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The RAMSA Travel Fellowship Report, 2014 460 West 34th street, New York, New York, 10001 tel: 212 967 5100 fax: 212 967 5588

The RAMSA Travel Fellowship is a $10,000 prize awarded annually by Robert A. M. Stern Architects to promote investigations into the perpetuation of tradition through invention, key to the firm’s work, through travel and research. The prize is intended to support emerging talent and is awarded every year to an individual who demonstrates insight and interest in architectural practice and its future, as well as the ability to carry out indepth research. Prepared by: Anna Antropova, M.Arch (McGill University) Presented on: January 13th, 2015 Traveling time: September - October 2014 All artwork and photography presented in this book is done by Anna Antropova unless noted otherwise.

Copyright Š 2015 Robert A.M. Stern Architects

All rights reserved by the individual paper author who is solely responsible for the content. No part of this work covered by the copyright herein may be produced or used in any form or by any means - graphic electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or information storage and retrieval systems without prior permission of the copyright owner.




Acknowledgments Statement of Intent Travel Itinerary: Final Itinerary Original Itinerary Research Abstract An Overview of a Trip Detailed Map of a Trip

7 9 11 14 17 19 23

Report: Introductory Note


Joinery Overview


Where are We Now


Modern Applications of Tradition


What Can We Learn


Conclusion Interviews: Atsushi Kitagawara (Atsushi Kitagawara Architects)



Shun Horiki (East Japan Project by KKAA)


Yuteki Dozono (Kengo Kuma Architects) Alastair Townsend (BAKOKO Architects) Inayama Masahira (Tokyo University Engineering Department)


Go and Kouichi Okinawa (Fujisato Wood Shop)


Daichi Nakashima (Nakashima Construction Co.)


Takuro Mori, Akihisa Kitamori (Kyoto University, Research 115 Institute for Sustainable Humanosphere)

Odagi Masato (PolusTec Co.)


Yoshiaki Nakamura (Sotoji Construction)


91 97



Author’s Biography




I would like to use this opportunity to express my deepest appreciation to Robert A.M. Stern Architects for providing the opportunity of a fascinating endeavor into Japanese culture and the Japanese wood industry. The journey has made a profound impression on me as a person and as a professional. I would like to extend a special, deep and warm thank you to two of the closest people to me: Daniel Nedecki who made an immense contribution to the work by always being there when I needed it most, and my grandmother, Lubov Maslova, who has supported me from a distance for this journey and on every journey thus far.




Looking out across the landscape of architectural design in the 21st century, the same blandness and homogeneity that is the hallmark of globalization rudely manifests itself in every corner of the world. From Moscow to Montreal and Tokyo to Toronto, the rapidity of progress and the seduction of newness have at once engendered uniformity and incentivized conformity within our built environment. It is the purpose of this research to act as a self-reflective pause in modernity’s hurtling toward the inevitable. By reconnecting the traditions and skills of the past to the technological efficiencies of the present we may begin the process of, as Kenneth Frampton suggests in A Critical Regionalism, restoring regional identity without disconnecting from a global society. Therefore, it is my proposal to travel to Japan and study the traditional wood joinery processes still being used today. Wood joinery has been applied on a great variety of scales – from jewelry boxes to palaces – and my objective is to observe and catalogue these existing techniques. This elegant and efficient mode of construction could meaningfully inform our western building industry, an industry addicted to toxic adhesives and an indiscriminate application of metal fasteners. Wood stands to be for our generation what steel and concrete were for the previous two or three, and Japanese joinery offers us a sustainable mode of assembly for a sustainable material with far less embodied energy. Culturally, Japan stands amongst most other countries for having united an atmosphere of exceptional craftsmanship and industrial perfection. In downtown Tokyo tradition and modernity seem at odds at first glance, but upon deeper investigation one observes cultural practices intertwining with everyday life. Tradition becomes an integral part of progress as evidenced with the popularity of rajio (morning stretches), the chashitsu (tea houses) and their gardens on prime city-center real estate, and traditional foods being served ubiquitously. 9

This unity of tradition and modernity is also having results in Japan’s manufacturing sector. Recently, Bloomberg reported that Toyota is replacing some robots with skilled craftsman because the company has rediscovered it takes humans doing the work themselves to innovate complex manufacturing processes. Kaizan dictates continual improvement which simply cannot be attained with technology alone. Japanese culture is demonstrating the answer to Paul Ricour’s challenge in History and Truth when he questions how we “become modern and return to sources.” Progress need not have a direct inverse relationship with tradition. In fact, tradition may be the very key to a more humane advancement of design and, more broadly, of global society. Both academia and architectural practice acknowledge the importance of craft in architecture – indeed it is a cornerstone of our discipline. However, westerners place emphasis on the maker and their acquired skill, often elevating these individuals to celebrity status. In contrast, monozukuri (approach to craftsmanship) places emphasis on the object made and the processes of making. Form is a by-product that emerges from process, and I intend to return from traveling Japan with a more intimate knowledge of applying and disseminating these processes. As a newly inaugurated Canadian citizen my interest in the uses of wood within Japanese joinery stems from my own experience as an immigrant. Having been born in a very eastern part of the former USSR, my childhood thinking was a continual balancing act between a multiplicity of very diverse world-views. It could be said that I came into young adulthood at the very place where east meets west - where Islam and Christianity commingle, where Asia connects with Europe and where traditions of a bygone era were lost overnight. The ability to reconcile differentiating viewpoints is something honed simply to process the complexity of my environment. With this grant I will bring a wealth of knowledge on wood joinery detailing back to my new home country with the potential to take a leadership role in wood assemblies that unite old and new, east and west, tradition and modernity. Marco Frascari summed it up best when he wrote: “In the details are the possibilities of innovation and invention, and it is through these that architects can give harmony to the most uncommon and difficult disorderly environment generated by culture.”



[FINAL ITINERARY] WEEK 1 DAY 1 | Sept. 29th | Tokyo _Establishing a first draft of city’s cultural analysis through sketching, filming, observing. _Meeting with Naomi Pollock (writer). Establishing a comprehensive list of crucial points to observe. Add recommended crucial locations to the existing itinerary. DAY 2 | Sept. 30th | Tokyo _Meeting with Atsushi Kitagawara (Atsushi Kitagawara Architects). Research on the firm’s own system of wooden lattice structure that uses wood bio properties. Through drawing and photography, start cataloging the wood joinery work that office explores in a great extent. _Visiting Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum. DAY 3 | Oct. 1st | Tokyo _Meeting with Kengo Kuma Architects, project lead of GC Prostho Museum Research Center. _Visiting Traditional Japanese temples and gardens in the area. Cataloging the traditional building techniques through drawing, photography, filming. DAY 4 | Oct. 2nd | Tokyo _Meeting with Professor Inayama Masahira from University of Tokyo Graduate School of Engineering regarding his research in Japanese wood joinery. _Visiting Asakusa Tourist Information Center (Kengo Kuma Architects). 11

DAY 5 | Oct. 3rd | Tokyo _Meeting with Yuteki Dozono (Kengo Kuma Architects), project lead of Sunny Hills, to record and catalogue the extensive application of wood structures and connections on micro and macro scale. Visiting and recording Sunny Hills project. _Meeting with Shun Horiki (East Japan Project) to coordinate the craftsmanship manufacturing meeting at Tohoku region. Discuss East Japan Project goals and achievements, as well as Chidori furniture project. Add recommended crucial locations to the existing itinerary. DAY 6 -7 | Oct. 4th-5th | Tokyo Days reserved for the recommended additions to the itinerary, cultural immersion, exploration and personal time. WEEK 2 DAY 1 | Oct. 6th | Tokyo _Meeting with Alastair Townsend from BAKOKO Architects. BAKOKO method employs modern Japanese pre-cut timber construction. _Visiting Mokuzai Kaikan office building. Documenting it through photography. DAY 2 | Oct. 7th | Tokyo _Visiting major pre-cut timber manufacturer “Polus-Tec Ltd.” in Ibaraki prefecture. Meeting with Odagi Masato. DAY 3 | Oct. 8th | Sendai _Day trip to Sendai – a city of traditional furniture manufacturers. Exploring the craftsmanship scene. Visiting workshops, cataloging techniques and processes through sketching, writing, filming. DAY 4 | Oct. 9th | Tohoku region _Trip to Tohoku Region – “the land of handcraft”. Establishing a draft of region’s cultural analysis. DAY 5 | Oct. 10th | Tohoku region _Exploring Tohoku Region. Meeting with Fujisato Woodshop in Iwate Prefecture. Spending a day in the shop recording the process of making Chidori furniture by sketching, filming, writing. DAY 6-7 | Oct. 11th-12th | Tokyo Days reserved for the recommended additions to the itinerary, cultural immersion, exploration and personal time. 12

WEEK 3 DAY 1 | Oct. 13th | Kamakura _Day trip to Kamakura temples. Cataloging traditional Japanese building techniques through sketching, filming, drawing. DAY 2 | Oct. 14th | Kyoto _Arriving to Kyoto. Establishing a first draft of city’s cultural analysis through sketching, filming, observing. _Meeting with Pico Iyer (writer). Establishing a list of crucial points to observe. DAY 3 | Oct. 15th | Kyoto _Visiting Katsura Imperial Villa. Recording the observation through sketching, filming, writing. _Visiting Kiyomizu-dera wooden temple. Recording the observation through sketching, filming, writing. DAY 4 | Oct. 16th | Nara _Day trip to Nara. Visiting traditional wooden temples: Horiu-ji, Yakushiji, Toda-ji. DAY 5 | Oct. 17th | Kyoto _Meeting with Yoshiaki Nakamura (Sotoji Construction). Exploring the detail and production of Kyoto joinery tradition. DAY 6-7 | Oct. 18th-19th | Kyoto Days reserved for the recommended additions to the itinerary, cultural immersion, exploration and personal time. WEEK 4 DAY 1 | Oct 20th | Mino, Gifu _Day trip to Gifu. Visiting Gifu Academy of Forest Science and Culture. Recording joinery techniques of the project. Meeting with Katsuhiko Kohara (Gifu Academy Researcher). Participating in Gifu Academy class General Design Practice of the Wooden Building. DAY 2 | Oct 21st | Gifu _Day trip to Kashimo. Meeting with Daichi Nakashima from Nakashima Construction Co. Visiting wood mill, pre-cut factory and local wood log market. 13

DAY 3 | Oct 22nd | Kyoto _Visiting Kyoto University, Research Institute for Sustainable Humanoshpere. Meeting with Takuro Mori and Akihisa Kitamori. _Visiting Toji temple (the tallest wooden tower in Japan). Recording observations through sketching, filming, writing. DAY 4 | Oct 23rd | Nagoya _Day trip to Nagoya. Visiting 44th Building Synthesis Exhibition in NAGOYA 2014. Meeting Mr. Katsuhiko Kohara at Wood College Place. DAY 5 | Oct 24th |Nagoya _Visiting GC Prostho Museum Research Center by Kengo Kuma Architects. Studying and recording wood joinery techniques used in the project. _Visiting Kaisho Forest Observatory by Atsushi Kitagawara Architects. Studying and recording wood joinery techniques used in the project. DAY 6 | Oct 25th | Mikata-gun _Day trip to Mikata-gun. Visiting Museum of wood by Tadao Ando. DAY 7 | Oct 26th | Tokyo Days reserved for the recommended additions to the itinerary, cultural immersion, exploration and personal time. [ORIGINAL ITINERARY] WEEK 1 | DAY 1- 5 | Tokyo 01_ Establishing a first draft of city’s cultural analysis through sketching, filming, observing. 02_Meeting with Naomi Pollock (writer). Establishing a comprehensive list of crucial points to observe. Adding recommended crucial locations to the existing itinerary. 03_Visiting Atsushi Kitagawara Architects. Researching on firm’s own system of wooden lattice structure that uses wood bio properties. Through drawing and photography start cataloging wood joinery work that office explores in a great extent. 04_Visiting University of Tokyo department of Biomaterial Sciences. Meeting with Associate Professor Satoshi Shida to explore their research in wood and wood-based materials and timber engineering. 05_Visiting University of Tokyo, Graduate School of Engineering. Talking to Professor Fujii Keisuke regarding 14

his research in Japanese wood architecture. Also visiting School of Architecture. WEEK 1 | DAY 6 -7 | Tokyo Days reserved for the recommended additions to the itinerary, cultural immersion, exploration and personal time. WEEK 2 | DAY 1 | Mino, Gifu Visiting Gifu Academy of Forest Science and Culture. Recording architectural joinery techniques as well as Atsushi Kitagawara’s trellis system. WEEK 2 | DAY 2 | Kasugai-shi, Aichi Visiting GC Prostho Museum Research Center by Kengo Kuma. Studying and recording through sketching, filming and writing the wood joinery technique used in the project. WEEK 2 | DAY 3 | Tokyo 03_Visiting Kengo Kuma Associates. Meeting with project leaders/designers to record and catalogue extensive application of wood structures and connections on micro and macro scale. Meeting with East Japan Project (within the office) to coordinate the craftsmanship manufacturing meetings. WEEK 2 | DAY 4 – 5 | Tohoku region 04_Heading to Tohoku Region – “the land of handcraft”. 05_Exploring Tohoku Region. Meeting with Fujisato Woodshop in Iwate Prefecture. A day in the shop recording the process by sketching, filming, writing WEEK 2 | DAY 6 – 7 | Tohoku Region Days reserved for the recommended additions to the itinerary, cultural immersion, exploration and personal time. WEEK 3 | DAY 1 | Sendai Arriving to Sendai – a city of traditional furniture manufacturers. Exploring the craftsmanship scene and connecting with the workshops. WEEK 3 | DAY 2 | Asahikawa Visiting Asahikawa Woodworking – a manufacturer that works in a variety of scales of wood production, from mass production that employs latest technologies to solely handicrafts. 15

WEEK 3 | DAY 3-5 | Kyoto 03_Heading to Katsura Imperial Villa. Recording the observation through sketching, filming, writing. 04_Heading to Kiyomizu-dera wooden temple. Recording the observation through sketching, filming, writing. 05_Kyoto manufacturers visits. Exploring the detail and production of Kyoto Joinery tradition. WEEK 3 | DAY 6-7 | Kyoto Days reserved for the recommended additions to the itinerary, cultural immersion, exploration and personal time. WEEK 4 | DAY 1 – 3 | Participating in the construction of a traditional tea house with the use of traditional joinery within contemporary setting. Location TBD. WEEK 4 | DAY 4 | Tokyo BAKOKO Architects construction site visit. BAKOKO method employs modern Japanese pre-cut timber construction. WEEK 4 | DAY 5 | Tokyo Visiting Shigeru Ban Architects. Cataloging wood joinery and wood working the office explores. WEEK 4 | DAY 6 – 7 | Tokyo Days reserved for the recommended additions to the itinerary, cultural immersion, exploration and personal time.



In a modern context the promise of joinery is very alluring. It seems that the Japanese achieved what many parametric and material researchers are searching for in elite ivory towers: material purity, sustainability, biomimetic structure, the use of a “super-material� both flexible and resilient at a wide variety of scales, a system of construction that is both recyclable and compostable. These qualities are inherent to wood itself, and cannot be attributed to Japanese expertise alone. However, the homogeneity of building material components and innovations in regard to structure have given the Japanese use of wood something unique, profound and highly advanced. With questions of sustainability and progress at the forefront of our time it is no insignificant thing to look closely at what Japanese tradition has to offer today’s building and construction industry. The analysis herein is based on site visits to some of the best examples of traditional and contemporary Japanese construction in addition to interviews with leaders within the Japanese building construction industry: including architects, researchers, manufacturers and business owners. Cultural visits also played an important role in the research by enriching it and relating the experience of inanimate structure to the people and society who crafted it. One of the main goals of this study was to look at social, professional and material dynamics within the country that significantly influence the development of wood joinery. The assumption being that one cannot fully understand the implications of Japanese joinery on western culture without first having a decent understanding of Japanese culture. The challenges presented within these cultural dynamics have positioned Japanese wood construction for better or for worse in a global context that must be appreciated. When looking at contemporary applications of tradition that Japanese architects use in their projects with the question of progress in forefront, the findings illustrated that tradition finds its place by connecting 17

not only with technology but also with social, and at times, economic innovations. The most interesting examples combine two or more of these areas. They are able to, at once, move beyond technical issues alone and sustainably engage with the process of restoring local Japanese identity that has weakened from globalization. (On the other hand, the lack of socio-economic engagement in some of the projects often results in ornamental representations of tradition.) Most of the projects discussed in the research in one way or another apply the ideas of local collaborations within industries as well as global collaborations and exchange of expertise, which includes knowledge and skills, as a strong social factor towards new innovations. Even though today Japan may lacks innovation in some areas of wood design and construction, it certainly presents new ways of integrating traditional values and skills with technical and socio-economic progress. When holistically understood, these approaches offer innovative solutions to the western building construction industry in desperate search for sustainability and a homogenized western culture in desperate search of local identity.



