What is Shou Sugi Ban? (Meaning & History)

Working the Flame is supported by its readers. We may earn commission at no extra cost to you if you buy through a link on this page. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

Meaning, History & Facts of Shou Sugi Ban (Yakisugi) [Updated]

Shou sugi ban, or yakisugi, is a traditional method of preserving woods. 663highland / CC BY-SA

Shou sugi ban, or yakisugi (焼杉), is the product of a traditional Japanese wood preservation technique.

The name translates to ‘charred cedar board,’ which neatly sums up the process of creating shou sugi ban. Yakisugi is a plank product that is used for cladding on walls and fences.

The history and process of creating yakisugi and the benefits of the process are discussed below. A comparison of shou sugi ban in the East and West allows us to understand the modern day uses and impact of this tradition.

A Brief History of Shou Sugi Ban

Shou Sugi Ban is commonly placed as cladding on the side of residences and combined with white stucco. Wiiii / CC BY-SA

The origins of shou sugi ban are murky, but it is believed that Japanese wood burning began in the shipbuilding industry and transferred to the construction of buildings. Shou Sugi Ban was commonly placed as siding on residences and combined with white stucco.

Because the planks are fire resistant, shou sugi ban was used to protect farm structures and rice storage buildings from potential blazes. The style remained popular until the 1950s, when cheaper alternatives were introduced to the market and demand for traditional wood burning declined. In the last 20 years or so, shou sugi ban has regained popularity worldwide.

The Shou Sugi Ban Process & Benefits


The tradtional process (see video above) of creating shou sugi ban begins by tying three boards together in the shape of a triangle. Paper is placed inside the ends of the boards and a fire is lit. The fire spreads up the boards and remains burning depending on the moisture content of the wood.

Once the right temperature and effect have been reached, the fire is extinguished with water. Most of the manufacturing of shou sugi ban is done in Japan, but several companies in Europe have begun creating it as demands continue to increase.

Shou sugi ban is a sustainable, long-lasting product that protects structures from a range of dangers. The planks are fire resistant because they are already burned and have a charcoal like finish on the outer layer.

Shou sugi ban is a sustainable method of wood protection that’s highly fire resistant and waterproof. Sten CC BY-SA

While not completely fireproof, the planks do provide peace of mind that they can withstand a good deal of heat without catching fire.

Another benefit of shou sugi ban planks is that they are very water resistant. The hardened, charred exterior of the boards repels water. Finally, shou sugi ban repels insects and other small pests because the burning of the wood removes elements of the wood that are food sources.

Shou Sugi Ban in the East and West

In the east Shou Sugi Ban remains a highly popular for the exterior siding of homes and commercial businesses. Rachel Harmon CC BY-SA

Traditionally, shou sugi ban has been used as an exterior siding on homes and commercial businesses. In the east, this remains the most popular way to use shou sugi ban and is common in cities and villages throughout Japan. In the West, architects and designers have adopted the style and use it on contemporary houses and buildings because of its stark and interesting appearance.

Westerners are fascinated by the charred, modern look of the burned planks and whole houses are covered in them as a result. Shou sugi ban is also used as interior cladding and is utilized in gardens as an outdoor decorative material. Because of its weather resistance, shou sugi ban is oftentimes used for making fences, decks, and garden beds as well.

In the West, architects have become inspired by this method and have started utilizing it in modern homes. Dana Buntrock CC BY-SA

Although the use of shou sugi ban has evolved overtime and expanded to include a range of interior and exterior surfaces, the traditional methods of production and the general appearance of the wood remain the same. Where once the manufacturing of shou sugi ban was fading, it is now a popular design element that has brought an essence of the East to those in the West.


Leave a Comment