top of page

My first Asanoha

The hemp-leaf pattern, a traditional decorative motif used in Japanese Shoji screens

Thirty some years ago, while attending a woodworking show in Chicago, I met Mr. Toshio Odate, who in his youth had served an apprenticeship in Japan toward becoming a shokunin, a woodworker craftsman. He was demonstrating the making of shoji, the traditional sliding doors and screens used in that country, and I was fascinated by the skill and precision with which he was using simple, unassuming hand tools to make complex, flawless joints and intricate decorative patterns.

At the time, I thought, “someday I will make a shoji screen like Mr. Odate,” and the closest I came to doing that was when I made a lamp and topped it with a shoji shade. Many years have passed since, and just recently all that came back when a young man approached me asking if I could help him make some jigs for cutting a "kumiko". What he had in mind was to make the hanagata-kumiko, specifically the asanoha or hemp-leaf pattern, suitable for decorating small box tops or the panels of desktop lamps, to name a few possibilities. Making the jigs was no problem, but in order to make sure they were right for the job, I had to test them, and that’s how I ended up finally making the traditional decorative asanoha . It took me a lot of fumbling as I soon realized that the precision required to fit all the pieces together with nothing but hand tools called for great skill and perfect control of those tools -- and I had neither. But stubborn fella that I am, I kept at it, even if the pile of scraps kept getting bigger.

These are all the tools I used for making the asanoha.

(The strips of basswood were cut on the table saw).

The end result? Well, if you step back a few paces, it looks ok, but I won’t be showing it to Mr. Odate, as he might toss it into the waste basket! Perhaps the next one will look better; after all, I didn’t apprentice for seven years under a Japanese Shokunin. I’m just a tinkerer, and willow whistles are so much more fun to make! And with the sap just starting to run, it’s the perfect time for making them. So get your pocket knife and let’s go get some nice twigs!

Still, if you want to give it a try, Mr. Odate’s book, “Making Shoji,” from Linden Publishing, is an excellent place to start, giving good step-by-step instructions as well as some insight into traditional Japanese woodworking.

33 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page