The analysis herein is based on site visits to some of the best examples of traditional and contemporary Japanese construction in addition to interviews with leading representatives within the Japanese building construction industry: architects, researchers, manufacturers and business owners. Cultural visits also played an important role in the research by enriching it and relating the experience of inanimate structure to the people and society who crafted it. The trip took its start from Tokyo, with short visits to Japan’s Tohoku region, and cultural sites in and around both areas. The next two weeks were spent in Kyoto with the trips to Nagoya, Gifu, Mino, Kashimo, and Nara including their surrounding areas. Some of the trip’s highlights were interviews with Kyoto craftsman Yoshiaki Nakamura and Tokyo University Professor Inayama Masahira in addition to visiting the Sunny Hills building (designed by Kengo Kuma) and spending an extended period of time at Gifu’s Forest Academy. More detailed analysis is as follow. Interviews: 1. Naomi Pollock – writer in Japanese architecture 2. Atsushi Kitagawara - architect (Atsushi Kitagawara Architects) 3. Yuteki Dozono - architect (Kengo Kuma Archiects) 4. Shun Horiki - architect (East Japan Project by Kengo Kuma Architects) 5. Alastair Townsend - architect (BAKOKO Architects) 6. Dr. Inayama Masahira - researcher, professor (Tokyo University Engineering Department) 7. Kouichi, Go and Yu Okinawa - craftsman, business owners (Tohoku Wood Shop) 8. Dr. Mariko Yamasaki – researcher, professor (Nagoya University) 9. Takuro Mori, Akihisa Kitamori – researchers, professors (Kyoto University, Research Institute for Sustainable Humanosphere) 19

10. Prof. Kohara Katsuhiko – researcher, professor (Gifu Academy of Forest Science) 11. Daichi Nakashima – business owner, manufacturer (Nakashima Construction Co.) 12. Odagi Masato – manufacturer (Polus-Tec) 13. Yoshiaki Nakamura – craftsman, business owner (Sotoji Construction) Contemporary site visits: 1. Sunny Hills Store, Tokyo, 2013 (Kengo Kuma Architects) 2. Yusuhara Bridge, Yusuhara, 2011 (Kengo Kuma Architects) 3. GC Prothso Museum, Kosugai-shi, 2010 (Kengo Kuma Architects) 4. Musashino Art University, Tokyo, 2010 (Sou Fujimoto) 5. Mokuzai Kaikan office building, Tokyo, 2009 (by Tomohiko Yamanashi / Nikken Sekkei + Takeyuki Katsuya / NSD) 6. Kaisho Forest Observatory, Seto, Aichi, 2005 (Atsushi Kitagawara Architects) 7. Gifu Academy, Mino, 2001 (Atsushi Kitagawara Architects) 8. Museum of Wood Culture, Kami-cho, 1994 (Tadao Ando) Traditional site visits: 1. Shirakawa-go (traditional village with houses in the Gassho Style) 2. Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum 3. Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo 4. Senso Ji Shrine, Tokyo 5. Kamakura temples and gardens (Hokukuji Temple with bamboo garden, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu with traditional wedding ceremony, Zeniarai Benz) 6. Toji Temple, Kyoto 7. Katsura Imperial Villa, Kyoto 8. Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Kyoto 9. Nara city (Isuien garden, Todai-ji temple) Cultural visits: 1. Sumo tournament (Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo) 2. Tokyo fish market (Tsukiji fish market, Tokyo) 3. Matcha tea factory (Uji, Kyoto) 4. Benesse Art Site (Naoshima and Teshima Islands) 5. Dinner with geiko Aya and maiko Taka (Ponto-cho, Kyoto) 6. Dinner with Japanese Interpreter (born in Kyoto, lives in London, UK) 7. Dinner with students from the Gifu Forest Academy (Mino, Japan) 20


TOHOKU REGION _Fujisato Woodshop SENDAI _Traditional furniture manufacturers

Mikata-gun _Museum of Wood (Tadao Ando) NAOSHIMA _Benesse Art Site Yusuhara _Yusuhara Wooden Bridge Museum (Kengo Kuma Architects)


NARA _Traditional wooden temples: Horiu-ji, Yakushi-ji, Toda-ji _Traditional gardens: Yoshikien and Isuien


TOKYO _Atsushi Kitagawara Architects _Kengo Kuma Architects _BAKOKO Architects _East Japan Project _University of Tokyo (Graduate School of Engineering) _Polus-Tec Ltd. (pre-cut factory) _Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Cente (Kengo Kuma Architecture) _Mokuzai Kaikan (contemporary wood structure) _Kamakura temples (traditional architecture) _Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum _Naomi Pollock (writer) GIFU, MINO _Gifu Academy of Forest Scince KASHIMO _Nakashima Construction (wood mill, pre-cut factory, wood log)

KYOTO _Kyoto University (Research Institute for Sustainable Humanosphere) _Sotoji Construction (traditional wood construction company) _Katsura Imperial Villa (traditional architecture) _Kiyomizu-dera wooden temple (traditional architecture) _Toji temple - the tallest wooden tower in Japan (traditional architecture) _Pico Iyer (writer)

NAGOYA _Temples and gardens of Nagoya _44th Building Synthesis Exhibition KASUGAI_SHI _GC Prostho Museum (Kengo Kuma Architects) AICHI _Kaisho Forest Observatory (Atsushi Kitagawara Architects)




“This one is from Canada!” - said Kouchi Oikawa referring to a massive meter-thick solid timber beam spanning his studio. Mr. Oikawa is a master craftsman specializing in traditional Japanese furniture, and we had just met at his studio after my three-hour train ride from Tokyo. We were exchanging pleasantries through a translator in the entrance of his workshop when this specific structural element caught my eye. Fully expecting a mystical story full of ancient traditions, intrigue and perhaps the mention of a samurai, I checked myself and clarified: “THIS beam is from Canada?!” The fact was once again politely confirmed. As it turned out the meter wide, meter high by two meter table we then enjoyed green tea and fresh garden-picked edamame upon was also from my homeland. Here, in a moody village far away from the highly globalized and bustling Tokyo within the work area of an elderly Japanese wood-working master, my romantic ideals of Japanese tradition received a massive dose of reality. The rest of my trip was in pursuit of understanding this highly serendipitous event. My journey would be at times inspiring and at others shocking but at all times absolutely fascinating. It would seem that a discussion on Japanese joinery cannot be disconnected with Japanese history, Japanese culture and Japanese economy and what started out as an innocent probing of joinery became a foray into the throws of all things Japanese.

Image: Fujisato Woodshop in Tohoku prefecture. Wood beam imported from Canada. Credit: Daniel Nedecki

WHY JOINERY Admittedly, my interest in Japanese joinery was originally rooted in a somewhat misinformed understanding of both Japanese culture and construction. However, the way the Japanese approach the wood joinery through the meticulous use of material, rigorous process and deep devotion to tradition resonated with me on a number of levels. First, I have found myself continually returning to wood for inspiration. There is something about how the material interfaces with all our senses that draws me. It is sensual in the very definition of the word. 25

1. Marco Frascari “The tell-the-tale detail”, 1981. p.11.


Some people are inspired to design from a big idea, a political agenda, a social cause, but I will often feel inspiration from a material and the desire that arises from hoping to express its purity and complexity. When going to Japan, I was inevitably looking to find new ways of inspiration that come not only from the qualities of the material itself but also from the way the Japanese are utilizing it in sustainable way, often without the use of nails or adhesives. Second, wood construction is conducive to how I work and design. Frankly, I design best in dialogue with a material. During my education there was nothing more energizing and inspiring than to spend time working in the shop on a project by hand. The time it takes to process a wooden part is time to listen and to reflect. My best designs came from these moments. When going on a trip I was hoping that the Japanese specific devotion to monozukuri, which simply means ‘making things’ but infused with much deeper devotion to learning through making, could inspire the western design industry to relook the way we are approaching the design. Third, I strongly believe in the active place of tradition within modernity. I often felt that in the last few decades excessive and often unreferenced use of technology (in face of ornamental parametric design and robotic manufacturing) was lacking the presence of place and time. It was my aim at the outset of this research to use Japan’s wood construction as precedent for connecting modernity and tradition. Ultimately, Japanese wood joinery is an elegant and efficient mode of construction that could meaningfully inform not only the western building industry but cultural and economic values as well. Marco Frascari summed it up best when he wrote: “In the details are the possibilities of innovation and invention, and it is through these that architects can give harmony to the most uncommon and difficult disorderly environment generated by culture.”1 My hope during the trip was that there would be clues for viably restoring local identity while simultaneously being global. Wood construction is highly relevant to Canada especially today. Thanks to the highly diverse and massive Canadian land area one of Canada’s major export sectors is all manner of raw materials - not least of which is lumber. In my view, it is a missed opportunity to rely heavily on other building materials (some of which are imported) and not better utilize the one that is most prevalent, abundant and completely sustainable. There has indeed been movement within the Canadian building industry to transition toward a more timber-based construction but progress is slow. A major hindrance is our building code that continues to reflect a reactionary and archaic attitude toward wood construction. In addition, recent forestry crisis in Canada (such as the Pine Beetle infestation that wiped out hundreds of thousands of wooded acres) has brought the future of Canadian wood construction to the forefront of debate. If, in this moment

of transition, Canada is able to successfully adopt a more sustainable attitude toward its own natural resources, the building and construction industry will be set on a positive course for many decades to come. In this regard and with this goal in mind, the point of my research was to probe how Japan as a perceived forerunner in the wood industry could offer new perspectives and answer pertinent questions regarding wood’s application and sustainable qualities at all scales.






My trip was not intended to simply catalog joinery techniques used in Japan. To do only that would be to observe joinery under a very narrow lens and merely address one portion of a greater equation. Cataloging alone would not take into consideration my ideas around “master”, “material” and “tools”… ideas that include cultural, historic, material and socio-economic qualities. If the objective were to primarily study the technical part of joinery one would only need a relatively small number of established books that truly offer a very comprehensive view of joinery methods, specifics and typologies. The most seminal and recommended of these books would be “The Complete Japanese Joinery” by Hideo Sato and Yasua Nakahara, and “The Art of Japanese Joinery” by Kiyosi Seike. In contrast to these invaluable and established works, this study attempts to offer a wider approach to the complex topic of traditional Japanese wood joinery and it’s modern applications. Fundamentally, it was my intent to also probe broader questions of sustainability, feasibility and how a culture or tradition may maintain relevance both locally and globally. DEFINING JOINERY Studying wood joinery most often implies observing a combination of the material qualities, master’s skills, and fabrication techniques and tools. Every age and place defines its own qualities and standards for these three components. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the main differences between traditional and modern wood joinery standards. A main difference between traditional and contemporary wood joinery systems is regarding the actual use of wood. Traditional joinery uses heavy timber exclusively, while modern joinery techniques may include glulam or other wood composite materials. In any case every joint must be properly composed to resists tension stress, compression force, and a spiral grain twist. While modern Japanese wood joinery has incorporated the

Image: Edo Tokyo Museum, Kunio Mayekawa house.


1. Alastair Townsend. Inteview.

2. Kiyosi Seike, “The Art of Japanese Joinery”, p.90.

3. Oliver Newmann, Philip Beesley, “Future Wood: Innovation in building design and manufacturing”, preface by Robert Woodbury.

use of metal plates, bolts, screws and adhesives to secure the connection, traditional joinery relies solely on wood and animal-based or rice-based glues as the primary joining agents. Since Japan is continually under the threat of earthquakes the flexibility that wood joints offer can, in respect to earthquake survivability, make them more desirable than fixed metal connections “that have tendency to fail at one point”1. The flexibility embodied in joinery allows traditional temples and shrines to stand against both earthquakes and time - says Dr. Mariko Yamasaki from Nagoya University. For example, “Shoso-in has survived more than twelve hundred years and Horyu-ji’s Golden Hall has survived almost exactly thirteen hundred years.”2 Finally, it is important to note that each type of wood (with its unique species-based properties) dictates the type of joining system employed. As a general rule, hardwood usually requires simpler joinery than the softwood due to its innate strength. Softwood requires more surface contact and more evenly dispersed points of stress to mitigate against its relative weakness. Professionally today there are obviously many differences between a carpenter and an architect. Yet, traditionally a Japanese carpenter was the architect, engineer and joint detailer. Only recently have the construction and design processes become highly segregated - “the hand holding the tool is not that of the designer”3 any longer. Education of a traditional daiku would take twelve or more years and would be heavily based on hands-on education. However, today’s woodworking and carpentry students graduate after about five years of mainly classroom instruction with very little practical knowledge of materials or manual fabrication processes. Another difference is the tools available to the master. Traditionally in the design, manufacturing and construction processes a carpenter would typically use only manual tools. Even though Daichi Nakashima, pointing to a ten meter curved beam in his factory, is an evidence that much work is still being done by hand, the Japanese wood industry today is filled with industrial robots, CNC fabricators and parametric design tools that often promote (but may also constrain) innovation. TYPES OF JOINTS Historically, and over a period of 1500 years, Japanese craftsman developed several hundreds of wood joints that varied depending upon its period of development and also upon material qualities, master skills, available tools and application. These complex joints utilized natureinspired geometry in a very unique way. Softer wood like sugi (cedar) would typically have more complicated detailing than akamatsu (pine) or hinoki (cypress). A major historical factor for the sheer number of joint types


was due to differing joinery methods taught at the many carpentry guilds throughout Japan like the Osaka guild or Kyoto-Edo guild. Furthermore, the top masters (ex. Master Hiruuchi, Master Kira or Master Tsuru) teaching within each guild would create personal interpretations of the guild’s joinery edicts. They would at times embellish or alternatively detail each joint further developing competing styles and joints. “There are further differences in technique in style such as… Shuinzukuri (study room style), Sukiyazukuri (free style), and the Chashitsu (tea room style).”4 Over a long period of development and elaboration wood joinery in Japan evolved into a sophisticated and highly aesthetic construction method – “structure became art.”5 Even though the wood craftsmen today try to preserve all the traditional variations of joints, only three or four joints are widely used in general construction assures professor Akihisa Kitamori from Kyoto University. The two main groups of joints under which all other types are categorized are tsugite (splicing or end joint) and shiguchi (connecting or right angle joint). While it is common to see long spanning beams in traditional temples like Todai-ji in Nara, it has become common to use tsugite techniques to create long posts and beams by splicing shorter members. “The most basic joint for splicing is the butt joint, which in Japan is classified as scarf joint… By far the majority of splicing joints employ tenons, dowels, pins and splines.”6 Shiguchi technique is used to connect timbers at an angle, rather than end-to-end, and the most widely used joints in these cases are of the mortise and tenon class. THE APPLICATION OF JOINERY Temples and shrines are not the only examples of traditional wood joinery in Japan although they are the best preserved. Wood was widely used in general housing construction as well, however only 0.1% of the housing today can be considered traditionally accurate structures7. Temples survived because they usually required the best material and most highly skilled master to ensure exquisite joinery. Typical joinerybased housing was done with the simpler techniques and materials that made them prone to the destructive forces of fires, earthquakes and wars. However, the most widespread use of wood joinery both today and traditionally can be found in smaller scale furniture applications. These include traditional tansu chests and the widely used mortise and tenon joints of modern chairs and desks. Professor Akihisa Kitamori in his interview stressed the importance of further developing joinery techniques so that they can become widely used in large-scale cultural, institutional and housing projects that constitute the major part of the modern wood construction market.

4. Hideo, Sato, Yasua, Nakahara and Koichi, Paul Nii, “The Complete Japanese Joinery”, preface. 5. Alastair Townsend, Interview.

6. Kiyosi Seike, “The Art of Japanese Joinery”, p.20.

7. Akihisa Kitamori, Interview.






Joinery is deeply embedded in Japanese culture. As such, the study of the joinery cannot simply focus on design aspects alone. To study joinery means that one must also study Japanese culture, history and socioeconomic realities. These are inseparable. There are three levels of dynamics that can be observed in the Japanese wood industry today: social, professional and material. These three will provide a framework for the following research and fundamentally underpin each of the projects discussed later. Ultimately, we must know where we are now in order to see how tradition can fit into the modernity in the future.

Image: Kiyomizu-dera area, Kyoto. Tourists dressed as geishas.

