As a child of missionary parents living in Izu, Japan, in the Occupation years, I can scarcely claim to have been born with a silver spoon in my mouth. However, I can claim to have had Japanese carpenters' tools in my hands from early childhood. In those days of desperate and rapid rebuilding of a whole nation, camps, churches and houses were springing up throughout the Izu Peninsula under the direction of my father, who was both carpenter and priest. My earliest memories, therefore, are of building sites. I have a clear picture as a three-year-old of clambering around the roof frame of the new rectory in Ito. The fragrance of unseasoned timber was as familiar to me as the odor of the "honey buckets" of the night-soil carriers in the neighboring fields.
It may have been this childhood experience which drew me inexorably over the years of scholarly study and research in art and architecture to the building sites of Japan and the patient but energetic world of the master builders and restorationists. Their enterprises may be eclipsed by the onslaught of high technology, "intelligent" buildings and manufactured housing in the vast urban developments of Japan today, but their practice continues in the ancient architectural centers of Kyoto and Nara.
In 1979, when still a graduate student in fine arts at Harvard University, I became a part of this special world by working with traditional Japanese carpenters in the reconstruction of an eighteenth-century Kyoto merchant's shop and residence at the Boston Children's Museum. The same master carpenters took me under their tutelage when I returned to Japan in 1980-81 to work at Enryaku-ji, the great Buddhist temple complex among the cedars of Mount Hiei, overlooking Kyoto. Much of the Kakusho-an, a subprecinct, was being rebuilt by carefully coordinated teams of master carpenters (daiku), roof tilers, wall plasterers and stone masons. Under their guidance, I became aware of the extraordinary complexity of construction processes and the infinitely varied techniques for using traditional tools. I was the first non-Japanese admitted into the membership of the Kyoto Dento Kenchiku Gijutsu Kyokai (Kyoto Guild of Traditional Master Builders). Subsequently, I continued my involvement with the hereditary master builders, and the study of their tools and techniques, which has made this book possible.
In this book I have combined a discussion of tool evolution with a technical analysis of tool types and techniques in the hope of narrowing the gap between these two fields which may sit awkwardly in each other's company. I have tried to be both artisan and academic. A technical study gives little sense of why tools were invented and how they affected building form. A purely academic approach overlooks the logic of practical problems and their resolution. Only a dual approach meets both challenges because the tools themselves are the link between practice and principle in the Way of the Carpenter.
I am deeply indebted to Yasui Kiyoshi, master carpenter and restorer of Katsura Imperial Villa, for his assistance; to Inagaki Eizo, professor emeritus of the Department of Architecture of the University of Tokyo; Karai Kunio, formerly of the Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum in Kobe; and to John M. Rosenfield, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Oriental Art at Harvard University. I have learned much from the many artisans and craftsmen alongside whom I have worked, as well as from the tool collection and curators of the Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum, the major repository of carpenters' tools in Japan. I am also grateful to The Japan Foundation for a Professional Fellowship in 1986-87.
Conventional Japanese proper name order, family name first, is followed. Macrons have been omitted from common nouns like Shinto and daimyo which appear in modern English-language dictionaries and which are not italicized. Special terms are italicized on first appearance; thereafter they are not. Traditional measurements retain italics for clarity. All translations from Japanese as well as the line drawings and photographs are my own unless otherwise acknowledged. A glossary giving the full name and Japanese characters for technical terms used in this study is also appended.