SBP Blog

The Meticulous Art of Traditional Japanese Woodworking

Thomas Joel - Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Japan is a country with one foot eagerly frolicking in modernity and the other firmly planted in tradition. While it produces some of the most advanced technologies, from artificially intelligent androids and computers to virtual reality entertainment and bleeding edge electronics, it also cherishes steadfast traditions and preserves its centuries-old wooden buildings and furniture.  

Structures such as the Seven Great Temples of Nara (Nanto Shichi Daiji) and Kyoto’s many machiya townhouses have withstood the test of time thanks in part to preservation and restoration efforts. However, the bulk of the credit must be passed down to the careful craftsmanship that went into them to begin with.
 
The Meticulous Art of Traditional Japanese Woodworking
More than just a trade, Japanese woodworking is also an art that draws upon Japanese aesthetics and philosophy to produce robust and consummately crafted works.
 
Core values of Japanese culture such as patience, perseverance, meticulous attention to detail, discipline, simplicity, and harmony with nature all dovetail into the very architecture of traditional structures.
 
Japanese woodworkers aim to work with, rather than against, nature. Wood is viewed as a living tissue that expands and contracts with the environment and is given a second life in the structures it becomes.
 
They typically use wood from local trees that died of natural causes, respect the wood’s natural curvature, and maintain nature’s order by using wood cut from the sturdy base of trees to form the base of structures.
 
In other words, structures are created around wood’s natural elements rather than turning the wood into the structures.
 
Traditional Japanese structures and furniture are held together with wooden joints. Without using a single screw, nail, bolt, or other metal hardware, Japanese woodworkers use joinery—wood-to-wood connection—to build furniture, houses, and ornate Buddhist temples with the strength and durability to weather hundreds of years.
 
Everything is held together with compression: the tightness of the joint against the end grain of the wooden recess.
 
The Meticulous Art of Traditional Japanese Woodworking 
Using this all-natural technique, structures are much stronger and more flexible. Joints accept the motion of the building rather than splitting, allowing them to easily withstand the destructive earthquakes so common to Japan.
 
Although this traditional approach is fundamentally simple, woodworkers must be painstakingly meticulous when carving the wood to ensure that each piece fits together perfectly. This is particularly difficult given the use of traditional Japanese hand tools.
 
The Meticulous Art of Traditional Japanese Woodworking
Ranging from saws (noko-giri), planes (kanna), chisels (nomi), marking gauges (kebiki), and stones (ishi), this repertoire of hand tools “rewards woodworkers with a satin smooth finish that reveals the natural beauty of the wood” (The Care and Use of Japanese Woodworking Tools).
 
Despite requiring time-consuming attention to detail and rigorous labor, these carefully maintained tools allow for a clean and personal precision that’s more difficult to achieve with electric jigsaws and sanders.
 
The use of hand tools and joinery embodies a preindustrial approach to woodworking and architecture that is deeply rooted in Japan’s cultural past. Wielding these age-old methods and dedicating innumerable hours to each project, traditional Japanese woodworkers are able to create works of art that not only align with the natural world, but can also last much longer than the more expedient postindustrial methods.
 
The Meticulous Art of Traditional Japanese Woodworking 
***
If you’d like to learn more about the not quite lost art of traditional Japanese woodworking, Kip Mesirow and Ron Herman’s The Care and Use of Japanese Woodworking Tools is a classic book on the subject that guides the woodworker or hobbyist through these processes step by step using detailed line drawings and concise how-to explanations. Highly recommended!
 
And if you’re jonesing to get to it, Kezurou-kai USA is holding an immersive weekend-long Japanese woodworking course in Oakland, CA on October 21st and 22nd. Kezurou-kai USA is a diverse group of designers, builders, and makers with a deep interest in learning and perpetuating the practice of hand tool woodworking.
 
Don’t forget to subscribe to the Stone Bridge Press mailing list to receive bi-weekly newsletters detailing our latest upcoming books, special deals, promotions, book giveaways, excerpts from our newer titles, and other SBP related news.
 
For daily content and news on East Asian culture as well as info on our latest titles, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.
 
Written by Nikolas Bunton

 

 
 

Like our blog? Please share it!

Categories

Subscribe to the SBP Mailing List

New Releases

Amy’s Guide to Best Behavior in Japan


Going to Japan? This unfussy modern guide guarantees you keep it polite and get it right!

Easy and Fun Katakana


Learn the second key Japanese syllabary from every angle: reading, writing, and real-world examples.