SOCIAL DYNAMICS The following ideas about social aspects underpinning this study into Japanese joinery are personal observations and intuitive impressions picked up from traveling throughout Japan and from informal conversations with locals in a casual atmosphere. These are not empirical facts by any means but are included to enrich the overall report. There is a certain image of Japan that is known to us from either romanticized postcards with cherry-blooming gardens or from mysterious Hiroshige’s wood-prints that western art culture tends to almost fetishize. When stepping onto the grounds of the central Kyoto Train Station with its eleven-story department stores and big franchise names on every corner, the reality turns to be a little more complex. Upon seeing this in person one begins to question to what degree the country is really “east” or “west”, old or new, global or local? NEW IS PURE Despite Japan’s love for all things traditional and its impeccable preservation of more than 2000 shrines and temples (in Kyoto alone), the housing industry in the country overall reveals a contrasting reality - “Japan fetishizes newness”1. In contrast to western housing markets, residential

1. Alastair Townsend, “Why Japan is Crazy About Housing”, Archdaily, 2013.


2. Alastair Townsend, “Why Japan is Crazy About Housing”, Archdaily, 2013.

3. Shun Horiki, Interview

4. Japan Tourism Marketing Co. 5. Richard, Florida, “Cities and the Creative Class”, Routledge, 2005, p.50.


homes in Japan generally have a 20-year lifespan. Most astonishingly, they typically lose all of their value after only 15 years. As a result 87% of Japanese houses sold annually are new construction, compared to a meager 11-34% in Western nations.2 Another social factor contributing to the massive new home industry is found in Buddhist concepts of regeneration that idealizes transitory lifestyles. A great example of this is the Ise Grand Shrine in Japan’s Mie prefecture which gets notoriously rebuilt every 20 years at the cost of over one billion dollars. This state-sponsored project has no other purpose other than maintaining tradition. Many believe that the same concepts of disassembling, prefabrication and renewal utilized in the Ise Shrine were primary inspiration for Japan’s post-war Metabolism movement. Additionally, Post-WWII Japan underwent rapid industrialization and the explosion of low quality and fast-built (at times even toxic) homes that also contributed to the desire for newness. Investment into the poor quality homes built around this time is considered to be a waist of money. As a result the vast majority of these homes are simply demolished. Interestingly and to conclude this notion of newness we observe in timber construction itself. Timber design in some ways supports the approach for renewal and disassembly, which is “something fundamentally Japanese”3. Shun Horiki unpacked this argument by explaining that the innate flexibility of form and relative ease in modifying wooden structure is what attracts Kengo Kuma to timber design. If not practical it is possible to disassemble a timbre structure and move it to a different location or reuse the components in a different application. TRADITION AS A COMMODITY Traditional craft is completely tax free in Japan, every traditional craftsman accepts credit cards and ships overseas. With the rise of the creative class and a stable 5% increase of tourism each year4, “the principal demand for tourists [has become] high quality, cultural and authentic places.”5 Locality and craftsmanship has become a brand, which is clearly seen when walking around mostly every temple and shrine with their endless souvenir kiosks. Tradition is now a commodity shrewdly used by the Japanese government to attract international photo cameras looking for an “authentic ancient culture”. However, when looking closely one realizes most cameras are not from abroad. The commoditization of tradition with the indigenous tourism is a hallmark of travel in Japan. It would appear that since WWI and the ensuing race toward a more western lifestyle, Japanese society may be waking up to parts of their own heritage lost in the breakneck pursuit of modernity.

When walking along the streets of Gion in Kyoto, one also sees how exploitation of Japan’s own tradition turns into the “parodying” it. “There are not more than a hundred true geiko in Kyoto” said geiko Aya during our accidental dinner at her bar in Ponto-cho area. However, the streets of the city are filled with tourists dressed up like geiko in rented costumes continually Instagramming themselves all over the world. THE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST Piko Iyer in his essay “Living Among Incompatibles” wrote: “Japanese in some ways seem to have the best taste in the world when they work in their own distinctive and elegant tradition and the very worst taste when they adopt the trappings of the outside world.” Tokyo’s Akihabara district is lined with maid cafés and teenage girls in petticoats that attract the often-lost tourists. However, it is mainly locals who follow them inside these cafés to be served by the maid and to be treated like a master. At an extra cost one can even be spoon-fed. Walking in this area I was inevitably searching for the unique beauty and elegance of the country described in Junichiro Tanizaki’s “In Praise of Shadow”. It is perplexing to observe the highly noble people of Japan who revere tradition and who for proprieties sake rarely show public affection, spawn the highly promoted and high lucrative anime fetish industry and maid services. During a lovely dinner in Kyoto’s Ponto-cho area with one of the locally born interpreters (currently living in London), I discovered a new side of Japanese culture - their innocuous and pure devotion to everything “Japanese”, old or new, provocative or dull, foreign or local. When preparing for her modern wedding in London, the interpreter had travelled back to Kyoto just to pick up her mother’s kimono to wear on her wedding day. This type of devotion to the pop-culture components of their heritage allows Japanese individuals “to stay true to their traditions while devouring the new, to remain lovers of beauty while surrounded by some of the ugliest things on earth, and to remain inalienably themselves while importing everything from everywhere.”6 PROFESSIONAL DYNAMICS We will now turn our focus from giving a framework of social dynamics in Japanese culture to better understanding the professional dynamics that underpin the wood industry and ultimately even the tradition of joinery. This section will explore how certain professional attitudes and values have been formed in Japan.

6. Piko, Ier, “Living Among Incompatibles”, World Hum, 2009

PROFESSION The Japanese word for carpenter, “daiku is composed of the characters “dai” (chief) and “ku” (artisan), and it’s closest English equivalent 39



Image: Fujisato Woodshop. Apprentice working. 7. Kiyosi Seike, “The Art of Japanese Joinery”, p.10.

8. Oliver Newmann, Philip Beesley, “Future Wood: Innovation in building design and manufacturing”, preface by Robert Woodbury.

9. William, J. Carpenter, “Learning form Building: Design and Construction in Architectural Education”, p.16. 10. Wkui, Shiro, Gifu Academy President Letter.


is “architect”, whose Greek roots are “archos” (chief) and “tekton” (carpenter). Not only etymologically but also in terms of responsibility and function, the Japanese carpenter’s true Western counterpart is the architect.”7 Traditionally, a carpenter in Japan was qualified and worked in all three fields: as an architect, an engineer and a contractor. Design and construction was one continuous process of thinking and making. Today, the Japanese architectural profession is highly segregated. “The hand holding the tool is not that of the designer”8 anymore. “Today, architects don’t understand scale and a sense of place” - says Yoshiaki Nakamura, a Kyoto based craftsman, during our interview. He explains that previously architects would all be working on site and drawing at 1:1 scale, but today they sit in small offices and draw on the computer that, in his view, skews architects perception of scale and their ability to design. EDUCATION Traditional education of daiku took a great deal of time and dedication – two qualities commonly absent from today’s student body. Kouichi Oikawa from Fujisato Woodshop in Tohoku shared that fifty years ago students would live in his shop for five years at a time in order to acquire the very basic knowledge and skills of carpentry. It would than take more than twelve years of consistent work in the woodshop to be called daiku. “Not many of them stayed until the end” - he concluded. It is this extended process of learning through making and through the constant integration of material, tools and hands (or as the Japanese call this process… monozukuri), that influences Japanese carpenters trained in traditional methods often resist modernity. Today, “students coming from the universities have knowledge but no skills” shared Kouichi Oikawa. What happened then? Even in the age of modernization, Walter Gropius was stressing the importance of “Fromlehre, the study of form including the study of nature and material, and Werklehre, the instruction of craft…” being linked so that “each type of learning could reinforce the other.”9 Architecture students today, even in Japan, graduate from top universities not knowing the difference between the plain sawn or quarter sawn cuts and the way they influence design. The Gifu Academy of Forest Science and Culture in Japan is an attempt to provide answers regarding “authentic materials and the designs and techniques used with them.”10 The academy programs focus on design-and-build projects rooted in the regional wood industry. Students have hands-on experience in all parts of the process, from forestry to final construction.

MATERIAL DYNAMICS FORESTRY During WWII most accessible timbre was harvested to serve the needs of the struggling country. Immediately after the war was over, the high demand for new and rapid housing construction forced the government to introduce a quick reforestation plan that covered the country with thin, soft and light cedars which advantageously required little care and time to grow. Years later Japan with its growing demographics and housing demands, finds itself in even bigger need of timber - postWWII cedar is simply not appropriate for general construction. Import has become the only solution to meet this need. Today, with 80% of its land covered in forests, Japan imports 70% of its timbre mostly from North 10. Ministry of America and Malaysia.10 Agriculture, Forestry As a result, the wood construction industry in Japan was and Fisheries, Forestry Agency, “Annual Report developed to favor imported lumber with nearly all sawmills being built on Forest and Forestry in in ports. Only recently have new inland mills and factories (focused Japan”, 2012. specifically on local lumber) started to appear. Nakashima Construction in Kashimo for example was the first inland factory in the entirety of Japan’s Gifu prefecture. Today, the country is in critical excess of “unusable” material. The reasons are fundamentally twofold. First, the light and thin cedar forests are not appropriate in popular housing construction. Second, the process of density maintenance, or thinning, that occurs when trees are removed to give space for healthier ones to grow causing the removed lumber to simply be discarded. In response to these crises the Japanese government strongly promotes a series of subsidy programs to incentivize local timber use. With such a subsidy, for example, Tadao Ando who is famous for his concrete structures used local wood instead for the construction of Kashimo Community Center in Gifu area. These programs are indeed having a degree of impact but most fear that these governmental measures are too little too late. WOOD IN JAPAN There are a number of reasons for such an extensive concentration of wood construction in Japan. The most evident factor covered already is the abundance of material - 80% of Japan is covered in forests11. Before the spread of globalization in the 1980’s Japan, being an island, was relatively isolated from other influences and materials. The Galapagos effect was in full form. Additionally, the frequency of earthquakes also played fundamental role in that the popularity of flexible wood joint construction allowed buildings a certain amount of give which is not possible with stone or brick. Finally, the humid climate of the

11. Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Forestry Agency, “Annual Report on Forest and Forestry in Japan”, 2012.


12. Kiyosi Seike, “The Art of Japanese Joinery”, p.12.

13. Akihisa Kitamori. Presentation.

14. Alastair Townsend, Interview


country also made wood, which allows a certain amount of absorption and breathability, a material of choice. The traditional notion of kodama or literally “the spirit of a tree” is another less known factor for the nation’s deep and almost religious sentiment toward trees. This idea spread rapidly during the Edo period and influenced the general public to “revere their trees, to care for them, and to actively promote reforestation.”12 The belief that a tree is a living soul is still evident at the local bi-monthly timber auctions in Kashimo. “It is a small festival and sort of a ritual” said Daichi Nakashima in an informal interview while visiting the market. Professor Akihisa Kitamori from Kyoto University explained later that the most popular type of trees in Japan is sugi (cedar) and it now constitutes 61 percent of the forest. This high percentage can, once again, be tied back to the realities of post-war Japan. Hinoki (cypress) and akamatsu (larch pine) share 13 and 14 percent respectively, while spruce and other types of pine make up the remaining 12 percent.13 Hinoki (cypress) is usually more expensive than sugi (cedar), however exceptions like Kitayama sugi (cedar) is highly valued for traditional teahouses and could cost 100 times more than other types of wood. Today wood construction is relatively rare in Tokyo, especially in large-scale commercial, cultural and institutional buildings. The city is characterized by general homogeneity of a post-industrial era building boom with skyline dominated by sterile concrete and steel towers. The main reason for this unfortunate result is the lack of development regarding wood construction regulations. “Timber never got developed in corporate way”14 as it was steel or concrete. Daichi Nakashima says: “fire codes that do not allow construction over three story are one of the biggest challenges today”. Structural regulations are not thoroughly developed for the wood industry either. Engineering research also lags alongside Japan’s relatively archaic building code. In the 1990’s Professor Inayama Masahira from Tokyo University developed a formula enabling the first trustworthy engineering calculations for all-wood joints. In fact, the formula was adopted into the country’s building codes, and although it was a major breakthrough more research must be conducted in order to allow for more accessible wood construction methods to be popularized. Today, more than twenty years later, many engineers admit the necessity. Professor Akihisa Kitamori and Professor Takuro Mori from Kyoto University are continuing research in developing more formulas for other joints that would allow timber to be used in high-rise institutional and commercial applications.

DRYING AND STORING When giving a tour around his factory, Daichi Nakashima explains that after they deliver logs from the market they peel the bark mechanically first immediately followed by a preliminary rough-cutting process that turns raw timber into dimensioned lumber. These pieces then go into large kilns only to be taken out after a few weeks at which point they are processed into a final dimension. As mentioned, it takes around two weeks to bring the moisture content of green lumber from a typical 60% down to 12-18% at which point it is ready for a carpenter. For larger timber modern kiln drying could take several month. Traditionally drying took place in hangars where lumber was stored vertically, just as the tree would grow. This style of drying could take more than 20 years to achieve the desired moisture content. Even today Mr. Yoshiaki Nakamura proudly uses the same traditional technique that allows for a more natural way of drying in each of his seven massive warehouses. In fact, some choice pieces of lumber within his storage facilities remain from his father’s collection dating back 50-60 years. Many of these pieces have been taken from trees a thousand years old or more and in some cases can be three-story high. However, only a very rare and highly successful carpenter or architect can afford the luxury of traditional techniques. A single meter piece of lumber from this collection could easily fetch 15 million USD or more. There are no facilities in Japan today that allow for drying such long pieces says Professor Inayama Masahira from Tokyo University. Proper moisture content is crucial for the precision of the joints and without proper facilities Professor Masahira cannot rely on heavy timber alone. In his projects today he often utilizes glulam instead. PROCESSING AND MAKING Up until the age of industrialization, Japanese carpenters knew no other tools than dogu, literally meaning “instruments of the way of carpentry”. These highly customized tools were usually made by each carpenter and were considered to embody almost “a degree of divinity.”15 It almost goes without saying that wood construction of that period required a great deal of time and dedication. Post-WWII the sheer magnitude of Japan’s housing demand required a rapid shift in the wood industry. This shift brought about the development of mass pre-cut timber construction of the 1980’s. “The fascinating part of pre-cut construction” explains Alastair Townsend “is that it uses traditional joints and techniques that are adapted for machine cuts in the factory”16 - this allows for rapid prefabrication and ease of assembly taking only one day on site. This breakthrough radically and forever changed the Japanese wood housing industry.

15. Kiyosi Seike, “The Art of Japanese Joinery”, p.14.

16. Alastair Townsend, Interview


17. Yoshiaki Nakamura, Interview.

There are close to 90 pre-cut factories in Japan today, ranging from small family-owned, like Nakashima Construction in Gifu prefecture that puts a high focus on the aesthetic qualities of the structure and utilizes only local wood, to large ones like Polus-Tec that produces more than 200,000 houses a year utilizing imported wood in 90% of them. Since the development of 1980’s era pre-cut technology, Japan’s wood construction industry has not seen much more advancement in the use of modern design tools, digital manufacturing, parametric design nor industrial robots. Daichi Nakashima from Nakashima Construction assures us that even his own 5-axis CNC machine is simply not working to its full capacity. In fact, during the design of Sunny Hills store in Tokyo no advanced parametric tools or 3-d analysis were used. “The parameters, in the end, were too vast” - explains a project leader, Yuteki Dozono. Most of the work in the project was reliant on traditional skills. So what about the dogu today? Yoshiaki Nakamura, a Kyoto craftsman, is one of a very few people who works with the traditional tools in their true authentic way. His traditional construction is a “jewelry box”17 out of reach for the 99% of population. Each piece of wood is selected like a piece of art from his wood “hanger” in Kyoto, and each project can take up to ten years to complete as was the case with Nelson Rockefeller house he built in Upstate New York. When looking at the social, professional and material dynamics of the country, several challenges are seen that affect the wood joinery and wood construction industry today. On the social level craft and tradition are turning into brand which rises the culture of imitation, the drive for all new brings lack of sustainability in preservation. On professional level segregation of the profession and skills brings lack of hands-on experience in architectural practice and education. On material level, with the rise of imported wood, Japan is in critical excess of “unusable” or expensive local lumber. Wood industry is under the thread with the luck of innovation and use of advanced design and manufacturing tools, while pure traditional techniques are luxury. Further are some examples of how architects today in their unique way are trying to address the challenges identified in this study, often referring back to tradition.







At the outset of this trip I believed that the reconnection of tradition with technology was the leading factor for innovation. However, the research showed that there are in fact three main areas that Japanese tradition interfaces with modern society: technological, social and economic. The most interesting of the examples to be explored in this section combine two or more of these three areas providing a fundamentally more rich and inspiring answer to the aforementioned challenges. By engaging with Japanese society on multiple levels these projects, at once, move beyond a technical sphere alone and begin to drive the process of restoring local Japanese identity.

Image: Yusuhara Wooden Bridge, Yusuhara. Kengo Kuma Architects, 2011.

