MEET THE TAKUMIS: REIMAGINING WOOD THROUGH CRAFTSMANSHIP
LEXUS CHALLENGED ACCLAIMED ARTISANS TO TRANSFORM NATURAL WOOD INTO ARTISTIC PATTERNS SO UNIQUE, THEY DON’T EXIST IN NATURE. THE RESPONSE BROUGHT TOGETHER TRADITION AND TECHNOLOGY TO REALIZE EXCLUSIVE INTERIOR ORNAMENTATIONS FOR THE BRAND’S FLAGSHIP VEHICLE.
When Lexus designers conceived the interior of their next flagship sedan, they imagined features that would excite the senses and deliver a distinctive expression of luxury. One such element is Artwood, an ornamentation with an artistic aesthetic unique to Lexus, fitted throughout the interior of selected LS grades. Traditional craftsmanship and modern technology are brought together to create beautiful patterns from natural wood in the ornamentation. Toyota Tsusho Corporation’s automotive division worked with wood specialist Hokusan, Ltd. and Yamaha Fine Technologies Co., Ltd, the renowned manufacturer of musical instruments, to create this unique ornamentation for Lexus.
Hokusan combines the thousand-year-old Japanese tradition of wood craftsmanship with modern manufacturing techniques to produce Artwood’s exquisite wood-grain designs. From raw timber, the company embarks on a two-month long, eighteen-stage process – including their advanced wood-slicing technology – to create fine patterns across the wood-grain. The result is bold and vibrant cross-grain patterns – natural in origin, yet a design that doesn’t actually exist in nature.
Celebrated for fine wood craftsmanship, Yamaha’s relationship with Lexus began with the very first LS 400, Yamaha finishing its distinctive interior wood paneling. The all-new LS is a complete reimagining of a flagship sedan, and accordingly, necessitated elevated levels of craftsmanship. Yamaha’s wood artisans responded in kind, adding to the story of craftsmanship that characterizes the all-new LS. Their expertise is applied to Hokusan’s wood sheets, with another two-month journey of shaping, polishing and finishing across fourteen processes, completing the Artwood ornamentation to be fitted to the LS, available patterns being Organic and Herringbone.
Such a protracted and complex process of experimentation to complete Artwood reflects the year-long creation of the original Artwood prototype by all three partners – including prolonged design reviews – with the result, a brave, elegant and unique design.
Artwood also demanded a new approach to production and new pinnacles in attention to detail, in cutting and design, fabrication and finishing.
Achieving an evenness in the ultra-thin wood sheet without flaws was more challenging than usual, according to Hokusan’s Tomoki Aoyama, “To design a uniquely elegant pattern from natural wood for Lexus, we had to re-work our usual production processes,” he said.
Further, the ‘Herringbone’ pattern requires yet another layer of craftsmanship, with Hokusan commissioning additional Takumi artisans whose ‘Yosegi’ technique brings a whole new wood art tradition to Lexus. This pain-staking process of manually gluing together multiple wood sheets of varied colors and grains manifests itself in the distinctive Herringbone design. Once complete, this multi-directional pattern requires Hokusan to carefully slice the combined sheets– a procedure accomplished with the meticulous consideration of water levels and glue dryness.
For Yamaha, finishing the two Artwood ornamentation patterns to the same high quality mark proved arduous. While wood coloring and polishing is in the company’s DNA, each piece is a unique, fabricated design. This called for a high degree of individual attention from the experienced craftsmen, with intensive painting and polishing processes finally drawing out the boldness of the patterns in the natural wood. Meeting these challenges galvanized Yamaha’s artisans, as Yuri Nakauchi attests, “Bringing to completion this highly-crafted ornamentation, to be used in Lexus’ flagship model was very exciting and drove us to strive for new levels of skill and productivity for a successful outcome.”
The combined efforts of Hokusan’s manufacturing precision and Yamaha’s time-honored finishing prowess have resulted in exquisite designs, with patterns expressed slightly differently as the light source alters from direct external light of day to the softer and more ambient illumination of darker hours. Aoyama imagines LS occupants being quietly and pleasantly surprised, “They may feel a subtle harmony to their environment, and upon closer contemplation find the beautifully designed art in the ornamentation is actually natural wood.”
The Artwood ornamentations are a premium element of the luxury expression in the LS interior. They are also another chapter in the story of exacting Takumi craftsmanship in the flagship model; an exemplification of elegant, brave design, created from natural wood. And only made possible through the vision of Lexus and the cooperative efforts of dedicated artisans.