Oh, Tama!


A deeply eccentric novel about lives and connections—and a cat of course—in 1980s Tokyo: witty, offbeat, and strangely profound.

The Fourth String


Two women. Two cultures. One music.

Tag Cloud

new york events peace literary review IBPA astrology green tea tea Art/Design Asian Studies juddhism how to travel in japan janet pocrobba haibun the hidden writer haiku blurb jun hazuki gaijin pot Tokyo Olympics book Christianity VIZ japan custom Children's Books walt disney japanese classic tk nakagaki oh tama China journal of a zen monk traditional japanese instrument yukio mishima Year of the Dog ningen shikkaku ibpa publishing university Nikolas Bunton author sensei amy chavez Interview koun podcast japanese cutlure review traditional japanese instrumenet Ukiyo-e AAS japanese instrument understandind china through comics the japan society koto suehiro maruo japanese book etiquette japanese etiquette zen monk awards Basho's Narrow Road book signing holden caufield traditional Korea photography frederik schodt learning in japan memoir writing journal japanese music mieko kanai internment reviews tracy franz visitor learning shamisen Second World War living in japan Alexandra Johnson purification the silver spoon china history asian review of books the fourth string a memoir of sensei and me nichi bei weekly, naomi hirarahara book reading Japanese art japan today literature nazi photography hate new york year of zen guide 2020 Olympics my year of dirt and water zazen nara new books rachel manley fantasy literature japanese Japanese literature Chinese Astrology Chiune Sugihara fred schodt how to japanese people gaijin World War II Language min kahng stone bridge press stone bridge cafe osamu dazai japanese translation japan etiquette Anime/Manga/Comics book review PEN AWARD pottery kyodo news amys guide to best behavior in japan Olympics manga best behavior in japan Chinese New Year disney books Korea huffpost publishing benjamin franklin award expat welton gaddy michael emmerich new release alan moore event religion astro boy no longer human 1960's Japan william f sibley dazai UCLA behavior monks wife book award polite monk wife kyoto japanese books in english World War Two zen musical japanese instruments japan behavior the buddhist swastika Chinese culture amys guide to bes tbehavior in japan huffington post performance Translation foreigner in japan buddhist priest finalist danica davidson Japanese holidays author signing classic japanese literature buddhist comics memoir, tracy franz, zen monk, buddhist japan guide comic history travel Japan forewrod reviews indies hippocampus magazine japan vacation benjamin franklin awards lesley university anime holocaust lions roar History ex pat literature what do in japan japanese culture award illustration osaka tricycle magazine japan trip tomoko aoyama buddhist symbols why we write podcast Spirituality ancient symbol how to order in japan brad hawley a shameful life giajin japanese drunk 2019 interfaith publicity ritual japan travel Japan journal of a zen monks wife in japan hiroaki sato jing liu book tour journal of a zen monk's wife politics and prose kinokuniya event tea garden the millions Shoah student teacher japan book review diymfa foreword reviews black jack kansuke naka t.k. nakagaki frank beyer chinese comics asia american shamisen japanese books japanese craft evil book reviews author event Children's Literature leonard koren japan books monk zen monk in japan japan restaurant university of chicago drinking in japan seppuku catcher in the rye gratitude in japan eating in japan tokyo Spring Festival Japanese aesthetics japan food literary prize writing travel to japan Travel Christianity in Japan damian flanagan Basho henry kiyama author tour Okinawan literature poetry of consciousness hitler The Colorado Review janet pocorobba japan memoir buddhist swastika osamu tezuka japan book foreword indies book hoarding washington dc Culture book talk wife matcha otakuusa paul mccarthy gaijinpot memior diy mfa bowing in japan book blurb the fourth string hooked cross WWII jared cook a mejiro novel swastika Coming of Age Day shamisen performance Chinese history zen monk wife verticle pacific rim review of books gallery awa japanese travel manga biography hitlers cross eastern and western philosophy 1960s Korea bookstore shun medoruma in the woods of memory diary memoir journal' monks wife mark gibeau graphic novels a memoir non-fiction manji will eisner ancient symbols suicide a memoir of sensei and me four immigrants announcement japan culture book publicity Poetry classic center of east asian studies the japan times japanese bath shamisen the asian review of books world literature today donald keene alan brill shaimsen state of belief buddhism manners sensei and me dark horse japanese customs tourist takuma sminkey
RSS