An ancient craft form makes a luxury return
The all-new Lexus GS F possesses many new features – a powerful V-8 engine, for example, and an impressive taut suspension system – but it’s not just the technology that makes this car special. Look closely inside the cabin and you’ll notice new trim pieces on the dashboard, center console, and doors that appear fresh but exude a strong sense of traditional Japanese craftsmanship. Lexus calls it Naguri-style aluminum.
The word Naguri comes from a millennia-old Japanese wood-shaving technique. To repel bugs, local craftspeople would remove bark from chestnut trees, and onto the bare surface beneath they would carve random, artistic patterns. The practice became a revered art form in the 16th century – Sen No Rikyu, a renowned tea master, took a liking to the finished wood’s appearance and used it to decorate his tea rooms. But when the shogun era came to an end in the late 19th century – as the old samurai way of life was gradually replaced by Western practices – Naguri’s popularity steadily declined. Now only a handful of wood-carving specialists exist.
Ayumi Kido, executive chief designer of Tecno Art Research Co., a Lexus design hub, recalls how the brand first came to use the technique. “Associates at Yamaha, a close partner of ours, informed us that one of their longtime suppliers had developed a new way of treating aluminum,” she says. “They thought it would make for really unique trim pieces for our sportier cars, and when we saw it, we agreed.” She continues: “We felt that the Naguri-style finish provided a sense of traditional Japanese art, as well as embracing the spirit of takumi.”
The manufacturing process remains a closely guarded secret. Access to the building in which Naguri materials are made is severely restricted. No one from outside the company is allowed in. “When I visited the supplier, the workers there provided a wonderful tour,” Kido says, “but they didn’t reveal much about where or how the Naguri-style aluminum was made. They’re very secretive about the process.
”What she does know is that thin sheets of high-quality aluminum are run through a machine in which dozens of special blades shave intricate patterns onto their surfaces. Once an entire sheet is completed, it is finished with a special, dark-colored paint that provides a smooth, protective surface that enhances the freshly shaved patterns.
While traditional Naguri woodwork is known for its variety of patterns, Lexus decided to go with a conventional diamond pattern for the GS F because it exuded a classy, sporty flair. That being true, Yoichiro Kitamura, group manager of Lexus’ Color Design Department, said that his team is still experimenting with the style’s possibilities, and not just with Naguri. “In the future,” Kitamura said, “we would like to create new Lexus values by taking inspiration from other types of craft, too.”