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What Is Japanese Woodworking?

Tara Barnett
Tara Barnett

Japanese woodworking is the craft of working with wood in traditional Japanese methods, typically using special Japanese tools. Woodworking of this type is used to construct many different types of objects, including wooden screens, furniture, and shrines. There is a longstanding tradition of working with wood in Japan, and use of traditional methods and tools is a major part of this craft. Forethought and attention to detail are important in this tradition, and people who do Japanese woodworking often focus not only on the object's current appearance but also how the wood will age over time.

There are many different types of Japanese woodworking, and not all craftsmen perform all aspects of carpentry. Indoor objects, such as screens and furniture, are very different from shrines and homes. Wood is a very popular material in Japan, and the processes used to create large structures have been refined over time. Buildings made using Japanese woodworking methods can last for hundreds of years in good condition.


Methods of Japanese woodworking often rely on the quality of the materials used. Many pieces are not varnished or painted, leaving the natural finish to evolve over time. Cedar is one of the common woods used in Japanese woodworking, though other materials may be included as well. Some metal fixtures are typically necessary, and in some situations the artist may cast these by hand.

In many cases, Japanese woodworking also involves the use of special tools. These woodworking tools include Japanese saws, chisels, and planes. Most woodworkers involved in this style look down on the use of machines when working with wood, but others feel that the product is more important than the process. Generally, use of machines is highly limited.

Woodworking in the Japanese style often draws on traditional Japanese designs, though not all objects are defined by these traditions. The aesthetics of large objects often involves exposed structural pieces, while small objects are often characterized by detailed intersections of wood. Depending on the artist, a piece might use highly unique motifs or may stick entirely to traditional construction.

Modern Japanese woodworking does not always adhere precisely to the traditions of this craft and may incorporate woods not found in Japan or fixtures unusual for this tradition. Some artists combine the methods of this craft with the aesthetic sensibilities of other traditions. In order to have the most versatile understanding of what Japanese carpentry can accomplish, it is a good idea to think of this type of woodworking as a style of construction, not a particular set of motifs.

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