Go Sighting #33: Tochi Tamamoku Go Bowls with Wiped Lacquer Finish

The above is a pair of tochi tama-moku fuki-urushi go bowls.

Tochi 栃 aka Japanese Horse Chestnut (Aesculus turbinata) [related to the buckeye tree] is a light colored precious wood 銘木 which has one of the finest natural luster. It is used for furniture, building materials, wood instruments, bowls and trays, wood sculptures, and wooden teaware. Here is a link to a picture of a natural piece of tochi wood. And here and here are some cuts showing the luster and grains you’d normally see in tochi wood. Tochi seems to be a rare wood for making go bowls and is rare to encounter such with an offering of sales. I have however found some pictures of other tochi go bowls on this webpage: “Wood used in Japanese go bowls”.

Moku 杢 refers to the patterns found in burls, the knotty lumpy outgrowth found in the trunks of trees from time to time. After cutting these burls, the irregular and complicated patterns in the woodgrain are classified by the Japanese into distinct categories according to their shape [info on moku classification are taken mainly from the book Traditional Japanese Furniture by Kazuko Koizumi]:

1) tama-moku 玉杢 (jewel patterns) are especially prized patterns which occurs in woods with irregular annual rings and which when cut reveal marbled whorls. These patterns can be further classified as jorin-moku 如鱗杢 (fish-scale patterns), botan-moku 牡丹杢 (peony patterns), budo-moku 葡萄杢 (grape patterns), chijire-moku 縮れ杢 (condensation patterns), and chogan-moku 鳥眼杢 (bird’s-eye patterns).

2) chirimen-moku 縮緬杢 (crepe-silk patterns) appear in straight-grained timbers as small, repeating vertebra-like knots of a silken luster running down the length of the grain.

3) gin-moku 銀杢 (silver patterns) resemble broad-swatched “vertebrae” and are more irregular spaced than chirimen-moku (crepe-silk patterns).

4) hajo-moku 波状杢 (ripple patterns) are caused by wavy configurations of wood fibers that manifest as horizontal bands playing across the straight grain.

[Found two Japanese pages with further moku classifications for those interested: 1, 2]

Fuki-urushi, sometimes called suri-urushi-nuri or “rubbed in” lacquer, involves repeatedly applying even coats of clear Japanese lacquer (urushi 漆) with a cloth or brush and then removing the excess lacquer (hence “wiped lacquer finish”). After setting and drying, each coat is rubbed with charcoal until it is smooth. This process is repeated about fifteen times eventually resulting in a high gloss which emanates from the lacquer impregnated woodgrain giving it a distinctive sheen. In the process, the lacquer strengthens and darkens the wood.

The pictured go bowls in this post were only available for sale after an exhibition to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the store which sold it. And I was the lucky bidder 🙂 for this auction item. (I won’t reveal the price though. hehe)


Now you might ask, what then is the difference in value between normal go bowls and ones made from the same type of wood but with tama-moku patterns. I refer you to Kurokigoishi’s website for the following comparison.

1) A normally priced pair of Shimakuwa [Mikura Island mulberry] go bowls ranges from JPY125,000 to JPY148,000
2) Shimakuwa (Island mulberry) Go Bowls (with Tamamoku: beautiful and fine patterned knots) from the Go Bowl section of his Gallery of Wonderful Goods costs JPY500,000

We can thus conclude that a pair of go bowls with tama-moku woodgrain pattern will be roughly 3 to 4 times the value of a pair of regular woodgrain pattern go bowls.


For a comparison with another pair of go bowls with wonderfully lustrous moku patterns of a different type of wood (kusu [camphor laurel]), I refer you to these pictures of Scatcat’s kusumoku go bowls: 1, 2, 3

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2 Responses to Go Sighting #33: Tochi Tamamoku Go Bowls with Wiped Lacquer Finish

  1. Logan says:

    Interesting looking bowls.

  2. mariangoodman says:

    Hi Tchan ~ I’m really enjoying your blog! Thanks. My lovely new husband is a 2d Go player and has been educating me a little. It’s very hard to begin at the ripe old age of 51! I wonder whether you might be interested in our new website – out today! Bill has been restoring japanese Go equipment, he has amassed quite a large inventory and we want people to know that it exists. Perhaps if you like it, you could share it with others who might be interested. Also, if you notice anything that you know, like wood types, we’d love to hear from you. Here is the address: http://www.kimonoquilt.com
    Marian 🙂

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