On the banks of the Suimon river in Ogaki City lies the small factory of Ohashi, which makes a type of sake cup known as a masu in Japanese. This small box shaped wooden cup may not look like much at first glance, but it has an interesting story which gives it a unique place in Japanese history.
Japanese people today associate the use of the cup with celebrations. The vast majority of the product manufactured at Ohashi is made for use at wedding receptions or for when companies are launching products abroad. However, it was originally used as a standard measurement for rice. In ancient Japan taxes were paid in rice, so it was important to have a way to measure it. Masu were used for this purpose.
Also, in the Japanese bean-throwing festival of Setsubun, beans are placed into the masu and thrown outside the house to guard against evil spirits entering and to welcome in blessings.
One of the most striking features of the masu is its distinct smell. Masu is made from Japanese cypress, the tree which the government chose for repopulating forests following the destruction of World War 2.
Ogaki is home to five companies involved in producing masu and they account for 80% of total production nationwide. Ohashi offers masu making workshops in Japanese and English and visitors also have the opportunity to sample some of the innovative products and unique uses for masu devised by the company in the onsite store.
The workshop is about an hour long and involves the making of one standard size masu. The four sides have already been cut out for you, as well as the base. The sides are cut to fit together like a jigsaw. Apply glue in the ridges and stick them together. Don’t worry about making a mess because the finished product will be sanded down later.
The sides are gently hammered together and four nails are used to attach the base to the sides. After this is complete you are given a sheet of sand paper to smooth out the top of the masu before taking it to the sanding machine where you will be assisted in smoothing out the sides. If you are anything like me this should awaken the child in you.
When all of these stages are complete (which should take about 20-30 minutes) you get to stamp your masu with a stamp featuring Ogaki Castle, one of the defining landmarks of the city. Make sure to stop by the gift shop in front of the factory and check out all of the inventive ways that these simple designs are put to use.
Masu making lessons are provided in Japanese and English and cost 600 yen per person. Reservations are accepted for groups of two or more people and the whole process from start to finish takes about 45 minutes.