A wide-blade rip saw.
Wide-blade rip saw. Courtesy Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum

The Tools and Techniques That Built Japan

The Japan Society’s new exhibition “When Practice Becomes Form: Carpentry Tools from Japan” explores a long tradition of Japanese architecture and handicraft.
By Aileen Kwun
March 6, 2021
2 minute read

As the vaccine rollout continues, previously closed galleries and museums have, thankfully, continued to steadily reopen their doors. Starting next week at the Japan Society in midtown Manhattan, “When Practice Becomes Form: Carpentry Tools from Japan,” on view through July 11, presents an ode to the tradition of Japanese architecture and handcraft. On display are an array of woodworking tools used for centuries by architects and master carpenters, or tōryō. The collection of beautiful saws, chisels, and planes demonstrate the ingenuity and resourcefulness of Japanese joinery techniques and, more broadly, of a sustainable, generations-old building philosophy that emphasizes materials from the local environment.

The show also serves as a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the institution’s building, the first permanent structure in New York City to be designed by a Japanese citizen, and one of the youngest to receive landmark designation. Located a stone’s throw from the United Nations, the low-slung modernist gem by the late Junzō Yoshimura blends Brutalist precision with the formal language of Japanese residences, and a multisensory interior with scented cypress slats, a garden, and a bamboo pond. The exhibition display itself, designed by the renowned contemporary architect Sou Fujimoto (along with a Brooklyn studio with the cheeky name Popular Architecture), promises to be a handsome, site-specific presentation befitting the subject matter at hand.