日本古来の知恵:桐箱 Traditional Japanese wisdom: paulownia box


Recently, I went to a specialty store to see a special paulownia box to put my work in.


In Japan, gifts and luxury goods contain paulownia boxes, so I took it for granted. Also, works of art, including lacquering, are carefully included in the paulownia box. Also, in Japan, kimonos are put in paulownia chests


There are many paulownia boxes in Japanese life.


Do you know why a paulownia box is good?This time I tried to find out why it continues to be used.

植物:桐 Plant: Paulownia

Country of origin
China / Korea / Japan
Deciduous broad-leaved trees and tall trees
Flowering time
Early summer May-June


There was a theory that the country of origin was China, but it seems that there is no doubt in Asia, but it seems that it is not exactly known.


And since the paulownia tree is a tall tree, even if it blooms, there are not many chances to see it up close. It seems to bloom beautiful slightly purple flowers. I tried to find a place that was planted in a garden in Tokyo where I live, but I couldn’t find it.

桐の花 Paulownia flower


It seems that the paulownia tree is in the Tohoku region, but I would like to see beautiful flowers in person someday. The flowers you see in the picture are gorgeous and very beautiful


The image was borrowed from a free image.

桐と日本人 Paulownia and Japanese


The use of paulownia trees in Japan has a long history.

「鳳凰」と「桐」”Phoenix” and “paulownia”

東京国立博物館で特別公開された即位礼正殿の儀の高御座 The emperor’s coronation ceremony Takamikura, which was specially opened to the public at the Tokyo National Museum


In China, where there is a paulownia tree, there is a legend that a phoenix appears as a congratulatory sign when a virtuous and noble king takes the throne. The tree that stops when the phoenix appears is said to be a paulownia tree. The phoenix lives in a paulownia tree and is said to eat bamboo fruits


Such a Chinese idea was transmitted to Japan, and it has been used as a pattern along with the phoenix in the furnishings of the imperial family since the Heian period. Of course, there is always a phoenix in Takamikura, where the emperor is at the time of the coronation. The paulownia, bamboo, phoenix, and kirin are also applied as patterns to the sokutai worn by His Majesty the Emperor. For this reason, paulownia has long been valued as a sacred tree in Japan


It is also used to decorate coats of arms and coins. Japanese coins are in the order of 1 yen, 5 yen, 10 yen, 100 yen, and 500 yen. Among them, the back of the 500-yen coin is paulownia. It is used for the highest money among coins


It can be said to be one of the representative plants of Japan.


I also introduced the work of the Maki-e work of the coat of arms called “Gosangiri” in the past posts. If you are interested, please read it together.

琴 Japanese harp “Koto”


A small paulownia Koto has been found at the Toro site in Shizuoka prefecture, which is famous as a site of the Yayoi period.


Paulownia wood is said to be the lightest of all Japanese wood.


It seems that it has been used for koto since ancient times because it is moisture-proof, does not rot easily, and enhances acoustics. It seems that paulownia wood, which is over 200 years old, is used for the finest koto.


Because it is a musical instrument, the environment in which the paulownia tree grew seems to be greatly affected by the sound. That is also a deep world.

桐箪笥 Paulownia chest of drawers


Speaking of paulownia, paulownia chests are famous and many Japanese people know them.


Clothes are common nowadays, but in the past, of course, kimono was the mainstream. Paulownia wood was used as a chest of drawers to store such kimonos.

江戸時代の着物を再現した複製着物 A duplicate kimono that reproduces the kimono of the Edo period


As an old Japanese custom, when a girl is born, two paulownia tree saplings are planted. Paulownia becomes an adult tree when it is about 15 years old, which is worthy of an old adult. Parents used the paulownia tree to make a paulownia chest of drawers.


Having each paulownia chest of drawers to put in a kimono may seem strange in modern times, when clothes are common.


