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  • Other Names: 蘇木 (soboku)
  • Japanese: 蘇芳、蘇方、蘇枋 (suou)
  • Scientific Name: Caesalpinia sappan

Sappanwood is a tropical redwood which was a major luxury trade good imported from Southeast Asia into East Asia in the medieval and early modern periods. The wood has anti-coagulant and anti-bacterial properties which allowed it to be used for medicinal purposes, and was also used as a dye wood, to produce a variety of red and purple hues.[1] It was also used directly as wood for cabinetry and the like, and is valued for its ability to take a high polish.[2]

Sappanwood was imported from Southeast Asia by Goryeo Dynasty Korea as early as the 14th century, if not earlier, alongside other aromatic woods, and other tropical products.[3] In the Edo period, sappanwood became one of a number of Southeast Asian products which was imported at Nagasaki and then shipped to Tsushima, to be presented to the Korean court as tribute items.[4] Korea then included sappanwood among the exotic goods it offered to the Qing Chinese court, as tribute.[5] Sappanwood was also prominent among the tribute goods offered by the Kingdom of Ryûkyû to the Ming court, and among the trade goods brought by Japanese merchant missions to Ming dynasty China, under the "tally trade" system of the 15th century.[6]

Though always a significant Southeast Asian export, in the 18th century the sappanwood trade grew to eclipse that of hides & skins as perhaps the chief export of Ayutthaya (Siam) to Japan.[7]


  1. Cesare Polenghi, Samurai of Ayutthaya: Yamada Nagamasa, Japanese warrior and merchant in early seventeenth-century Siam. Bangkok: White Lotus Press (2009), 72n13.
  2. Nagazumi Yoko. "Ayutthaya and Japan: Embassies and Trade in the Seventeenth Century." in Kennon Breazeale (ed.). From Japan to Arabia: Ayutthaya's Maritime Relations with Asia. Bangkok: The Foundation for the Promotion of Social Sciences and Humanities Textbook Project (1999), 103n5.
  3. Geoffrey Gunn, History Without Borders: The Making of an Asian World Region, 1000-1800, Hong Kong University Press (2011), 217.
  4. Robert Hellyer, Defining Engagement, Harvard University Press (2009), 56-59.
  5. Angela Schottenhammer. "The East Asian maritime world, 1400-1800: Its fabrics of power and dynamics of exchanges - China and her neighbors." in Schottenhammer (ed.) The East Asian maritime world, 1400-1800: Its fabrics of power and dynamics of exchanges. Harrassowitz Verlag, 2007, 56.
  6. Tanaka Takeo, "Japan's Relations with Overseas Countries," in John Whitney Hall and Toyoda Takeshi (eds.) Japan in the Muromachi Age, Cornell University East Asia Program (2001), 167.
  7. Shimada Ryuto. “Economic Links with Ayutthaya: Changes in Networks between Japan, China, and Siam in the Early Modern Period.” Itinerario 37, no. 03 (December 2013), 102.