SOCIALLY CENTERED EAST JAPAN PROJECT East Japan Project [EJP] is a division of Kengo Kuma architects that started after the devastating Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011. The disaster triggered a new way of thinking and approaching the design within a “city-oriented society of the 20th century.”1 With East Japan Project Kengo Kuma sets his practices’ trajectory toward something he calls “The New Lifestyle”2 which is a phase he uses to describe something deeply rooted in the locality of a place… a local climate, culture, industry and people. East Japan Project combines the leading and innovative design thinking of firms like KKAA, BIG, Bouroullec Brothers and Snohetta together with the most respected and traditionally established master craftsman of the region to produce exceptional design pieces ranging from furniture to stationary. Through these collaborations between industries and countries, EJP attempts to directly reestablish the long-lost connection between design thinking and a craftsman’s skill set. Indirectly, EJP is one part of a greater movement to position Japan’s multifaceted local identities

1.2. Kengo Kuma, East Japan Project website.


within a globalized design industry. The main goal of the EJP was to assist a regional industry by encouraging local craftsmanship and the more traditional lifestyle of people living in Tohoku. By teaching new thinking and techniques to younger carpenters, EJP is well poised to help revive a culture of craftsmanship that has been dwindling for some time. CHIDORI FURNITURE Collaborators, Kengo Kuma and Koichi Oikawa from Tohoku Fujisato Woodshop take the concept for Chidori furniture from a traditional Japanese children’s toy that consists of wooden sticks connected with a simple joinery system. This system can be extended by combining sticks with a twist sans nails or adhesives. Through modular thinking, they apply traditional design concepts to new contemporary applications. The units of Chidori furniture, which consist of twelve timber sticks with three different joining details, can be assembled in numerous combinations from a table to a shelf to an architectural wall. The joints are developed and adjusted in the Fujisato Woodshop so that parts are cut with the use of machines and parts still worked out with hands.

CHIDORI TOY (Photo source:


GC PROSTHO MUSEUM Chidori furniture has now started a series of experiments with local materials and innovative construction methods. For example, in the GC Museum, Kengo Kuma applied the same modular thinking to a bigger architectural structure where chidori units morph from display shelves into walls and ceilings. 52

For this project Kengo Kuma worked closely with structural engineer, Jun Sato, and craftsman Koichi Oikawa to create a wooden lattice that could provide “far more than a cosmetic solution”3 and fundamentally act as a structural device. However, the structure is not purely chidori in that the lattice is only able to support a lightweight roof while a separate structure is composed with reinforced concrete. Even if the structure is simply decorative it is still part of an overall thesis that Kuma is probing and in that regard still very important. When looking at the broader material and social dynamics of the country, Kengo Kuma is using the thin “unusable” local lumber together with craftsmanship expertise informed by new construction methods to create something fundamentally rooted in its locality.

3. Kengo Kuma, “Kengo Kuma: Complete Works”, p.185.

GC PROSTHO MUSEUM ASSEMBLY DIAGRAM (Drawings by Kengo Kuma Architects)

TECHNOLOGICALLY CENTERED MOKUZAI KAIKAN Mokuzai Kaikan is an office building in the middle of Tokyo and is an extraordinary example of traditionally informed high technology. In this project Nikken Sekkei are using traditional joinery techniques to inform the latest pre-cut technologies by utilizing advanced computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines. The result is a project composed of complex joinery. A building that would traditionally rely on expert craftsmanship is now produced at a scale not previously conceivable and with a degree of precision the most discerning would appreciate. 53



Image: Sunny Hills Store, Tokyo, Kengo Kuma Architects, 2013.

4. Nikken Sekkei website


An interlocking splicing joint, known as tsugite was traditionally used in shinto shrines to connect short members into longer beams. Here, in the rooftop assembly hall, this joint is modified for the milling processes to connect four-meter timber components that together span nearly thirty meters. Considering the broader forestry situation in Japan this method provides a high level of sustainability by utilizing local, off-the-shelf, cedar that otherwise would not be used in such a building. At a time when large-scale wood construction is so rare in Tokyo, Mokuzai Kaikan, Tokyo Lumber Wholesalers Association, promotes the use of wood as “an urban high-rise construction material�4 by using it as a part of hybrid architecture. In compliance with earthquake regulations, the seven-story building uses reinforced concrete as additional structure while integrating lumber into its construction. Meticulous attention to detail is what made the execution of this hybridisation feel so natural. For example, exposed concrete was cast in cedar formwork that maintains exactly the scale and grain of the timber creating a unifying effect between the two construction methods and materials.


KAISHO FOREST OBSERVATORY Kaisho Forest Observatory is a viewing tower built by Atsushi Kitagawara for the 2005 World Exhibition held in Aichi Prefecture. Kitagawara takes the inspiration from a traditional five-story Horyu-ji temple that has withstood the destructive forces of all earthquakes. The elastic properties of its expertly constructed wooden joints, in the absence of metal connectors, allowed for unusual resilience against seismic activity. In collaboration with structural engineer, Professor Inayama, the design and engineering team interpreted the merikomi wooden lattice system used in the temple. They were able to inform the pre-cut technology used to 56

fabricate the building with the temple’s twin tenon joints equally famous for its aesthetic and resilience. Atsushi Kitagawara utilized the merikomi system repeatedly in many other projects as structural strategy relatively impervious to earthquakes. The system “exploits the deformation of compression perpendicular to grain loading in wood for structural purposes. This means that the connections are not subjected to any concentrated pressure; due to the elastic reaction of wood to seismic load such a solution provides a better diffusion of stresses.”5 In Gifu Forest Academy, he again uses it in a set of load-bearing shear walls. Today, Akihisa Kitamori and Takuro Mori from Kyoto University are taking the development further and are applying the system often in heritage restoration housing projects. The project also addresses questions of sustainability that resonate with Japan’s current forestry challenges. The wood utilized in the project was produced from forest thinning lumber generally considered refuse. Kitagawara and Inayama saw this challenge as an opportunity to combine low-quality timber, highly constrained in both diameter and length, with automated cutting and joint grooving. This astute combination breathed new life into local material and provided a necessary alternative for a troubled industry.

5. Aaron Betsky, Marco Imperadori, Masato Kawamukai and Kathrin Sauerwein, “Atsushi Kitagawara Architects”, p.113.

MERIKOMI WOODEN LATTICE SYSTEM (Drawings by Atshushi Kitagawara Architects)


6. Yuteki Dozono, Interview.

7. Yuteki Dozono, Interview.

8. Yuteki Dozono, Interview.


SUNNY HILLS TOKYO In the design of Sunny Hills Store located within Tokyo’s posh neighborhood called Minami-Aoyama, Kengo Kuma revisits the traditional technique of jugokugumi joinery. This is a highly complex system that traditionally was used in fabricating the wooden frames of shoji screens. However, in contrast to the above-mentioned projects, the old joint utilized in Sunny Hills is manipulated with the intent of revealing a new aesthetic rather than addopting it to machine cuts. As a result, the technique of jigokugumi, which literally means “interlocking hell” due to its resistance to disassembly, turns into a highly complex 3-dimensional structure. Project architect Yuteki Dozono agrees, “It is not necessarily about the efficiency or structural integrity, it is just about doing something amazing that we know we can do.”6 The intent of the project was to translate the user into a modern Japanese forest right in the heart of Tokyo, and in this regard the project is highly successful. The quality of the resultant space is not only seen in the intricate structure but in the smell of the locally sourced cedar as well. The process of design development and construction was a wild mix of digital and analog. Yuteki mentions that parametric programs like Grasshopper failed to work because the parameters were simply too vast for the plug-in. The initial inspiration was developed in close collaboration between an architect, an engineer and a craftsman. The architects would work in Rhino for the rough design, then pass the drawings to engineer who would make them 2D for the ease of calculating forces. The craftsman then would import the 3D drawings from the architect into Sketch-Up (the only design program he knew), print them at a 1:1 scale and overlay these drawings into the raw material in order to make the appropriate cuts. Even though Yuteki argues that the joints at Sunny Hills “are mostly reliant on technology”7, the project would not be complete as it is without the skill of a craftsman who hand-cut most of the joints. The complexity would have been too great for current fabrication technology. The initial intention of the project was to utilize joints without the use of metal connectors. However, the site conditions did not allow for that. There was simply not enough space on-site for assembly as a result smaller members had to be connected with the use of metal. Yuteki explains that “ [Kengo Kuma] is not very much married to tradition as much as to the innovation that it presents.”8 Among Sunny Hills’ many accolades it was the “excessive” use of wood that became a main point of criticism from the western architectural community. However exactly for this reason KKAA received numerous awards in their own country where local wood is in critical excess. The project uniquely utilizes domestic cypress from Gifu area that is usually hard to use in general construction. This approach to the country’s material

and economic challenges puts art, technology and tradition towards the questions of locality and sustainability.


YUSUHARA BRIDGE The Yusuhara Wooden Bridge is a covered gallery and pedestrian bridge that connects a hotel to a spa on the outskirts of the small town, Yusuhara. The bridge evokes the dougong corbeled timber structures used in ancient Buddhist shrines and temples throughout Japan. Traditionally, the system was devised to support the loads from the eaves (or from the horizontal beams spanning over large areas between columns) by interlocking multiple smaller bracket sets called “dou” and “gong”. It is interesting to note that traditionally the strategic placement of dougong also allowed structures to withstand seismic forces. Even though the primary reason was to provide the structural support, the system was also considered as an important decorative element. Kengo Kuma utilized this technique to achieve the 47-meter span with, once again, the use of smaller glue-laminated local cedar components while avoiding the use of large-scale steel or concrete elements. Long beams rest upon progressively shorter ones, and the entire structure tapers to a point at a central column. “We wanted to prove that even on a site where large trees are less available, we can employ a traditional method where a big yet delicate cantilever can be realized through the assembly of small-sectioned materials,”9 says a project lead, Jumpei Matsushima.

9. Douglas Murphy, Yusuhara Wooden Bridge Museum by Kengo Kuma Architects, Icon Magazine.


Although the use of small members to create a large span was a strong structural intention, the decorative factor of the design cannot be denied, especially when considering that the central column in fact made of steel as is the main trusses on either ends of the building. In this context, Kengo Kuma refers to tradition not only for technical but also decorative inspirations.


Image: Yusuhara Wooden Bridge, Yusuhara. Kengo Kuma Architects, 2011.







TWO SIDES OF TRADITION With a combination of both explicit and implicit discoveries while traveling Japan, it quickly became clear that there are two sides to Japanese tradition. The projects discussed above, like East Japan Project or Sunny Hills, reveal one side which preserves the authentic values and cultural identity, inspires the immediate locality and offers new ways of designing while meaningfully engaging with socio-economic realities. The other side of Japanese tradition, however, is less sustainable and progressive. It is a place where conservatism and respect for authority often stagnate business and stifle the country’s innovation. If Japan is to unleash its own potential, it is evident that a continuous dialog between west and east is necessary. There are lessons for the west to learn in the way Japan values tradition and seeks new inspirations from it. However, for Japan to develop sustainably and efficiently on a global scale it needs to turn look to certain areas of the west for inspiration. Japan looks West just as many of us look East for answers, and this must be fostered into meaningful dialogue especially in the areas of building construction, forestry and design.

Image: Fujisato Woodshop. Chidori furniture joint cutting.

LESSONS FOR THE WEST Although the relationship is indeed reciprocal, this section will explore in greater detail how North America can learn how to improve and innovate their own wood industry from Japan’s struggle. Up until this point we have briefly touched on a variety of ideas and examples from Japan that could be relevant to us here in the west. Below, however, I have highlighted the things I feel to be most pertinent or at the very least the most interesting to me. It was my hope to select the ideas that specifically reach outside of typical architectural insularity to span between business, industry, education and the general design profession. First, business and economic realities are often at the forefront of wood design innovation. The challenge is to find the balance between 65

the promise of new solutions and the reliability of old ones. As Dr. Mariko Yamasaki from Nagoya University pointed out: “Today, it is mostly an economical problem that doesn’t allow us to use the traditional technique. It is very expansive. Skilled workers are very rare which makes it an expansive labor. So, in the end, it is not a question of timber or glulam, it is a question of skill and time.” Second, a major challenge in wood joinery and construction facing Japan today is in regard to the development and implementation of progressive building codes. Architects and construction companies need to be involved in the process of encouraging these changes. A good example of progress in this area is the Gifu based Nakashima Construction Company’s strong involvement in progressive fire and structural testing that is pushing building code and the entire lumber industry in a positive direction. Third, Professor Inayama’s formula and its continued development at Kyoto University is another example of the way engineers promote the change of codes to help bring the popular wooden structural systems of small-scale housing or traditional cultural buildings into largescale construction applications. Fourth, forestry is another component without the development of which the entire wood industry will face stagnation for decades to come. Japan’s post-WWII reforestation plan is an example of something clearly not to repeat. The long-term consequences of short-term solutions must always be considered. In this case the solution has now become the problem. Fifth, this research has attempted to show the role that education plays in fostering new approaches and new ways of thinking toward wood construction. New thinking is also required in all spheres related to manufacturing and construction. It becomes evident that even with the development of digital fabrication tools, hands-on experience that integrates the work of one’s hand and mind is still relevant today in design education. Gifu Forest Academy with its two-year curriculum manages to integrate construction experience of small-scale projects together with modern design techniques and local forestry management and stands as a preeminent example of how Japan is trying to approach the challenges holistically. Sixth, the biggest professional challenge would be the encouragement of strong collaborations not only between the industries, like architects and craftsmen, but also between the countries. These collaborations should put a strong emphasis on the exchange of knowledge and the exchange of skills. Meaning that personal interaction between design mind and craft hand is crucial. Such collaboration is well understood and promulgated by the East Japan Project at Kengo Kuma Architects. 66

Seventh, there are also relatively practical lessons in design that we can integrate in Western approaches. The Japanese intuitively know that inspiration resides within the building material itself. The limitations of available timber in Japan have encouraged architects to seek for new design applications in strategically referring back to traditional techniques. This historical reference has resulted in projects like Sunny Hills by Kengo Kuma Architects or Kaisho Forest Observatory by Atsushi Kitagawara where short wooden components are interconnected to form larger structural elements that are beautiful to behold. Tokyo University Professor Inayama, on the other hand, uses short members in glulam applications and redevelops traditional joints to be constructed exclusively with glulam. Eighth, when designing a wood joint it is seen that pure application of tradition is often not economically feasible. Metal joints 1. Atsuhi Kitagawara, are “a long time development”1 and they are usually “more precise and Interview. 2 cheaper.” It would be unreasonable to simply turn away from them. One of the ways to approach this reality would be as Profesor Inayama does: he 2. Daichi Nakashima, acknowledges the importance of metal and uses bolts and screws in a lot Inteview. of his projects, however he avoids the use of metal plates that, to him, are excessive and aesthetically unpleasing. Finally, some of the projects discussed also show that the use of material should remain within its capacity. Atsushi Kitagawara argues that there is no need to use wood in high-rises when concrete and metal could 3. Atsuhi Kitagawara, perform better. “Why to deny it. Use wood in small scale projects”3 he Interview. says. On the other hand Akihisa Kitamory from Kyoto University assures that in order for Japan to use all the available timber, it needs to be applied to large-scale developments. Mokuzai Kaikan addresses this challenge by introducing hybrid high-rise, where concrete is used for larger structural components and timber for the rest of the building. LESSONS FOR THE EAST When looking at Japan’s building construction issues holistically, the lack of innovation in regard to wood construction becomes apparent. For a promising future the country may need to look west. Shigeru Ban, who collaborates increasingly with the engineers like ‘Arup’ based in the UK and “Hermann Blumer” based in Switzerland, noted: “Japan’s excessive regulations have no doubt prevented advances in the country’s already outmoded timber construction technology. There are quite a few pointless regulations in Japan, such as the virtual prohibition against building higher than five stories in wood, and onerous fireproofing processes for wooden materials that are required for only wooden structures, to name a few examples. If things stay as they are, it will remain impossible to create innovative wooden architecture in Japan.”4

4. Shigeru Ban, “What Japanese Can Learn from Europe’s Timber Construction Technology”, Japan Architect Magazine, N89, 2013, p.32.