However, as the paulownia box is still popular, it may have played a role as a safe for storing important things other than kimono.

桐箱・箪笥に入れる利点 Advantages of putting it in a paulownia box / chest of drawers


The advantages of paulownia wood for storing kimono are as follows.

  • 湿気を通しにくい防湿性→カビが生えにくい
  • 虫がつきにくい防虫性
  • Moisture proof that does not allow moisture to pass through → Mold does not grow easily
  • Insect repellent effect that makes it difficult for insects to attach


If you keep it in a paulownia box, the paulownia will absorb excess humidity. Also, when it is likely to become excessively dry, the accumulated humidity is discharged to prepare the environment insid


In addition to that, there are many other benefits.

  • 軽くて持ち運びしやすい
  • 反りや歪みが生じにくい →長期保管に適している
  • 燃えにくい →表面は焼けても内部には火が届かない
  • 柔らかい材質 →衝撃を吸収する
  • 機密性が高い
  • 絹のような肌触り
  • Light and easy to carry
  • Less likely to warp or distort → Suitable for long-term storage
  • Hard to burn → Even if the surface is burnt, the fire does not reach the inside
  • Soft material → absorbs impact
  • Highly confidential
  • Silky texture


Japan is a country with many disasters. Throughout its long history, we have survived various disasters such as fires, earthquakes, tsunamis, and floods caused by river floods. There are many records of precious buildings burned down in Japan without being able to escape from the fir


Even if there is a fire, if you put it in a paulownia box, the surface of the paulownia wood will be burnt, but the fire will not reach the inside and it will be safe. It seems that it can be used again if the surface of the burnt part is scraped


Even in the event of a flood, the confidentiality of the paulownia box prevents water from entering the inside.

国宝『浮線綾螺鈿蒔絵手箱』の桐箱(サントリー美術館撮影可展示より)A paulownia box from the national treasure “Accessory Raden Maki-e Box with Fusenryo Design” (from the Suntory Museum of Art exhibition)


In the old days, many safes were made for sturdy, but there are small chests of paulownia inside and paulownia wood boards inside.


Nowadays, when you watch a TV program about opening an old unopened safe, there is usually a paulownia wood inside the open safe.


I think that there was wisdom of the experience inherited from ancient times that if you put it in a paulownia box even in the event of a disaster, the things inside will be protected.


The paulownia box is used as a box for storing many Japanese art objects such as hanging scrolls, japamala, paperweights, and tea utensils. At the museum’s exhibition, the outer box is not on display, so I don’t have a chance to see it, but it supports valuable cultural assets behind the scenes


Many of the cultural properties in the paulownia box have escaped from such damage and may now be seen in museums.

桐材のデメリット Disadvantages of paulownia wood


Paulownia has both advantages and disadvantages.

  • 柔らかい →傷がつきやすい Soft → easily scratched
  • 長い間使うと黒っぽく変色する It turns black when used for a long time


I think that any material can be scratched, but it is softer than other woods, so it is easy to scratch. Keeping in mind that it contains important things, I think that it will not be scratched if you handle it carefully


Discoloration over the years is also the price of insect repellent and antiseptic effects. When paulownia works hard to prevent insects and preservatives, a component called tannin comes out. It is said to be the cause of the blackish discoloration.


In other words, it can be said that the paulownia is alive and has worked hard. When it turns black, scrape the surface to reveal a beautiful surface again


I think that paulownia is a wonderful wood when considering comprehensively including its drawbacks


Nowadays, many people think that putting it in a paulownia box is just a luxury item. When I think that paulownia boxes are used for a number of reasons, I am grateful for the splendor of paulownia trees and the wisdom of the Japanese people that has been passed down from ancient times.


Thank you for reading the blog again.

参考文献 References

  • 図録『人間国宝 松田権六の世界』.毎日新聞社編,2006
  • 図録『明治神宮のご宝物』,明治神宮ミュージアム,2019


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