Kamidana are a traditional presence in many Japanese homes and Dojos. They are mainly connected to Shinto religion, but also greatly appreciated as as purely decoration highlights. These designs will undoubtedly shine their own light in your hands.
A HOME FOR THE KAMI
What are kamidana and what are they used for
Literally meaning “god-shelf” or “spirit-shelf”, kamidana are a type of altar dedicated to one or several of the many Shinto deities. This explains that they are traditionally shaped as miniature temples, although not necessarily in all cases.
The Kami (Shinto deity) is represented by the Ofuda which is kept inside the kamidana. It is also tradition to place offerings on the shelf in the form of small recipients containing salt, rice, sake, water, apart from other symbolic objects.
A labour of precision and patience
Chestnut wood is a very heterogenous material that varies wildly in grain pattern and color, not only from tree to tree but even between the different areas of a single trunk depending on the way it is cut. Because of this, each series of kamidana must be made from adjacent boards of the same tree.
And even then there must be careful pairing of the different parts with the ideal grain direction, both for aesthetical and technical reasons (like the natural swelling and shrinking of wood with different humidity levels).
Working with small parts is counterintuitively harder than with large ones, and much more technically challenging. The joinery and shaping really need to be very precise, specially with these designs where each part will have to engage with the others next to it.
How precise? Tenths of a milimeter precise.