Image: Senso-ji shrine, At the outset of this research three main elements of the wood joinery Tokyo. were identified as being the most critical: material, master and tools. Approaching the study with these three areas in mind meant that the research would have to include technical, cultural, material and socioeconomic observations. Looking closer at the historic and contemporary realities of these things revealed a major shift that wood joinery has undergone in Japan. Wood simply is not the only joining material anymore. Carpenters and architects are not actively trained in their own tradition, and the set of tools available today is drastically different from when joinery was at its historic prime. Japan’s dramatic and rapid shift from tradition to modernity called for an examination of its wood industry’s current status. This examination included the study of social, professional and material dynamics at play. These dynamics continually revealed both local and global challenges within the industry and presented the framework for the further research of wood joinery in specific. Socially, I identified three aspects that were shaping Japan’s approach to life and wood construction: the culture of newness, the culture of commoditization and the duality of Japanese culture. Professionally, I saw two tendencies that influence the way architects approach design today: the segregation of profession and the lack of hands-on experience. Material dynamics revealed the socio-economic tendencies of the wood construction industry in Japan today: the major import of wood, the excess of low quality local lumber, the lack of timber application especially in high-rises, the lack of facilities for drying and manufacturing, and the major development of pre-cut timber construction that has forever changed the wood industry in Japan. Through the interviews and analysis it became clear that Japan’s rigorous devotion to authenticity often inspired architects and designers to approach the above-mentioned challenges by first referring back to tradition. I studied modern applications of tradition, including the


Image on next page: Gifu Forest Academy, Atsushi Kitagawara, 2001.


projects like Sunny Hills by Kengo Kuma or Mokuzai Kaikan by Nikken Sekkei, searching for the ways tradition has been able to reconnect with technology. However, initiatives like the East Japan Project revealed that tradition has the potential to inform social and economic innovation, not only technological innovation. Moreover, when tradition indeed achieves the potential of informing social and economic advances (not just technical advances) the results have impact both locally and globally. When embarking on the trip I had a series of assumptions regarding the Japanese approach to joinery. I assumed I would discover a harmonious blend of tradition and modernity. My hope was that the research could offer new approaches for the North American wood industry and reveal perspectives on how to remain local within global society. New sustainable uses of wood without the use of metal connectors and fasteners were on my list as well. Instead, Japan presented a more sustainable use of wood by addressing the local raw material’s limitations. I went looking to find the ways Japanese tradition was empowering technological advances, but found that the best projects equally empowered social and economic advancements and that sometimes these were more important questions to answer then the technical ones. My hope to see a large variety of wood applications at a multiplicity of scales wasn’t fully realized, yet the expressiveness of wood in projects like Sunny Hills were unbelievably inspiring. One of the most interesting findings overall was the way collaboration is inspired both locally and globally through initiatives like the East Japan Project. Perhaps, most importantly the EJP is becoming a forum and platform for meaningful exchange between east and west - the exchange of knowledge and practical skills so often absent. Japan has a great deal to offer in this area. Overall, the trip was an immense journey that inspired new ways of approaching wood design and the professional and social realms it overlaps with. I came back to Canada with a rich knowledge base regarding sustainable wood applications and ideas of how traditional values and skills can inform our own design industry. Most importantly I came back to Canada with new aspirations for fostering collaborations between architects and craftsmen, designers and manufacturers, thinkers and makers‌ collaborations that could inspire new ways of exchanging and developing knowledge, collaborations that unite design professionals with manufacturers, collaborations that could ultimately pave a road toward local and global values operating synergistically.




picture credit: Š 2014 Nemetschek Vectorworks, Inc.

ATSUSHI KITAGAWARA (Atsushi Kitagawara Architects, Tokyo) Atsushi Kitagawara was born in 1951. He got his Master degree in Architecture from Tokyo University of Arts in 1977. Since 1982 he has been running his own practice, Atsushi Kitagawara Architects, as well as teaching at Tokyo University of Arts. He is famous for his original and creative architectural ideas often inspired by poetry, music and contemporary arts. He has been engaged in a wide range of architectural projects along with urban planning, landscape design and furniture design. In his recent work, Mr. Kitagawara greatly focuses on wood construction.



Where does the idea to use wood as the main construction material come from? Is it the climate, the client or something else? It is usually case-by-case. There are no specific reasons. Then how do you choose the wood for the project? Does it always come from Japan or is it imported? I believe the trees should always be used from the local sources. If you build in Japan – trees need to come from Japan too. The wood is very region specific – each area with distinct qualities and attributes given to the wood grown there. The wood is different between the north and the south parts. All this informs where the wood would come from for a project. If I have a project in Nagano, I would I believe the trees should always want to use the wood from Nagano. be used from the local sources. I have read that historically it would also matter what side the tree faces, whether it was facing north or south for example. Parts would be used differently based on its orientation? Is this the case today too? The orientation of the tree is not as important today. During the Edo period people used that technique. In the beams, for example, the south side would be on the top, and the north side would be on the bottom. The reason for that is that the northern side has thicker and denser grain. Are there specific types of trees that you prefer to use in your projects, like Gifu Academy or in the Kaisho Forest Observatory? In Gifu Academy I used local sugi (cedar). The quality of hinoki (cypress) is considered to be higher than sugi, but I can’t really say which one is better. Hinoki is more popular, and sugi is cheaper. However sugi from Akita prefecture is the highest quality and it is more expansive than hinoki. 77

We usually keep track of where each lumber comes from – it is very important. To build the Gifu Academy we used the leftover lumber from the forest thinning. In Japan we usually cut branches to sustain the forest and these branches are not often used in construction. However, we used them I our project. This is great. Do you use recycled wood in your projects? I am very interested in doing so, but I haven’t done this in any projects to date. What does the country do for the forest sustainability? 70% of Japan is covered in forest. Lumber is obviously a very important material for the culture. However, it is hard to sustain all the forests in the country – only some parts are better sustained… those considered more important. The Forestry Ministry has attempted to maintain it, but its I am not against using metal not yet working as intended. There is too much joints in big structures. forest. Canada has the same problem I think. (laughing) That’s right. We have a lot of material. That is the reason I am here. Talking about wood joinery… Why do you think it is not as widely used today when compared Japan’s history? During the Edo period everybody used wood. After the Meji period technology came to Japan in the form of concrete and metal structures. Also, structural simulation systems became very important. This made it easy to use metal joints construct. You know, it was impossible to calculate the structural integrity of a traditional joint. My friend, professor Inayama, a structural designer from Tokyo University, first succeeded in calculating for wooden joinery nearly 20 years ago. He came up with the formula to calculate the structural integrity of them. This was a big breakthrough. Now architects throughout Japan use his formula to calculate certain wood joints for their structures. So, everyone can use this formula? The formula is available for all architects in Japan. The government accepted it to be used in the wood construction. However it is a very complicated system so not every construction designer is capable of implementing this formula. 78

Does it mean that architects in Canada can also use this formula in their wood construction? Building code is the big issue. Building codes need to be adjusted first, so that architects may start using it. For example, I am designing a Japanese pavilion for the Milan exhibition 2015. I used wood joints without any metal in my design. However, the building code in Italy does not approve the structural integrity of this system. It would take three years Building code is the big to negotiate this method with Italian government. In the end, I had to use a issue. Building codes need metal structure and the wood elements to be adjusted first, so that were only utilized as a façade. In architects may start using it. Canada, I think, it would be easier to approve the building codes, but it still requires time. In most of the projects you design, the use of wood joinery appears to be more decorative? Are you using or thinking of using joinery in other applications‌ for example the structural system for high-rises? I am not against using metal joints in big structures. I think it is more practical to use metal in high-rises. Fundamentally, I am more interested in using the best sides of both types of construction, be that wood or metal. In my studio I teach how to design a building out of wood, but this building is only a threestory house. I personally do not like high-rises. I believe 2-3 story buildings would be more environmentally friendly and more comfortable to live in. It is possible to build a city like that. But, if we need to build high-rises, why build in wood when steel is more appropriate for that. Use wood for smaller construction. Thank you!


SHUN HORIKI (Kengo Kuma Architects, Tokyo) Shun Horiki was born in Kamakura, Japan. He studied at the EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne) in Switzerland and graduated from Sibaura Institute ofTechnology in 2013. Since 2013 he has been working at Kengo Kuma and Associates where he recently took a management position with East Japan Project [EJP].



Could you give an overview of the East Japan Project? One of the intentions of the project is to help maintain the lifestyle of the people living in Tohoku region who were affected by the earthquake. We wanted to keep the craft alive there. Another intention is to teach the younger generation about new technology. What about the ‘chidori’ furniture? We want to make ‘chidori’ furniture as an icon for the East Japan Project. We are working on making the product more affordable by a careful selection of the raw material. The joinery will not change in any case. How did the project come to life? What was the inspiration? Kuma-san was shocked after the disaster and wanted to do something to help the people of that region. I came to the board very recently. I will be focusing on promoting the project. EJP was established a few years ago, but it needs more attention right now. I am planning an exhibition in Tokyo next month to promote the work. What are the further plans for the project? Right now we are working on three new pieces – one by BIG Architects, another is by the Bouroullec Brothers, and a third one is by another Japanese architect. We are already planning on collaborating with Snohetta and other internationally recognized architectural firms. What attracts these designers to EJP? Everyone has different interests in the project. Some relate to the combination of traditional technique and new design thinking. 81

Others just want to create a new product. There are also people who closely relate to disaster relief that specifically involves social responsibility and engaging with a culture. ‘Chidori’ uses wood as the main material. Why is wood so important in your culture? Can you offer insights into the popularity of wood? The flexibility of construction is what in many The flexibility of construction cases attracts Kengo Kuma to wood. With is what in many cases attracts concrete we cannot change the form but with timber we are able to modify it. For example, a Kengo Kuma to wood. With timber house can be disassembled and moved to concrete we cannot change the another place. form but with timber we are The idea of disassembling is something fundamentally Japanese. You could see the same able to modify it. idea even in the metabolism movement – now they didn’t use timber but consideration was given to disassembly. The Ise Shrine is rebuilt every twenty years. It is a Japanese tradition – in connect to the idea of migration and change. Thank you!



YUTEKI DOZONO (Kengo Kuma Architects, Tokyo) Yuteki Dozono was born in Virginia, United States in 1982 and grew up in Tokyo. He got his Master’s degree in Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania School of Design in 2008. After that he has worked in MAD office in Beijing, Kengo Kuma office in Tokyo until 2014. After the completion of the Sunny Hills project with Kengo Kuma Architects, he has transitioned to a new role within the company as General Manager, Sunny Hills Japan.



Could you start by giving a little history of the project? How did it start? We have a family of projects that all explore the same techniques of making joints without the use of nails. First, there was an installation at the Milan exhibition, then ’chidori’ furniture further expanded the same technique. Second, the intent of the GC Prostho Museum was to make the joints structural. It didn’t entirely work out since the structure only supports the roof. The floors are still held by a concrete core. Third, we had a project from Starbucks where we wanted to have more depth and use more diagonal members resisting lateral forces. Only after the Starbucks project did the Sunny Hills store came into being. Here we wanted again integrate the façade into the structural grid. What sort of joinery did you utilize here? The name of the joint is jigokugumi… this word literally translates to English ‘hell joint’. Our structural engineer, Jun Sato, who also teaches at Tokyo University, came up with the idea of this joint. Jigokugumi was a traditional technique to make shoji screens. Traditionally, it was not meant to be structural because half of the material in the joint is cut off. We would not be able to use this specific joint as a structural system, so we had to use concrete in the core of the building. Why did you use concrete at all, if your original idea was to use only joinery? We were sold on this joint because of the beauty found in its repetition and the ability to modify this repetition. In this joint we could use “two-dimensional” members to create very deep “threedimensional” surfaces. Once force is applied – the joint is locked, and it is hard to disassemble. This is why it is called a “hell joint”. 85

What type of wood did you use in the project? We used local cypress from Gifu. It is not prone to rot, and it is very strong in a bending moment. It also has few knots. All these qualities are important because the load in joints travels diagonally. I can see that even though the intention was to not use metal connectors, they are still used here? Why is it so? Limited assembly space was a problem. We are Joints at Sunny Hills are in the middle of Tokyo and we did not have mostly reliant on technology much space around the building. As a result, we had to limit the use of wood to two or three and that much on tradition. meters and assemble the structure floor by floor. Tradition is only the To Kuma-san it wasn’t much of a loss. It was inspiration - the rest comes more important for him to know whether they could make the building without the metal, but from modern technology. if we had to use metal he was ok with that. What about sustainability? Japan has an excess amount of wood, especially cedar and cypress. We can’t use all of it – the timber is usually thin and small. Therefore the government promotes the use of local timber. KKAA was getting a lot of prices in Japan for Sunny Hills because of the excessive use of domestic wood. Also, it would have been very expensive to use old trees in order to obtain longer pieces – budget is always a driver. Does the inspiration come from the joinery or is the joinery a byproduct of some initial design ideas? Kuma-san was always interested in a concept of disintegration of architectural elements, like ceilings or walls, so that you no longer have a sense of where the structural element is… He wanted to “erase” the walls. Coincidently, his “thesis” of fragile architecture with disintegrated elements compliments traditional techniques. Could you expand a little on the time when Kengo Kuma’s design philosophy started shifting from modernism towards more traditional roots? I cannot say much about it, but what seems to inspire him is the novelty of traditional techniques. He finds innovation within traditional craft. He is not married to tradition as greatly as he is married to the innovation that it presents. Kuma defines innovation different than BIG or Zaha Hadid… Would it be technology or tradition that governs the project? 86

Joints at Sunny Hills are mostly reliant on technology and that much on tradition. Tradition is only the inspiration - the rest comes from modern technology. It was a very complex combination of digital and analog systems actually. The conversation with the carpenters was going through 2-d drawings and Sketch-Up. We, as architects, were using 3-d models and drawings. The engineer, though, was mostly using 2-d drawings because it was easier for him to calculate structural loads. So the drawings were going from 3-d to 2-d and back again. Was there any advanced engineering analysis used during the design? There was no use of any advanced 3-d analysis. We tried using Grasshopper as a parametric design tool, but it didn’t work out – the parameters were too vast. How do you see the future of the craft in Japan? In Japan there are two extreme tendencies regarding traditional craft. On one side, a lot of talented architecture students work for carpenters after graduation. They find value in having tangible skills and the demand for these skills is growing here in Japan. In this way, traditional crafts remain intact and is cross-bread with new technologies. Therefore, a carpenter’s craft probably wont die out soon. At the same time there are We tried using Grasshopper other crafts like washi paper making that is not valued as much and this as a parametric design tool, craft has not progressed. There is not but it didn’t work out – the much interest from younger people to continue this tradition. Crafts like this parameters were too vast. will be difficult to maintain. Do you think that the use of advanced technologies like cnc machines in the making of joints is realistic today? I believe that craftsman techniques and skills are going to stay even with the advancement of technology. For example, two different carpenters first developed ‘chidori’ furniture. One carpenter made very beautiful and clean joints. However, after two weeks the wood dried and joints became shaky. Another craftsman made raw joints with imperfections and these imperfections kept the joints together. Unless the technology can calculate for organic-ness and imperfections, it is not going to fully substitute the craft. Describe the construction of Sunny Hills after the design development phase? The carpenter was very important for the project. All joints were 87

pre-cut in the shop by hand. Most of the joints were different with very little repetition. The craftsman would unroll the full-scale drawings from Sketch-Up and lay them out on wood to cut the joints. These pieces would then be delivered to the site floor-byfloor, and assembled on site piece by piece. Aside from aesthetics, cultural and philosophical values, are there advantages in the use of these traditional joints – is there efficiency, structural integrity? It is not always about the efficiency – it s about doing something because you can do it. We always think about efficiency. However, in addition to that we want to make something that will also be satisfying to achieve.

The carpenter was very important for the project. All joints were pre-cut in the shop by hand. Most of the joints were different with very little repetition.

Do you see the future of joinery as one beyond just aesthetics? In terms of the special feeling wood joinery used in this way creates… here we created the experience of being in a forest right in the middle of Tokyo - this is the only way we could achieve this.

The project doesn’t look like a general construction trend. It looks more like a niche product or a branding product – something that only Kengo Kuma and Kengo Kumo in Japan would / could do? On its own – the building is not a masterpiece. This building is in some ways a prototype – a part of a sequence of projects that are going towards certain goals. But, as part of this sequence Sunny Hills becomes very important. Here, we isolate one concept in order to study it, and to see where we can take it further. This project was made very simple and almost with just one element… joinery. The goal of building is not enough and joinery is just an element. This idea would need to integrate with other things, like program or layout or other concepts to be truly a masterpiece. However, Kengo Kuma is still evolving in terms of wood joints. He is looking into designing a 5-storey building with the same technique used here, and to use wood joints as a primarily structure. That was very fascinating. Thank you!



ALASTAIR TOWNSEND (BAKOKO Architects, Tokyo) Alastair Townsend and his partner Kayoko Ohtsuki are Architectural Association (AA) graduates who in 2009 founded BAKOKO, an emerging Tokyo architecture practice. The office strives to carry out work that is fresh, resourceful and innovative. Their work is based on collaboration with entrepreneurs, developers, private clients and other architects. They recently designed a house in Tokyo that utilized pre-cut timber construction system.



