September 23, 2016

For over the 1000 years now Japanese joinery represents simply an act of art. Japanese carpenters, known as Daiku, have remained traditional and loyal to their joinery technique. And we are not surprised why.


Japanese carpentry dates back to the old world craftsmanship of a bygone era, where the aesthetic and philosophical principles were in harmony with nature through close observation of its cycles and rhythms. Things haven’t change much so far.

Japan is famous for its wood and joinery techniques, and it’s not rare to hear that wood in Japan has a soul. The combination of the most advanced joinery skills and beautiful design that goes from being very simple to very complex, creates not only a wonderful decorative feature, but also a functional piece of design.

One of the most fascinating facts about Japanese carpentry is their ethical code and connection to nature and spirituality. Here are some of the most interesting facts:

  • Japanese believe that trees are individuals who have their own spirit,
  • When they cut down a tree, they see it as a debt to nature so they feel obliged to create an excellence,
  • When building, they believe timber they should use grows in the same direction- north, south, east and west. For example, timber used on the north face of the building should come from trees facing the north side of a forest. Also, the location of the tree shall determine what it should be used for (wood from the mountain passes should be used for structural use and from valleys should be used for finish work),
  • All apprentices work to an ethical code and a poor job cannot be redone as it would create waste.

Joinery techniques

Japanese joinery techniques focus on creation of interlocking joints that join together carefully selected pieces of wood. For centuries, Japan has been developing their techniques which are today one of the most advanced ones.

How did Japan manage to develop such an advanced technique?

Well, Japan has a history of focusing on wood construction. The country’s geolocation and regular earthquakes and typhoons made wood the preferable choice for construction due to its smaller mass that has a better capability of withstanding earthquakes as compared to stone or brick construction. When an earthquake hits, the wooden joints function as a kind of shock absorber, thus affording the building a certain amount of flexibility. Timber additionally has an extra benefit; Japan’s native timber has a natural resistance to attack by bacteria, fungi, and insects which makes it a perfect building material.

Illustration 1: mortise and tenon joint

Although there are many kinds of joints used in the construction process, the most widely used joints are the mortise and tenon joint. (illustration 1).

The mortise piece and tenon piece are made to interlock with perfect fit, without using fasteners or glue, enabling the wood to expand and contract with humidity.

Illustration2: Dovetail

Another commonly used joint is called the Dovetail (illustration 2).

This technique concentrates on interlocking pins and tails (finger-like joints seen on illustration) that are strongly connected- pulling apart is highly improbable. Dovetail is often used to build drawers and corners of furniture or to further strengthen a rigid framework.

Those basic joints also apply to a more complex construction core. There are various types of joints used in Japanese architecture that are evolving each day to provide aesthetic and functional value.

This stunning video below shows a glimpse of Japanese joinery where you can see that most of the carving is done by hand tools. It’s just impressive to see with what ease they can connect and disconnect the pieces!



Japanese joinery in a modern design

Although Japanese still use their traditional joinery techniques, their design is not necessarily traditional. Japanese wood based design is recognised all over the world and it represents remarkable minimalistic sophistication. To see it for yourself check out the gallery below to see some of the best works from Kengo Kuma & Associates, Shigeru Ban Architects and Sou Fujimoto Architects. We just love how they incorporated tradition into the modern age! What do you think? Let us know your thoughts!