Transmitting the Pressure

A great video I came across on a Chinese site about the nature of the work of the Japanese temple carpenter, miya-daiku, and the way knowledge is passed along to the younger generation, a process somewhat akin to a pressure cooker. The carpenter featured is a disciple of the great Nishioka Tsunekazu, a fellow by the name of Kikuchi. The video is entirely in Japanese and for those not fluent in the language I think there is lot’s to be gleaned so please enjoy. I hope the importance of layout in creating magnificent carpentry is obvious to all from seeing this 45 minute piece:

5 Replies to “Transmitting the Pressure”

  1. Chris,

    It's great to see the high order of woodworking skills showcased like that, in a place where so much of it has been lost. Thanks for posting the vid.

    It's a funny thing about the Japanese media, however, they seldom ever seem to want to ask provocative questions. Perhaps being in the right place at the wrong time, I observed a priest, my local large temple one and a friend, receive a very VERY large packet of money from a miya-daiku, shortly after the reconstruction of his temple. It disappeared most quickly. I would have wanted the show hosts to enquire about the millions of dollars in tax free donations received from temple congregations for the excellent work to be done, how will they be assured of proper accounting practices? Let us really see how good he is.

  2. Really fantastic, Chris. I sure wish I understood Japanese. The very earnest conversations with the two commentators and the carpenter intrigue me. Those buildings kind of defy comprehension.

  3. Dennis,

    good to hear from you. As we both know, corruption is rife in Japanese political life, as it is in pretty much every country. In Japan, with the construction ministry being the second largest after finance, and the connection in Japan between the over-weighted rural vote and infrastructure development leading to huge sums spent in strange ways, well, your story does not surprise me. That the Japanese journalists do not ask the hard questions a lot of times is oddly reminiscent of this country.

    I guess on balance, that Japan lavishes sums on easily corrupted construction projects, compared to the US lavishing money on weapons projects, also rife with graft, well, I guess I'd take the Japanese approach.


    thanks for your comment. The conversations between the miya-daiku and the two commentators revolved around the differences between temple carpentry and regular carpentry, some (limited) explanation of how layout of the kaya-oi takes place, and the carpenter recounting the circumstance of the first time he had the responsibility of overseeing the layout.

    These buildings are quite comprehensible, let me assure you. What is under-appreciated, I feel, is the incredible diversity and subtlety that associates to the creation of these structures. They very much are works of art and getting to know them and perceive the nuances takes a lot of study. Any good temple carpenter spends much of his spare time taking trips to look at classic temples, looking at patterns, considering fine shadings of aesthetics. Getting a handle on the actual carpentry work, then onto the long journey of layout, and finally on to the 'artistic considerations' of structures – these are the steps in the process of becoming a master builder.


  4. I thought an interesting aspect of the vid was that even with the architect's drawings and specs, there being architects that specialize in such construction, what came down to making a final decision about curves, was how they looked to one's eye. That was also what was shown in the part where the young man was asked to do something for the first time, both working out the mathematical calculations, and finding the curve that looked good to himself. There was a lot embodied in the chief carpenter finally asking the apprentice if he was satisfied with what he had laid out, and it being a criteria for going with it. No doubt the chief carpenter liked it too.

    Some things these days seem to be losing the sense of having been derived from one's sensitivity of eye, and within that, less feeling for what has been created. A lot of the printing media has become quite hard, and it is becoming more difficult to see that unless you directly compare. The expediency of using computers is perhaps preempting the more visually derived cultivation of design. Are we forgetting the old ways of looking at things?

    Seeing some magnificent old gardens in Kyoto, the way the gardeners could anticipate over the many years the way that what they had created, would metamorphosize into the natural environment behind to give a visual completeness, it also requires a great eye into the future. Some breathtaking work, and things that really can't be taught.

  5. Chris

    It is a great video and I plan on watching it more than twice to see if I can 'steal some technique.' That nap on the tatami made me smile.


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