Could you talk a little bit about the history of wood joinery in Japan? Why was wood construction was so popular historically and where does it stand now? As you may know already, 85% of Japan is covered with timber. In some way it resembles the western part of Canada. However, Japan is not a big timber producer. Japan evolved its very sophisticated timber building tradition because it was their only resource. It also developed a highly sophisticated form of carpentry. Japan is also an earthquake country. As If you have wood joint – the a response to the threat of earthquakes, connection is more prone to Japan developed its joinery system without using nails and screws. The movement and thus more reason being is that if you have a fixed forgiving in an earthquake. metal connection, there is a tendency With time, joinery evolved to for a joint to fail at one point. If you became quite an esthetic thing have wood joint – the connection is more prone to movement and thus – the structure became art. more forgiving in an earthquake. With time, joinery evolved to became quite an esthetic thing – the structure became art. Then, during the industrial era, Japan found itself at the position of needing to build a lot of cheap housing. However, the system of the well-crafted joints was very labor demanding and expensive. Also, the crafts people were aging and the pool of labor was limited. In the 90’s wood industry became very industrialized in a very Japanese way – high quality work for low cost. They wanted to preserve the traditional method of construction but to do it with the use of machines. Thus, machine-saws were highly utilized. A 91

breakthrough occurred when the Japanese discovered a one-path cut technique and this technique is still being used today. Today, there are about 90 pre-cut factories in Japan which all vary in size. They are usually run by house makers, lumber shops or mass-housing builders like Polus-Tec. With the use of software systems and modern engineering they turn This factories use the timber architectural drawings into shop drawings that that is regularly imported output information to drive the machines. This factories use the timber that is regularly from Canada and Europe. imported from Canada and Europe. This is very fascinating. Why such great importation of foreign wood? During WWII Japan cut down most of its wood. After that a high need for housing pushed Japan to plant cedar trees throughout the country. Cedar grows fast, but it is not very strong. Today, they can’t use much of this timber for general construction. Also, most of forestry occurs in very mountainous areas, which makes the cost of harvesting wood to be highly expansive. It’s just cheaper to import. Furthermore, the industry has never developed in a sustainable way. When the government invested in sawmills they were all built close to ports with the assumption that most of the raw material would be imported. What prevents the proper management of Japanese forests? Control over the forests is very fragmentary, and it’s difficult to consolidate all the forests under a single entity. Japanese forests just haven’t been developed in a corporate way as they have elsewhere. Timber has 20—40 year life cycle, and Japan is stuck with stock not large enough for proper processing. The countryside is thinning and there is no manpower to properly manage the forests in general. All the young people are leaving the countryside to work in Tokyo. I have noticed that a lot of construction in Japan looks like it was built in the last two to three decades? There is not many heritage buildings especially in a big city like Tokyo. Is there a reason for that? There is a cultural value in Japan that new is There is a cultural value in pure. I have an article on my blog specifically Japan that new is pure. addressing that if you are interested in more details. A good example of this is the Ise Shrine that gets rebuilt every twenty years at a cost of billions of dollars. That is one of the exceptional buildings that would never use exported wood – the wood it uses is from some special forest, each component having grown in a special 92

way and in a specific orientation. Another reason for a lack of heritage buildings is the constant earthquakes, fires and wars. Japan has learned to not take houses for granted - they have the scrap and build mentality. Japan builds houses three times the rate of expansion meaning that per 1000 people they build 3000 houses. So, the value of the houses that are even a few years old is significantly less than brand new ones. No one wants to live in old house. Is there really no notion of conservation in this country? Japan has attempted to promote sustainability by subsidizing local timber. However, the economic side of the industry hasn’t changed much in spite of these efforts. During Japan has attempted to the last 10 years there has been a lot of promote sustainability by attention given to the value of renovation, but most renovations occur in apartment buildings subsidizing local timber. made mainly from concrete. Much less is done However, the economic side to individual family housing. For example, a of the industry hasn’t changed generic young family that is ready to buy a house will buy land with an old house on it and much in spite of these efforts. demolish this house in order to build a new one. Do you see a future in the development of pre-cut construction? And what would it look like? Today, the Japanese are looking into building 4-storey structure out of wood but earthquakes are a really big concern. The economics are not promising as well. Japan has been in recession for at least the last twenty years. Also, a lot of demographic and cultural realities do not allow for expansion or fundamental innovation. Can you explain what you mean by this last statement? Seniority is very respected in Japan – a lot of companies have an accumulation of very old, senior type people at the head of a company that have no incentive to innovate. As a result young people have very little incentive to work their way up the ladder. Old people in higher management positions are not very receptive to new ideas. This produces a very stagnant business culture – and this is really what keeps the Japanese economy back. Would you see the use of pre-cut system in North America? There are some limitations. For example, timber construction is very fixated on 2x4 systems and there is a whole industry geared around this mode of construction. When things become very standardized in this way it is really hard to change the standards. 93

For a housing developer to switch from one way to another way would be a very difficult task. Are there benefits the Japanese pre-cut system over 2x4? Pre-cut is a lot more expansive. The cost of raw materials, the cost of processing and the milling equipment is all more expansive. When we compare the two systems however, the main selling point is time. Pre cut saves almost three weeks of construction time. One house can be assembled in a day instead of the three to four weeks that 2x4 construction takes. That sounds like a major selling point. Why is the pre-cut system still not even introduced in other countries then? Japan is very innovative, but it struggles to Japan is very innovative, export its businesses and technologies. but it struggles to export its A good example would be the mobile businesses and technologies. phone. Before 2008 Japan was a leading producer of mobile phones, but suddenly, after 2008, everyone even in Japan had iPhones. What happened was that Japan had the technologies but failed in understanding how products are used by most people and how products should be designed for most people. The Japanese are good in things that require consistency. There is no Steve Jobs in Japan – there are old people in all the management positions that often fail to innovate. Pre-cut is a great example where Japan has advanced in technology, but nobody knows about it. Japan stands strong for its traditions and perceptions though. There were times where carpenters from Canada and US were coming to introduce and develop the 2x4 construction, but it never went any further than that. Thank you, that was a very fascinating talk.



INAYAMA MASAHIRA (Tokyo University, Graduate School of Engineering, Tokyo) Inayama Masahira was born in the Aichi prefecture of Japan. He studied at University of Tokyo Engineering department. In the mid- 1990’s as part of his doctoral research, Inayama developed a formula for calculating the structural integrity of certain wooden joints. Shortly after the publication of his research his formula was incorporate into Japan’s building code. Upon completing his doctorate Inayama worked several years at Misawa Home Co., after which he established his own architectural practice with which he remains actively engaged.



Tell me a little bit about your research. What is the process of discovery in your research on structural wood joinery? It is a difficult and complicated process because the type of the wood and size of wood changes with each test. Even the quality is not consistent. So when I do tests every piece responds differently and he needs to account for all of it. With his formula he uses Youngs Coefficient, type of wood.. and so on. Was the development of a formula a long-time development or was it more like a light-bulb when it just came to his mind? It took more than 500 tests. It was a lot of work and ended up being my doctoral thesis. How many years did it take? Did you do it here at Tokyo University? Yes, I did it here in the 90’s. There are other analytical methods than the one I chose - for example mesh analysis, but with that method if you wanted to calculate a different piece it is a very tedious work. It can take an entire day to make a calculation. With my formula it is much easier. Were you able to inform software with this formula? No, it’s just a formula in excel. Do you use any glue or nail within the wood joinery of your large scale projects? I use screws and bolts usually, but I try not to use metal plates as connectors. When a structure has only wood joints without metal plate connectors the joints don’t fail in a fire... because there is no melting the structure more stable. In a fire only the outer part of wood joinery members is burnt. This layer of char then acts 97

as insulation for the core of the member. If there was a metal connection, it would melt and the structure would fail much more quickly. Do you collaborate with architects in your large scale buildings? Yes, my work is usually done in collaboration. I design the structure. The architect has ideas but I design the joint. For example, in Nagasaki they don’t grow big trees and have only 10cm wood members typically available to them, so I had invent a new joint that could accommodate these smaller members yet maintain long spans and structural integrity. Do you use glulam in your projects? Yes, I like the precise sizing of glulam A major challenge for heavy versus heavy timber. For heavy timber, the manufacturer has to dry wood to be less than timber joinery is the drying 15% of moisture. Unless they can assure issue. It’s easier and more me that the water content is as such I simply feasible to dry smaller pieces cannot use them. A major challenge for heavy of timber so it really depends timber joinery is the drying issue. It’s easier and more feasible to dry smaller pieces of timber on the application and so it really depends on the application and availability. availability. However, I do try to use timber as much as he can. So can potentially all his structure be built using timber or it has to rely on glulam technology? It can just as long as we have facilities to produce the right timber. The reason why all Japanese temples and shrines are made from timber is because earlier Japanese carpenters were drying the wood for years in their warehouses to achieve the right moisture content. However, for regular buildings today the cost would be too high and the timeframe to realize a project would be much longer… and probably not realistic in most cases. Thank you!



KOICHI, YU AND GO OIKAWA (Fujisato Woodshop, Tohoku) Koichi Oikawa is a president of Fujisato Woodcraft as well as he is a Traditional Handicraft Master and Distinguished Artisan. His two sons, Yu and Go Oikawa, are senior manager and director of the shop as well as Traditional Handicraft Masters. To be recognized as Traditional Handicraft Master Craftsman, craftsman must pass certification by Traditional Crafts and Production Association. More than 12 years of study and work are required to master all the points required for certification.



How long your shop has been in the family? My father started as an independent carpenter – he didn’t have a factory but just started working on the site. It was later in 1961 that he started the shop. How far does woodworking date back to in your family? It’s somewhat of a mysterious history even to me. However, I know that before WWII my father was working in the region as a carpenter. He was then captured during the war, but upon his fortunate released after the end of the war he started in carpentry. Is the wood here is local... this big table and big beam, for example? Both of these pieces are in fact from Canada! How do you choose between imported and domestic wood? There are two types of products: real traditional furniture in which we use domestic wood, but for the mass-produced products we use imported wood. Local wood was used for the “chidori” furniture I know you are interested in. I see that this is a family business still. Will your two sons be passing the knowledge and expertise to their children? We do plan on continuing the carpenter’s skills within the family and kids. Our younger kid is going to the high school and them will go to the university with the art school that teaches traditional and new technologies.

There are two types of technology: the old and the new one. The new one is thriving but it is really hard to keep the older technologies and processes.


How do you view the future for the “daiku-san” tradition? Is there interest from young people wanting to work and master the skill? We intend to keep the business as a family business for the foreseeable future. For our kids it is pretty easy to understand what their fathers are doing – they are always in the shop, touching the tools and observing. There are two types of technology: the old and the new one. The new one is thriving but it is really hard to keep the older technologies and processes. Within the family it is easy to understand each other and pass it these technologies and processes along, but for young people without We do use manual machines the experience like our children have it is difficult. However, we do accept interns – about but most processes are still fifteen high school students at the time. In this done by hand. region we teach traditional crafts even in high school. Who are your main clients? There are two types of business. One part – is distributing the product to the distributors as a part of governmental organization. The other part – is selling for individual clients. They are mostly from Japan. But we also have collaborations with Germany and some other European countries. Also collaborate with KKAA now. Whom do you see as your competitors? We don’t really have competitive relations with others. We are the only one doing this business in this specific niche (the Japanese chests). Are you seeing mass produced products coming from China as competition? It is very different. The customer is also very different. The style of our furniture has been established many years ago and we are continuing the tradition trying to fit with the time… Are you looking into automating your manufacturing process? We do use manual machines but most processes are still done by hand. We do consider incorporating more machinery, but this is dependent on orders we receive. How has it been working with big-name designers like BIG? We are used to working in collaboration with other designers. For example we work collaboratively with distributors to ensure they have the product the want. Comparatively, the work with 102

BIG, Kengo Kuma and EJP was much easier. The pieces are not very difficult – we simply did what we already knew and were comfortable with doing. Are you interested in international collaborations? Yes, of course (laughing). We have pretty strong spirits as craftsmen, and we have different techniques. So if we have any chance to use these techniques we are very happy. Can you explain a little about the “daikson” process – how does it work? How long does it take for a person to become a “daiku-san”? How has this process changed with the time? In the past there were 10-11 people coming to our shop from the high school. The condition is that they will have to live together for 5 years and train. After that they would be free to go and work on their own. That was a traditional way of “diaku-san” training. Today, it The people that come from school today have a lot of is pretty difficult to train traditionally. There are not so many students coming knowledge but no skills. And it to train so it is difficult to maintain the is hard to retrain these people. traditional system. Also, you only get a license for this trade in Japan after 5 years. In your view, is the traditional way of training more superior? Is the training that students get otherwise sufficient to be a good craftsman? Of course the traditional training works better – because it is more intense – students are always around the materials. The people that come from school today have a lot of knowledge but no skills. And it is hard to retrain these people. How many people has been trained here as “daiku-san”? There are number of people. However, one day I woke up and two apprentices disappeared. It is a very hard process. There are still people working here whom I trained long time ago, but it is pretty hard. It is also very popular around Japan for wooden craft to be taught to individuals with disabilities. There are different schools for that.


DAICHI NAKASHIMA (Nakashima Construction Co. Ltd., Kashimo) Daichi Nakashima is a director of Nakashima Construction Company headquartered in Kashimo, Japan’s Gifu prefecture. Nakashima Construction Company is a multi-facited construction business specializing in pre-cut timber projects in addition to historical preservation and civil engineering. Daichi was born in Japan but educated in the United States. Upon completing his education he turned back to help his father run the family business. I met with Daichi in his factory where he gave a comprehensive tour his facilities and opperatinos.



Please, give us an overview of your company? It is in some way a family company. My father is the president; his younger brother is another president. There are many companies structured like this in Japan. How many people do you employ total? Five hundred maybe. For this area it seems like a large company? It is large, but you would never recognize it. We work in a lot of divisions. We restore historical wood buildings, we build new wood buildings sometimes even working with architects like Tadao Ando. We also do construction tests. Recently we did fire rating test for five story wood building to promote the change of building codes, so in a way we are changing history (laughing). We also do civil engineering and manufacture concrete projects. Today, at your request, we will be talking and looking at the wood construction division. As you can see from these images, we try to show the material – to showcase the wood used in the construction. It takes time and skill but we try to do so. Is it more expensive to construct in a way that reveals the structure? Yes, for sure. It is more “high end” construction, but this is our market. Do you work at all with the low cost construction? We usually can’t afford it. Using local material is always expensive, and we only use local wood from around Gifu. We try to look for the clients who are willing to pay more to have local wood use. If we want to build cheaper – we need to change the material. This construction is only one part of our business and it is not much 105

profitable – we just do what we need to do. So who designs your houses? Do you have in-house designer? We have designers in-house, but some homes are material is always other’s designs.

Using local expensive, and we only use local wood from around Gifu. So these outside designs are made by an architect or daiku-san? We try to look for the clients (laughing)We obviously need the wisdom of who are willing to pay more to daiku-san, but the design and construction drawings are done by an architect. Carpenters have local wood use. are helping more on the construction site.

It would be great to see some of the construction drawings. The department is closed, but I wanted to show you some fullscale construction drawings (1:1 scale). You will have to come back (laughing). So you work in 1:1 scale drawings? Yes, all the time. We make the design by computer but that’s sometimes misleading. For some hard parts like roof or curves we have to go real size. So, could we quickly go over the schedule today? What is planned for us? Of course! First we are going to the sawing mill, then pre-cut manufacturing factory, then lunch, after which we visit another factory that is working with flooring and paneling and furniture, then we will visit a community center designed by Tadao Ando, and another very much Japanese style community center. If we have time in the end, we will visit a wood log market. Sounds great. Lest go! On the way outside, we pass through a table with different wood joints. Are these your typical joints? They are. They are machine pre-cut. We can do both: hand-cut and machine, but mostly they are machine manufactured. [at the saw mill] This is a family factory employing ten people. They buy raw material from the market twice a month and process it here. How many logs would you purchase at a time? Around 50 cubic meters which is around 300 pieces a month. 106

Logs are mostly Cedar and Cyprus. Could you explain the process that we are witnessing? The peal the skin first which happens outside. Then they take them inside to cut the logs into the lumber. We try not to lose much material and to use different sizes of lumber. In Tohoku region, for example, they can’t have a material like this any more, so they come here to buy it. There is radiation in that region so they are not supposed to use their materials for construction. The wood in Gifu is considered to be the best in the country. Is this true? Not quite. It is more of a brand now. A It is more of a brand long time ago several people from Gifu decided to promote their region and they marketed the wood as the best wood. It worked out, still working these days. They didn’t know what branding was at that time, they just did it intuitively (laughing).


