or for the Dojo. All in all, given wood resistance, availability, sustainability, and quality, red oak is our main recommendation.
Hon Akagashi (Deluxe Red Oak)
Akagashi, the Japanese Red Oak (Quercus acutissima) is a tree that grows in southern Japan (Kyushu, Shikoku...). It requires moist soil and plenty of sunshine, since in addition to the tree species, the environment is a key factor in determining the quality of the wood. Unlike European oak, Japan oak floats in water, it is moderately hard and therefore, more resilient to shocks, making it an ideal wood for manufacturing Bokken. The red oak is also a bit lighter than the white. "Hon Akagashi" is called true red oak, as opposed to the standard akagashi (Ichii Kashi). Its color is darker than the Ichigashi (standard) and it is slightly stronger. It is now a very rare wood, and we only offer one single weapon made of Hon Akagashi at this time, the Aramaki Kotobuki Bokken.
Shirakashi (White Oak)
Shirakashi, the white Oak of Japan (Quercus acutissima), is a tree that grows in southern Japan (Kyushu, Shikoku). It requires moist soil and plenty of sunshine, since in addition to the tree species, the environment is a key factor in determining the quality of the wood. Unlike European oaks, Japan oak floats in water, it is moderately hard, and therefore, more resilient to shocks, making it an ideal wood for manufacturing Bokken. White oak is slightly heavier than red oak, slightly denser and therefore more resistant, it is the wood essence of choice for manufacturing excellence Bokken made for contacts. White oak used for the manufacture of our Bokken is selected within the limits of timber availability, but the highest quality white oak is getting rare.
Isu No Ki (Distilium racemocum)
"Isu no ki" literally means "wood chair" and it takes its name from the fact that it has long been used in the manufacture of quality furniture. This wood is also traditionally used in the manufacture of talismans since legend ascribes it the power to bind people and things (musubi). It is a harder wood, and therefore slightly less resilient than oak, but more beautiful (near sunuke), softer, and therefore more pleasant to touch. The isu no ki is from the same tree as the sunuke but younger, or taken from other parts than the trunk. Isu no Ki color can vary significantly depending on the tree age from light pink to brown (Bokken, Jo & Tanto can present different colors, even when ordered as a set). Isu no Ki wood may present imperfections and is not suitable for contact practice.
Sunuke (heart of Distilium racemocum)
The Sunuke (Hamamelidaceae) comes from 250 and 400 years old "Isu no ki" trees. Logging quotas established by the government of the archipelago on this tree make it a rare and precious wood. With its dark brown color, Sunuke is a very dense and heavy wood, it sustains shocks relatively poorly. The "cheap" Sunuke Bokken are usually dyed. Our weapons are all guaranteed 100% natural Sunuke. The Sunuke weapons are particularly heavy and are not suitable for full contact practice. They are excellent however for practice Suburi or to practice Kata for the development of Tenouchi and Tanren work. Note that Sunuke made weapons weight can significantly vary depending on available material.
Sunuke has become a very rare wood and it is expected to become unavailable for weapon products relatively soon.
Tsubaki (Camelia Japonica)
The Tsubaki (Camelia Japonica) is a tree that is found throughout the southern part of Japan and it can reach over 500 years of age. This tree is used since immemorial times in Japanese crafts to make various objects of everyday life such as dishes and furnitures. Its uniform color makes it an ideal wood for making decorative Bokken, though they are also ideal for practice. In recent years, the camellia has been used to replace the legendary Biwa wooden Bokken. Indeed, the Biwa is extremely rare and expensive (regular price for a Bokken in real Biwa is approximately 100,000 JPY, the Bokken sold at cheap rate under the "Biwa" label are in reality made of Tsubaki). Camellia is very close to the Biwa, both by its appearance and by its characteristics, both impact resistant, lightweight, and very pleasant to the touch. Unlike Sunuke, Tsubaki is more flexible, resilient, and therefore stronger. However, it is lighter, making it an excellent practice Bokken for flexibility and precision, especially for women. Certainly less strong than white oak, we do not recommend it for full contact practice, but it will sustain shocks relatively well.
Ipe (Tabebuia serratifolia)
Ipe is similar to Sunuke in terms of weight, and similar to Shima Kokutan in terms of resistance yet, a little heavier. Ipe (Tabebuia serratifolia) is one of the many woods that is called "ironwood" because of its extreme weight and hardness. This means it is not meant for contact practice, but rather for Suburi practice, light contact, and for display. Not that is breaks easily but when it does, it splinters in a way that may be dangerous. It would also surely break Bokken made of other woods easily, hence dangerous for hard contact practice.
Tagayasan (Senna Siamea) - OUT OF STOCK Since Dec 2020
Tagayasan, officially called Senna Siamea or Siamese cassia is a medium-size tree, that mainly grows in Southern Asia. The timber combines characteristics of Sunuke and Asian Ebony (Shima Kokutan). In Japanese it is also called "Tettoboku", which means "Iron sword wood", because it is considered as one of the hardest wood possible, so hard that it does sometimes break the metal tools used to carve it.
