(Photo Credit: Toyota Motor Corporation)
Japan is often described as a country that perfectly blends deep tradition with the ultra modern, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the electric concept car Setsuna, which was introduced by Toyota at this year’s Milan Design Week. Setsuna, meaning “moment” in Japanese, features a unique boat-like design that is crafted almost entirely from wood, an unusual choice for a car. Rather than the choice of materials, though, what really sets Setsuna apart is the way it employs traditional Japanese woodworking techniques and concepts. The end result is something new and beautiful, yet something that will only improve with age as the materials develop their own personality. Toyota's wish while creating this concept car was to produce a vehicle that could become an heirloom to be passed down from generation to generation, with each person leaving their mark on the car and imbuing it with memories.
In order to realize this design, Sumitomo Forestry, a timber company chosen by Toyota to collaborate on this project, worked with the historic and respected furniture makers Hida Sangyo. Hida Sangyo hails from Takayama, Japan, an area with a long tradition of woodworking, and a top destination for skilled craftsmen. Approaching the creation of Setsuna with the same mindset as they would one of their fine pieces of furniture, the craftsmen of Hida Sangyo worked with quality materials for every aspect of the vehicle; such as beautiful castor aralia for the seating, rigid Japanese birch for the framing, and long-lived, wonderfully hued Japanese cedar for the exterior (for an example of Hida Sangyo’s beautiful Japanese cedar woodworking in furniture, please see our Kisaragi collection). To complete the exterior of this piece, a wipe-lacquering finish was applied by hand multiple times, exemplifying again the care taken in every aspect of this vehicle’s creation.
(Credit: Toyota Motor Corporation)
To highlight the beauty of natural wood, Setsuna features interchangeable panels with differing wood grains. This effect is made possible through the use of the traditional Japanese joinery technique okuriari. This nailless technique allows the paneling of the car to be slipped free without the use of tools when desired, but safely holds the panels in position with pressure when fitted to the frame.
(Credit: Toyota Motor Company)
Additionally, another nailless technique called kusabi was used for the framing and other structural components. In this way, traditional know-how has been applied in a fashion never before seen.
(Credit: Toyota Motor Corporation)
Whether in cars or furniture, Japanese craftsmen and women are finding ways to innovate while building upon tradition, creating pieces with layers of persisting value. Looking at what Toyota hoped to portray with this vehicle, it becomes clear how wood and traditional techniques added to that goal. While Setsuna may remain as a concept, it reassures us that the ideals of Japanese craftsmanship are still alive today, and will be enjoyed for generations to come.
Hida Sangyo's skillful handling of Japanese cedar is not only apparent in Setsuna, it can also be found in our Kisaragi Collection. Japanese cedar is known for its warm color and beautiful wood grain, which is one of the reasons why it was chosen to be the exterior of Setsuna, but it is also a soft wood and has therefore been avoided by many furniture makers. In order to make use of this beautiful and plentiful resource, Hida Sangyo developed technology for compressing cedar wood, adding the durability needed to ensure that these pieces can also become family heirlooms.
Hida Sangyo’s Crescent Crafted Arm Chair is a piece that also uses traditional Japanese nailless joinery, similar to Setsuna. Nailless joinery is beneficial because it allows for seasonal expansion and shrinkage, unlike pieces made with metal that tend to eventually crack as the wood changes. The Crescent Crafted Arm Chair also makes use of nailless joinery for beautiful effects, such as the detail where the chair back and arm meet. Like Setsuna, this chair is a piece that will only grow in beauty with age, becoming more valuable as generation after generation instill it with memories.
By Danielle Johnson, from your OOKKUU Team