So, what happens with the lumber at this facility? We do rough cut here. Then we have to dry it. Then we do another cut after the drying. I am going to show you the drying facility. [at the flooring and furniture factory] Here you can see that we try to use all the parts of wood. We use some cut offs for subflooring or strapping; and the best cuts go for the finishing material. In what we have seen depicted in the images of your homes, are all the visible beams and columns structural? Yes, of course. We try to design in such a way. There are many companies who do not want it and they hide the structure, usually these are big manufacturing factories. We, on the other hand, try to show it. This looks like quite a manual operated factory. All the machines look manually operated. Is this correct? Yes. Here all machines are manual. In the pre-cut factory our machines are automated. We will see them later. [at the pre-cut factory] We have heard previously that after the WWII the majority of wood mills 107

were built in ports so that it was easier to process the imported material. Here, we see an inland mill. Is this an unusual situation? That was typical a while ago. What we have here is the first precut in-land factory in Gifu. I am assuming you are processing local timber here. Is this becoming typical? I don’t know. There may be more. There may not be more. Thirty years ago, even our construction was done by imported woods. Now, we have wood available that was planted after the war therefore many local governments are trying to heavily promote the use of local wood. Does this transition rely on good forestry management? We are trying to complete the circle, but this does not always happen. Thirty years ago trees were more plentiful than now. Today, we are experiencing difficulty – the land is owned by local people and they are not interested in forestry any more. They can’t cut the trees themselves, they need to ask forest association to do so. Therefore, the money that they get from selling their lumber is often less than the cost of harvesting the wood. It is not profitable. We have some subsidies now, but it is still barely balanced. This is not really sustainable is it? It is not, but we have to go on. Gifu is famous for the forestry but it is still far from the ideal situation here… Well, we are in a pre-cut factory now. I never knew what pre-cut really means. It refers to the machine cut timber but when the job is done manually they also pre-cut the timber before getting to the site. Why is it pre-cut then I don’t know (laughing). Here we have timber ready to be cut. The joints that are to be cut here are based on traditional technique but they are also reinforced with the metal bolts. This is basically all framing for the residential construction? Right. Where are these homes getting built? We are outreaching to Tokyo and Kobe. So, you are reaching the big Tokyo market? Not quite as big as it seems. Tokyo is so big and crowded that in a lot of cases wood frame construction is not allowed. They use concrete and steel. We try to do the experiments as I have showed 108

you before on fire rating to change some of those regulations and further open up that market. Looks like there is some automation here. What is being processed? Yes. This machine is processing thin long members for a variety of structural components. So, where is the joinery cut taking place? It is done at a 5-axes machine here. It is in operation right now. What kind of volume do you have in the factory to justify the use of such an expansive piece of equipment? We use ‘tsubo’ as a measurement. One ‘tsubo’ is two tatami mats, which is 182cmx364cm. The goal is to process 1000 tsubo each year, but we haven’t reached that goal yet. How long have you had the 5-axes machine? It is very new. We have had it since February. What were you doing before then? We were processing it manually. And, in many cases hands were better. With hands we can do what this machine can’t. However it takes more time, so we have to use the machine and that costs a lot of money upfront. It seems like there are many challenges either way... with or without automated technology. Yes, as a business of this type of wood construction is very hard. We are struggling a lot with it – that is why we have other divisions to keep us going. As you can see, there are still many pieces here that are fabricated by hand. For example, this large curved wood beam was custom ordered for a private house in Nagoya. This specific beam is from pinewood from Tohoku. Pine is chosen because of its specific characteristic to grow – it curves naturally. I am curious how you got the radius of this beam so precise. I am curious in that too (laughing). Let me now show the drying kiln. It usually takes about two weeks under high temperature (around 120 Celsius) to dry the wood. [one of the kilns was not in the operation so we were able to look inside] I can see that the wood has started bending in the kiln. Is that normal? Yes, absolutely. This is a rough cut. It is still thick enough so that 109

we can process it again. Why is this kiln not operating? We heat it up and then we have to cool it down too. Cooling takes about two weeks. This kiln is at the end of a cooling cycle. Here we also have engineered wood. There are three types of wood here – pine, cypress and cedar. So what would be the strongest? I am assuming cypress would be the best? If we are talking about best then pine will be the best – it has a right balance of cost and performance. Cypres is very expensive. I see cranes in here. Are you using them to transfer wood? A good part about engineered wood is that it can achieve long spans. We have pieces here up to 20 meters long and 1.5 meters thick – for those we need to use cranes. We can also bend engineered wood in the adjacent facility. I’m curious how do you translate architectural drawings into the finished product? We do it throughout the process of design. That is our advantage – we have in house designers therefore we can adjust the drawings right away. If an architect brings finished drawings to us it becomes very hard to revise them. Our designers know both sides: the manufacturing and the design side. There are different kinds of machines here: manual and automated. How do they adjust the drawings for each of these? Our designers know which part is to be done manually and which part is to be automated. They interpret the drawings with that knowledge. Where do they learn it? It is all on the job training. There isn’t any school specializing in this field. We have to teach them. [at lunch] How does the government assist the wood construction industry? They try to encourage us to use local wood in any type of construction, including interior and exterior. Do they pass laws or offer subsidies? They try to subsidize the use of timber wood. Regulations are 110

another process… that’s where our company helps in a way. For example we conducted fire-rating tests to update building standards enabling taller wood construction buildings. A good piece of news relating to this is that by 2027 we are going to have a maglev train that will connect Gifu prefecture to Tokyo. This will be a big step for our business – new real estate and infrastructure will grow in this city exponentially. This is great news! I’m wondering if you do business internationally? No, but I travel a lot. Recently I went to Germany for an International Passive House Conference. We are trying to introduce passive housing in Japan, and are open for new collaborations. Another question regarding tradition… how do you think the tradition here in Japan is influencing the industry? Other than just shrines and temples, do you see Japan might have and advantage in places like Germany, Canada or Switzerland in terms of the technique you have been developing for many years here. Do you think it is mostly decorative or it has a strong economic or structural advantage? I think it is rather decorative today. We have metal joints and most of the construction is made with the use of them. Our company tries to stick to the old style and expose the structure but in a way it is mainly decorative. We can Metal joints are cheaper do better joints with the use of metal more accurate. today.


Are there technical advantages to the traditional wood joints? Or are they just adding cost? Metal joints are cheaper and more accurate. Professor Inayama from Tokyo University mentioned that metal joints were only more accurate when you look at one joint, but when you look at a whole building system they become in a lot of ways weaker than a building composed of wood joints. The reason for this being that metal joints have different parts produced in different factories therefore discrepancies occur – which is not the case with wood joints fabricated in one place. What is your opinion on this? I think this is not a problem of a joint being wood or metal. It is a problem of the management between the factories. I never really thought about other possibilities of a pre-cut factory. I like to lean toward the direction we have. Even though the joints are machinecut they are still based in the old way of construction. The joints are not exactly the way they were manufactured before, they are 111

adjusted for machines to cut more efficiently. There are many other traditional joints, but they are ignored because they are too complicated. Complicated joints are only used in shrines and temples. In these cases we can only work manually. So the joinery in the temples and shrines you work on are all manually cut? Not all of it. We try to do as much as we can on the machine, and the rest we do manually. We talked to a Tokyo architects, Alastair Townsend, and he is interested in bringing the Japanese pre-cut construction to the North America. Do you see it as a feasible project? The 2x4 method that is used in North America has a wider range of applications in comparison to pre-cut. So I don’t see the reason for exporting Japanese technology, unless you are a fan of Japanese culture and you want to spend more money on a construction that is not as flexible. An example of this type of customer is the president of Oracle. Have you ever considered building with 2x4 at your company? We did earlier but it didn’t work out. Would you consider it again in the future? Maybe. I do not want to admit it but 2x4 is more tolerant to earthquakes than pre-cut. This hasn’t been well proven, but I tend to think so. If I can build a better house with the use of 2x4 then why not do so. What I care most about is to create jobs for the local community – doesn’t matter what style, but it has to be with the use of a local wood. What is the future for the wood construction industry in Japan considering the dire economic and demographic situation? A lot of construction companies go abroad – to China, Korea, Taiwan. They not only build there they also manufacture their products there. These countries, on the other hand, import our techniques too. For example, Taiwan University has recently opened Traditional Japanese Carpentry workshop – they are very interested in that. [at the Tadao Ando Community Center in Gifu prefecture] The building was subsidized at the time of construction to use local wood from around the Gifu prefecture. That is the main reason why Tadao Ando was using wood in the project instead of the concrete he is known for. All the wood used here is grown in the Kashimo area. After WWII we 112

planted a lot of cider and cyprus that just could not be used. Therefore the government was and still is forcing to use the local wood. Engineered wood that is used throughout this project is one of the ways of adapting to the lack of existing appropriate timber. It was a challenging project for our company. Do you think it was worth it? My own opinion is that it was not. The building is very hard to use. [at the wood log market] Japanese forests are at their turning point right now. The trees will soon be 60-70 old, and ready for use. Now we are still cutting down only small cedar and Cyprus trees, but soon the government will allow the cutting bigger trees. In 10 years we will see if there is a future for the Japanese forest industry. It’s a big moment of transition now. Is it regulation or forestry management techniques that stop you form cutting them down now? It is the management techniques. Trees are cheap now days. Thirty years ago they were three times as much. Today when harvest the trees there is not enough money left over to replant. What is driving the cost of the trees down? Probably the wood from Canada (laughing)… It is certainly part of the reason. Free trade lowered the tariff for the imported trees. Also it is a policy of Kashimo Forestry Association to grow good trees even if it takes longer time and more money to do so. During the growth of a tree we try to cut branches so that knots do not show on the surface. We have to trim it several times during the growth stage. This costs a lot of money. In Japan those trees are highly valued, sometimes they are five to ten times more expansive. When do the customers arrive? We don’t see anyone here right now. There is an auction twice a month when the majority of our customers come through, but some people also come during the week. However, prices are higher during that time. The wood auction is like a small ritual, a small festival. I really wanted to show you our manual carpenters division who work with shrines and temples, but they are all on the site today. They are very busy usually. Is it a healthy division of your business? Being busy is one thing and being profitable is another. (laughing) 113

TAKURO MORI AND AKIHISA KITAMORI (Kyoto University, Research Institute for Sustainable Humanosphere, Kyoto) Akihisa Kitamori was born in 1977 within Japan’s Shizuoka prefecture. He graduated from Hokkaido University in 2000 and completed a PhD in the fied of Forresty Science at Kyoto University in 2009. Since 2009 he has been working as assistant professor at the Lab of Structural Function within the Research Institute for Sustainable Humanosphere, Kyoto University. His major research topics are timber engineering specializing in the structural mechanics of modern and traditional timber joinery. Takuro Mori was born in 1974 at Osaka prefecture, Japan. He graduated the doctoral program of engineering at Shinshu University in 2001. Since 2001 he has been working as assistant professor at the Lab of Structural Function within the Research Institute for Sustainable Humanosphere, Kyoto University. His major research topics of inquiry are structural mechanics of timber buildings and the durability of timber structures.



Could you tell us what the focus of your research is? The main purpose of our research institute is to inspire sustainable use of the “humanosphere”. Timber utilization can be one of the possible solutions. We especially focus on timber structures and the strength performance of timber buildings even, at times, developing new building techniques and structural elements. We also do the evaluation of traditional structures here. In your presentation you gave a very comprehensive overview of what I have been hearing for the past several weeks. However, we have heard some conflicting opinions on a number of things. It would be interesting to hear your point of view regarding some of these. First, traditional joinery, as I see it here, is very labor intensive and expensive way of building. Furthermore, I hear that other types of construction, specifically North American 2x4, are becoming more popular. Some people consider 2x4 construction as being superior to the Japanese post and beam construction, due to its earthquake resistance as well as it being cheaper in some ways. What would be your opinion on this as an engineer? Takuro Mori: I support this opinion. But in a regular size house, 2x4 is not always cheaper. Sometimes it can even be more expensive than conventional Japanese construction. Akihisa Kitamori: I think they are the same in the price as well as in their structural performance. The problem is that people use traditional structures that were built long time ago as comparison. If we compare the houses that are building under today’s standards, they are similar in performance. A big question is when the building was built. Takuro Mori: Actually, we can design very freely with the traditional post and beam construction. I think 2x4 is more standardized. 115

The work you are doing now on the joinery and general timber construction is very extensive, however I am surprised it is only happening now. Japan has a very rich wood history, and I would have assumed the technical analysis of Japanese wood construction would have happened long ago. What happened that there was such a sharp move away from this rich tradition, and that it is being rediscovered now almost out of necessity? Akihisa Kitamori: I can’t tell for sure because I wasn’t born at that time (laughing). I think that at the time of industrialization academia completely threw away the past. They tried to import all western ideas, and traditional was discarded. For a long time there was no research in this area. Regarding the forestry industry here in Japan... Lumberjacks at the wood market shared that forestry is in a dire situation these days. If there were no government subsidies, landowners and lumberjacks would not survive. This has a lot to do with the timber being thin and small – often times it costs more to sell and process the timber than simply to leave it. Also, the forestry industry in Japan has to compete with the ‘substandard’ timber imported from elsewhere. What are your thoughts on this? Are there any engineering solutions to the situation? Akihisa Kitamori: It is a very difficult question. We understand the situation – the problem has been recognized for a long time – timber cost in Japan is expensive but prices are low for the forest owner. It is difficult to answer. One of the answers I have heard would the nationalizing of the logging industry? Akihisa Kitamori: Yes, the Japanese government wanted to do that. However, the problem here is that big organization needs a lot of money. For example, we have a lot People who like traditional of forestry areas that are far north or south structure do not usually like and transportation costs a lot. It is sometimes automated technology. It’s a cheaper to manage when there are many companies than one big organization. The cultural issue. government doesn’t want to do that. Another problem that we discussed previously, and you showed in your presentation, is that a lot of forests in Japan are around 60 -70 years old but they are not getting replaced after being logged. Do you have any thoughts from the engineering side? You are presenting a great research that is dealing with the technical side of the question – it offers new ways of utilization of local timber that is often in excess. However there are social and economic factors that must be accounted for. 116

Akihisa Kitamory: You are right. But the forestry side is very ‘dirty’ these days in Japan (laughing). It is very difficult to comment upon from the engineering side. Ok, getting back to the research you are doing. Do you see a future with automation and robotic manufacturing? Would that be a direction your research would probe, or does your research mainly address more of traditional carpentry techniques? Takuro Mori: At this moment, we do not address automation. We are just evaluating the traditional techniques at this time. People who like traditional structure do not usually like automated technology. It’s a cultural issue. So, do you see this traditional culture surviving and growing? Takuro Mori: It is not growing but it will definitely survive. Would your research be considered as a support for Japanese culture and tradition? Akihisa Kitamori: Yes, sure. It is for the culture. But our research is not aimed at very traditional techniques. We are obviously looking at the machine techniques, like those used in Gifu Academy for example. The problem is that some joints are very complicated and they are hard to cut For example, the Japanese with the machine, like shiju joint I like the very smooth skin of showed earlier. Are there technical advantages to traditional joinery? Akihisa Kitamori: Beauty Takuro Mori: They are cool also. Beautiful and cool. (laughing)

the Kitayama sugi. It is thirty times more expensive than other trees, but they have an unexplainable attraction to these trees and the their look.

I agree. But outside of aesthetic qualities, are there technical advantages? Takuro Mori: With the traditional technique it is very easy to dismantle. 2x4 construction for example cannot be disassembled. This is a good point. Do you think if it is looked from the viewpoint of sustainability these techniques would start being not only cultural but would inform common building structures? Takuro Mori: Maybe more in symbolic structures, not in housing. Conventional housing systems are very complicated. Akihisa Kitamori: And the cost performance is very important. Another question I had, and maybe the last, is about glulam. Could glulam 117

be a solution to some of the problems existing in Japan today regarding the lack of good timber? Is it possible to create traditional joints and connections with glulam? Takuro Mori: It is of course possible. For an engineer it is a good solution to use glulam, even for joinery, but the owners and carpenters very often do not want that. I see. Then we start getting into the social issues. And why is that seen as a negative? Akihisa Kitamori: They like natural timber. It is very traditional. For example, the Japanese like the very smooth skin of the Kitayama sugi. It is thirty times more expensive than other trees, but they have an unexplainable attraction to these trees and the their look. That is very interesting. Thank you very much.



ODAGI MASATO (Polus-Tec Co. Ltd., Tokyo) Odagi Masato is a head of the marketing department at Polus-Tec Co. Polus-Tec is the largest pre-cut timber factory in Japan both in terms of revenue and volume. I met Odagi at the company’s main factory located in Japan’s Saitama prefecture where he agreed to give a comprehensive tour and overview of both the campanies the facilities and daily operations.



