Today we are visiting the furniture company Hida Sangyo Co back near Takayama. We all gathered in a small bus. This bus was so small and everyone was surprised we all fit in. There are three regular seats across, then there is a seat that folds out into the aisle space - thus we have to fill the bus from back to front. The furniture company is a little over 100 years old and are very much invested in craftsmanship and design. Many of their pieces are designed by rather famous designers such as Enzo Mari, a Italian designer who has works held by the Museum of Modern Art in New York; Kenya Hara, the artistic director of Muji; Sori Yanagi, who was an important Japanese modernist designer after WWII.. and many others.
After lunch we visited their research laboratory for looking at how to use Japanese Cedar. After WWII there was a huge influx of reconstruction however there was simply not enough local lumber to go around and was very expensive. There was a huge influx of dense planting of Japanese Cedar, however since they would still take years to grow Japan opened up their markets to buy wood internationally, especially Canada and Finland. These cedar forests had since been abandoned and pose a problem as they are difficult properly access and harvest. Additionally their unnatural density has caused an ecological problem as next to no ground shrubbery can properly grow as there is so little sunlight, as such there is a large amount of nitrogen seeping into the ground water and flowing into water bodies and causing large algae growth.
Hida Sangyo is looking at how they can better use the cedars and hired a retired university professor (if I remember correctly specialized in the cellulose structures) and put him in a room with a ton of steaming and compressing equipment. They are looking at first steaming wood as you would for bending, but then putting the wood into high pressure compression chambers that are effectively converting the cedar lumber from softwood into a hardwood.
They also look at how the compression molds can be used, for example they can compress the (round) log of the tree into a square profile, removing the need to have to cut the wood to dimensional lumber size, thereby reducing waste.
Lunch was provided at their head offices and we were introduced to one of their head carpenters - who built the conference table that was being used for the Japan G7 summit that happened earlier on the trip, and he showed us some photos of Obama and Trudeau sitting at his table. He also showed us a wooden prototype car he worked on for Toyota that has fully removable panels. He clearly knows what he is doing. He gave a lecture on the structural principles of wood.
Later he introduced to one of their "master planers" (not sure if it was a real title as it was translated) who used a traditional Japanese wood planar to shave down a piece of wood by hand. The shaving was one 6' (or so) piece and so thin it was translucent in your hand, yet completely even. The wood piece was so much smoother than anything sanded down. Everyone who touched it was blown away by how smooth the wood was just from single swipe with a planer. The wood felt more like ivory piano keys than they did wood.
We made a wooden with a sliding panel. They pre-cut all the pieces for us. It was very basic, but a lot of the students from the other 2 schools had never made anything before. But they definitely out-rank us when it comes to coding electronics.