Its weight is close to Sunuke, but it is as dark brown and resistant as Shima Kokutan, (Asian Ebony). Because Tagayasan wood is rigid and does not absorb shocks very well, we advise against using it for intense contact practice. However, as a piece of display, light partner work, solo practice and of course, , it is an exquisite product.
Hon Biwa (Japanese Loquat)
The term of Loquat (also called Japanese Medlar), or "Eriobotrya Japonica" in scientific terms, includes several subspecies, and the type of wood used for the production of this particular model is the one that has been used for hundreds of years in Japan for the manufacture of exceptional weapons. Mainly grown for it's yellow fruit, is a small tree (average of 3 to 4 m) that needs an extensive amount of time to reach 5 to 10 m, the minimum height required to harvest long enough node free material to produce a Bokken. If the tree itself is widely spread around the world, old and massive enough trunks are very rare and Loquat tree of more than 5 m are subject to drastic cutting quotas which explain the massive increasing in price over the past decades.
Well selected high quality Biwa makes the best wood possible for Bokken manufacture. Bokken made from biwa are incredibly resilient, solid, well balanced, and very pleasant to touch.
Buna (Fagus crenata)
Buna (Fagus crenata) is a wood that grows throughout Japan, from Hokkaido to Kyushu. It is very popular in the art of Bonsai for the beauty of its barks and leaves. This wood has a very clear yellow color with darker shades, it is pleasant to the touch, strong and very light. This wood is used in the manufacturing of Bokken for its lightness and its original appearance. We recommend this model for practitioners seeking a light weight but who still need a Bokken that can sustain accidental impacts. It is particularly suited for children and practitioners suffering from shoulder pain.
Murasaki Kokutan (Purple Ebony) - OUT OF STOCK Since 2018
Also called Tetsuboku (ironwood), purple ebony has a very pleasant smell and a very characteristic amber color, the wood is slightly rough to the touch. It fits between Asian Sunuke and ebony. Its density makes it a heavy wood, perfectly suited for practicing of suburi, ideal for practitioners who like to practice with a heavy bokken. It is however necessary to keep it away from humidity and temperature changes that could have an adverse effect on the quality of the wood.
Shima Kokutan (Asian Ebony)
Shima Kokutan (Ebenaceae diospyros) is a broad leaf evergreen that grows mainly in South Asia and throughout Indonesia. It is a very slow growing tree, and only trees over 200 years old can be used in the manufacture of Bokken. Shima in Japanese means "striped", it is so named because this wood is characterized by clearer (brown) lines inside its black ebony. This tree produces a very heavy and very hard wood commonly used for furniture and luxury items. It will be suited to the practice of Suburi or for decoration. Very hard, very dense, it absorbs shocks relatively poorly and is not advised for practice with contact. Note that Kokutan made weapons weight can significantly vary depending on available material.
Hon Kokutan (African Ebony)
African Ebony has been used for thousands of years for many purposes, but unsustainable harvesting the past decades resulted on drastic cutting quotas and therefore in a massive price increase. Due to its hardness, African ebony is very difficult to work, which is also one of the main reasons for ebony item expensive price. The ebony used by our craftsmen is legally imported in Japan in small quantities.
The wood is exceptionally dense (one of the heaviest wood on earth), strong, and stiff, and makes wonderful Suburi Bokken but is not meant for heavy contact practice.
Comparison of Different Wood (for Classic Shape Bokken)
(standard red oak)
|South Japan - Kyushu||450 ~ 500 g||***||Beginner||*|
(deluxe red oak)
|South Japan - Kyushu||480 ~ 580 g||****||Contact||**|
|South Japan - Kyushu||500 ~ 600 g||****||Contact||**|
|Isu no Ki||South Japan - Kyushu||480 ~ 580 g||***||Kata - Women||***|
|Sunuke||South Japan - Kyushu||600 ~ 700 g||**||Suburi - Present||****|
|South Japan - Kyushu||450 ~ 500 g||***||Women - Present||****|
|South Japan - Kyushu||520 ~ 580 g||*****||Everything !||******|
|Buna||South Japan - Kyushu||350 ~ 400 g||**||Children - Women||**|
||South America||600 ~ 700 g||**||Suburi - Present||***|
||Southern Asia||600 ~ 700 g||**||Suburi - Present||***|
|East Asia||700 ~ 750 g||**||Suburi - Present||*****|
|African (Gaboon or Cameroon)||750 ~ 800 g||**||Suburi - Present||******|
As a living material, wood color and weight may vary significantly from one weapon to another.
All our wooden weapons can be engraved. Simply add the customization to the product before adding it to the cart.
Please note that engravings are made at our workshop twice weekly, and that it extends shipping time usually only from 4 to 6 days.