Typically we use glulam in the majority of our construction. We process it here in this factory. The factory that is next to this one processes 2x4 members. You use 2x4 construction as well? Yes, we do but in very small quantities. How long ago did you start using 2x4? Over 90% of residential homes in Japan use post and beam construction. Because there is not a big market for 2x4 we only sell it to the clients who request it. Post and beam construction components are what we sell to our contractors and distributors. Very few are sold directly to the end customer. How many houses do you produce a month? Our production capability is 25,000 tsubo per month only in this factory, where we employ four production lines. There is also another factory. All together they produce 88,000 tsubo per month. We have the largest production capability in Japan. The next large company produces only 30,000 tsubo per month. We have more than double. This is huge! Could you estimate how many houses that is? A regular house is around 30 tsubo, which means it is around 3,000 homes per month. Is that what you produce or is it your capacity? This is our capacity, but last month we produced 80,000 tsubo. We are happy when we are around 80-90%. We also have other 7 factories in other areas around Japan. 121

What would be their capacity? It is mostly the same for each factory – around 70,000 to 80,000 tsubo. Polus seams to be servicing all the Japan? Mostly mainland. We don’t sell to the islands. Do you export? We usually don’t. We did couple times to Thailand and Korea, but it is not our practice. The post and beam construction that we specialize in is only popular in Japan. Are you looking into expanding overseas? The quality issue is important. If we export the material expands in transit and may not be appropriate for construction. Therefore shipping outside Japan is a problem. Do you have the capacity for custom work or is it strictly mass a produced product? We can say it is customized. When there are ten houses to be built on one lot, they are never the same. We have the capacity to customize to a degree. Would you work with architects on single unique designs, or do you only target contractors and developers? We do both. We actually have a lot of orders from architects. Our clients range from contractors to carpenters, wood companies to architects. Do you work with heavy timber or do you only work with the glulam? In this plant we mostly use glulam, but we can work with heavy timber as well. Could you expand a little on the history of the company? The founder of the company came to Saitama (where Polus-Tec headquarters are) looking for job in around 60 years ago. He had a part time job selling bananas and small produce. He met a lot of people this way. At that time the housing construction in Japan was very outdated. He wanted to improve the industry. PolusTec was one of the first companies that started an automated manufacturing process. Before that carpenters were doing everything by hand. Today Polus has training courses for carpenters where they teach 122

them fundamental techniques. The courses are complimentary because we want to provide high quality housing. This training started 25 years ago. Not many people wanted to be carpenters but with this paid program we are helping the industry to retain the craft. So, in a way, you are creating a new type of daiku-san? Right. Just to clarify, the daiku-san we train will be good in pre-cut construction, not in temples and shrines. What is this two-year process? Could you expand a little? The first three months they study at school. After that they start going to construction sites and learning from making. In the first year they learn frame assembly. In the second year they learn more skilled interior finishing work. Is Polus also involved in finishing? We do everything, but with the help of sub-contractors. I am curious, where the name ‘Polus’ came from? It comes from the Northern Star that never moves and is always in the center. We always wanted to be in the brightest star and in the center of our industry. Do you think it is important to keep a dialog with the traditional craftsman? Just to illustrate, Toyota brought blacksmith into their factories as a way to figure out new ways of programing their machines. That is a way they are trying to innovate. Is there similar pursuit here given the deep tradition of daiku-san in Japan? They are aesthetically nice. We don’t really talk to craftsman, but we look at the old structures and try They are also more efficient to figure out the ways to improve their and faster to build. In case of processes. We have an R&D center fire, wood insulates the metal that does research in older structures and tries to find ways of making wider joints and keeps them from timber spans for example.


How big is your R&D center? The facility is not big. It has around thirty engineers. What is the main research they are doing there? They mostly work with the existing products, like new connections. We have different testing and earthquake simulation machines. 123

Where does your joinery come from? Is it referenced from traditional techniques? The metal brackets came to Japan only about twenty years ago, and even today we use them in about twenty percent of buildings. What are the other eighty percent? They are mostly wood. We can use nails to hold them together but mostly just wood. Are you also using adhesives at the joints? No adhesives. Do you hide the structure or try to expose it? We always hide it. You would never see a metal piece. Is it possible to expose the structure with your techniques? There are some houses or restaurants that want to show the structure. In these cases we build so that you can’t see the metal parts. What was the reason of brining the metal connectors twenty years ago? Was it seismic factors or building code changes or something else entirely? It’s a combination of reasons. They are aesthetically nice. They are also more efficient and faster to build. In case of fire, wood insulates the metal joints and keeps them from melting. How did the revision of building code affect your processes and products? About twenty years ago we had a big earthquake in Osaka area. A lot of houses that fell down didn’t even meet the building standards of the time. They revised the code again to have stronger metal connections and stronger wall structures. After that we developed new products, like structural walls. Often it is not only about meeting the codes but At our factory it is about 70% exceeding them while balancing the total cost imported wood. The rest is of construction. Therefore, the industry has become very competitive in the past twenty local. years. Do you see the increase in 2x4 construction in your future? I don’t see any big change. One of the reasons is that 2x4 is all imported, whereas Japanese post and beam construction can use local lumber. 124

But you said you were mostly using imported products? What is the percentage? At our factory it is about 70% imported wood. The rest is local. Do you use cedar or cypress? We use sugi (cedar) the most. The ministry of forestry in Japan promotes the use of local wood. But the supply was very unstable, so we have troubles with using the local wood. This program started last year. Thank you very much. That was very interesting.


YOSHIAKI NAKAMURA (Sotoji Construction, Kyoto) Yoshiaki Nakamura is an architect and a carpenter born in Kyoto. He manages Nakamura Sotoji Komuten Construction company in Kyoto that has 30 carpenters and six architects who have built traditional houses and more than 200 teahouses in Japan and abroad. His father, Shosei, was a legendary master and Japan’s national treasure.



[In his office] Could you tell us a little about your work today? There is a project I did three years ago in Haneda airport. It is a teahouse. I was an architect there and produced everything. Today, two airports in Tokyo, Narita and Haneda, are competing a lot. Therefore, a lot of renovation started in Haneda to attract more international flights. I have been working on different projects in Haneda Airport for the last ten years. My first work outside of Japan Before that I worked with my father, was a house in the north but he passed away eighteen years ago. We did a lot of projects together, part of New York, 60 miles private houses, religious buildings‌. away from the city. I stayed We worked in collaboration with I.M Pei, Minoru Yamasaki and others. My there for two and a half years first work outside of Japan was a house to monitor construction. in the north part of New York, 60 I worked with the local miles away from the city. I stayed there constructor, as it was required. for two and a half years to monitor The house was for Nelson construction. I worked with the local constructor, as it was required. The Rockefeller. house was for Nelson Rockefeller. Were you satisfied with the work of the North American craftsmen that you were working with? It was rough but ok. We invited other craftsman from all over the world: from Denmark, Italy. Where did the wood come from? It was from Japan. First year I really tried bringing everything from Japan, but the exchange rate between dollar and yen was so big that I started feeling unfair. I worked long hours, and I felt 127

I wasn’t compensated properly. For example we wanted to make a bathtub out of wood, and the cost of material from Japan was around 20,000 dollars not including the shipping costs that were also very high at that time. So it was not feasible. We decided to find material in the United States. But when we finally got the North American lumber, a new problem raised. Japanese craftsman could not use their tools that they brought from Japan. These tools are very specific: they designed according to the material and the master who uses it. It is all about how to work with the material. In the It is all about how to work end we had to adjust everything and use local with the material. tools in addition to local materials. I learned a lot during those days. What type of tools were those… hand tools or electric tools? We tried using Japanese hand tools as much as possible, but if they didn’t work we used American machines. The important thing here is that when we adjust to the material and tools, the detail and the aesthetic changes as well. We cannot do the exact same thing. Here is an example: The same tree can be with grain and no grain. If you look at the grain the dark part is the part that grew during the winter and the light part is the one that grew in the summer. The winter part is a hard part, and the summer part is light. The difference between the Japanese technique and the North American technique is that the Japanese use planer, while the North Americans use sandpaper to finish their wood. With the sandpaper the wood is finished unevenly: softer parts sand away while harder parts remain. With the Japanese planer everything cuts evenly. When you have uneven cut, the dust starts accumulating and the wood gets dirty fast. Therefore when we have to use the sandpaper, we have to adjust the technique. We sand and oil the wood for five or more times, so that during this process the shallow softer parts get filled with the material. When you use traditional Japanese tools, like the planer, The important thing here is you are able to bypass this process. Additionally, that when we adjust to the as years go by the wood’s surface becomes even material and tools, the detail more polished and smooth due to the release of the wood’s natural oils. It’s a question of the and the aesthetic changes as maintenance – in Japan the more you clean the well. wood the better it gets. This doesn’t happen when you use sand paper. 128

What about the structural maintenance? The same thinking applies here. For example, cedar is very good in vertical applications. One 10x10cm column can hold up to 10 tons. However it is not very good horizontally. Pine performs better as a beam or in horizontal applications. We often even choose a tree that is slightly curved for application as a beam… so that over the years it is able to settle properly. The idea is to make the best use of the nature of the tree itself. There is also a difference between a column made of an old tree or a younger tree. For example, this column is from a large old cypress tree, and this one of from a young cypress (points to examples in his office). The young one is more beautiful but many times weaker that the old one that is 400 years. You are saying that you always respect the material but I also see that the aesthetics are also important to you. Is that right? This is true. For example, for the shoji screens we need a very clean and beautiful and strong tree, like akamatsu (pine). We have two different kinds of pine trees in Japan: one kind grows close to the water and the other kind grows in mountainous areas. The one that is closer to water has more glue in it because it grows in rougher conditions. When we use this tree for the shoji screens, this glue over time covers the parts so that they gets shinier and slide more easily. Akamatsu (pine) trees with lots of glue in it are very desirable among clients – it is even more expansive than hinoki (cypress). One column from this tree can cost up to 30,000 dollars. So what would be the most important aspects of Japanese construction and architecture? It is the quality and the cleanliness, or simplicity. What I mean by cleanliness is the cleanliness of the material in the future. The best architecture in Japan is the one that maintains the cleanliness. Do you literally mean ‘not dirty’? It is not only ‘not dirty’. It is something about the gravity and the elegance. Like the beauty of any woman is not necessarily in her appearance but in her internal elegance. For example, later we will go to my father’s house and I will show you the concept of wabi sabi, the cleanliness that I speak of. The wood can be imperfect or even rough at time, but it is elegant. There should be something new in the old. Well, before you showed us a column that was free from knots and called it 129

“clean”, now you are showing a rotting old column and saying it is clean. How is it? There two standards in aesthetic: there is 100% cleanliness and then there is wabi sabi where roughness and distortion is clean too. For example, in this teahouse the column is from a cherry tree and it still has the skin with some parts cut off, but it is beautiful and elegant. When is it ok to use these two parts? These two things should work together. But, if in the end they both look dirty then it doesn’t work. Katsura Villa garden is an example how this works. In the nature nothing is straight, so the stepping-stones in that garden are all curving. But Kobori Enshu made one straight line, which implied that when we make a garden it is not entirely natural; it is still made by humans. Therefore, he made one line to admit it. [in the workshop] How long have your employees been working with you? Maybe more than fifty years - after junior high school. How far back does the tradition of woodworking go in your family? My father started the company eighty years ago. He was working until he was ninety years old. What do you consider to be your greatest project? It is a tearoom in Ise Grand Shrine. It is a huge tea room inside garden. Last year we had a celebration of Traditionally architects were the rebuilding the shrine. The rebuilding is very drawing a lot of 1:1 plans, but expensive – no metal. (laughing)

they do not do it any more. With computers architects cannot understand scale any more.

Do you have a son whom you will pass a business to? My son is an architect. I will pass it to him.

Do you have students here in the shop? Right now we have six people. There were three people from abroad last year. The problem is that not that many people keep working in the shop after graduation. They leave to start their own.

Would you ever buy automatic machines, like robots? No, I will never do so. In the end, the last touch should be with hands always. I’m familiar with all of these automated processes 130

and they are against my aesthetic. Looks like you are trying to retain tradition? Do you find it challenging, do you have to compete a lot with automation? I use the simple machines for the basic parts. I truly believe there are parts where you can never use the machines, only hand tools. How often do you use the metal in your projects? For the structure I try not to use any metal at all, but for the detail work and the finishing we use nails, especially at the parts that are hidden. Sometimes we use nails for the temporary purposes and then we take them out. Typically you need to get engineering approval? Who does all the calculations? Usually we teach engineers. Sometimes I work together with the engineer but usually I deal with it We often have disagreements – myself. I know how to calculate the especially in the United States joints according to my experience. I because of the strict codes just need to use the engineer legally there. these days. Do you train engineers or they teach you? Usually we teach engineers. We often have disagreements – especially in the United States because of the strict codes there. After a recent earthquake in Kobe area, all the houses we built there stayed intact. There were about twenty houses. [in the store] How do you find working with the architects? Do they challenge you or do they just let you do what you do? We work well collaboration. They bring plans - we revise them! Traditionally architects were drawing a lot of 1:1 plans, but they do not do it any more. With computers architects cannot understand scale any more. Usually, young architects who draw plans live in small apartments and never work on site or in the shop, so they do not understand scale. Old architects had richer understanding of space. We were meeting with the Kengo Kuma project lead of the Sunny Hills store in Tokyo. They tried using the traditional joinery techniques in a new way on that project. What is your opinion of that building or of other projects that try to do the same thing? There are a lot of architects who try to use the traditional 131

techniques in a new ways today. There is a way of doing that, but only if you make the traditional technique a part of the architecture, meaning thinking about the maintenance and the appearance. On the other hand, a lot of architects are using this technique just as a spectacle. In case of Kengo Kuma, I do understand it. It is ok to make the traditional technique spectacular, but he is using cheap material that is not appropriate for other construction. It is how you perceive the tradition. For example, the stucco I use here on the walls is made from the san, however traditionally it needs to be made from soil. Sand makes it look harsher. The point here is that we are utilizing the material available. Architects need to understand the authenticity of material and use this knowledge in a proper way. For example this table is made out of cut-offs of old wood that was not appropriate for any other use. Instead of using the contemporary techniques and materials, we just used the old. It seems like your traditional craft is very specific for certain small-scale applications. Is there a way it can start applying your knowledge to the larger scales modern society requires? I do not deal with bigger spaces. But the way I see the application of traditional technique in contemporary spaces is as a jewelry box – a little space inside a bigger contemporary space. How do we deal with the cost that usually prevents broader audiences from enjoying the tradition? As a carpenter I do not care about 99% of people that cannot afford the tradition. My work is to create jewelry. At the same time I realize the importance of these social aspects – but someone else has to deal with it. Sometimes paintings made by contemporary artists who only lived for fifty or so years cost As a carpenter I do not care billions of dollars, but they are just paintings. about 99% of people that Why then cannot a tree that is hundreds years old cannot afford the tradition. My be as expensive.

work is to create jewelry.

You have a big collection of furniture here. Is it all Japanese? I import a lot of European, especially Danish furniture. The quality and the function of Danish furniture is the best. However in 1980’s Italian was the best. I sell this furniture for the projects I do. This is like a shrimp – in order to catch a big fish you need to use a shrimp. People come see the furniture and often want to do the projects.


Do you get inspired by Danish design? I appreciate it but it doesn’t influence my design. This is great. Thank you very much for your time!






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11. Christian, Schittich, ed. In Detail: Japan. Architecture, Constructions, Ambiances. Munchen: Birkhauser, 2002. 12. Toko, Shinoda. Katsura: Tradition and Creation in Japanese Architecture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1960. 13. Robert, A.M. Stern. Cynthia, Davidson, ed. Tradition and Invention in Architecture. Conversations and Essays. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2011. 14. Pascal, Boyer. Tradition as Truth and Communication: A Cognitive Description of Traditional Discourse. Cambridge University Press, 2006. 15. William, J. Carpenter. Learning by Building: Design and Construction in Architectural Education. Wiley, 1997. 16. Aaron, Betsky, Marco Imperadori, Masato, Kawamukai, Kathrin Sauerwein. Atsushi Kitagawara Architects. Portfolio. Berlin: Jovis, 2013. 17. Giuseppe, Zambonini. Notes for a Theory of Making in a Time of Necessity. MIT press. Perspecta, Vol. 24 (1988), pp. 2-23



Anna Antropova was born in former Soviet Union, and raised in Almaty, Kazakhstan. She then pursued her architectural education in Canada at the University of Waterloo and McGill University. McGill University is where she has recently earned her Master’s degree in Architecture. During her studies she has worked as an intern architect at Diamond and Schmitt Architects in Toronto and HLW Architects in New York. She has also worked with leading interior design practices in Toronto and New York.



Learning from Wood  

Tradition and Innovation in Japanese Wood Culture

Learning from Wood  

Tradition and Innovation in Japanese Wood Culture