Celebrating the beauty of Japanese carpentry tools

Celebrating the beauty of Japanese carpentry tools

Now on show at New York’s Japan Society, ‘When Practice Becomes Form: Carpentry Tools from Japan’ presents an overview of the techniques at the heart of Japanese wooden craftsmanship

If you’ve ever wondered what stands behind the smooth, exquisite surfaces of Japanese craft and architecture, an exhibition that celebrates Japanese carpentry tools and techniques provides many answers. ‘When Practice Becomes Form: Carpentry Tools from Japan’ is on view at the Japan Society in New York City, and brings together antique and traditional woodworking tools, architectural patterns, models and examples of traditional joinery in a setting designed by Sou Fujimoto.

Inspired by the co-existence between the man-made and nature, and produced in collaboration with the Brooklyn-based practice Popular Architecture, the exhibition celebrates the enduring connection between traditional Japanese woodwork and contemporary architecture.

Japanese craftsmanship tools exhibition
Some of the Japanese tools on view at New York’s Japan Society include wide-blade rip saws as well as different types of axes to perform various techniques, shown here alongside a traditional Dōgubako (a carpenter’s toolbox)

Through the presentation of a diverse array of hand tools, including chisels, saws, hammers and gimlets – many of which have a highly specific purpose, the exhibition brings the notion of Japanese craftsmanship to life. From being able to examine joinery techniques that have been utilised for centuries in the construction of temples, bridges and shrines to discovering what’s behind a master carpenter’s extensive knowledge and experience, viewers not only come away understanding how Japanese structures are made, but also how that otherworldly level of precision and perfection is achieved. The cyclical practice of passing on the learnings of predecessors to inform future generations can also be seen in the way joinery and structures are restored and repaired – a pioneering move on the sustainability front, while also critical in preserving the integrity of the original structure.

This practice of looking back to move forward certainly feels of the moment, especially since the Japan Society’s building on the Upper East Side, which was designed by architect Junzo Yoshimura and opened in 1971, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Not only notable as a significant piece of 20th century Japanese architecture, but also because the building was the first permanent structure in New York City to be designed by a Japanese citizen, the landmarked building continues to house the interexchange of culture, ideas and knowledge between the US and Japan in a global context. §


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