Woodworking Exhibit Highlights Reopening of Japan Society in New York

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As the first exhibition when it reopens to the public, the Japan Society will present “When Practice Becomes Form: Carpentry Tools from Japan.”

Opened on the tenth anniversary of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, the exhibition celebrates the resilient spirit of Japanese architecture and craftsmanship through woodworking tools, architectural models and models.

The site-specific exhibit design, designed by renowned architect Sou Fujimoto in collaboration with Brooklyn-based Popular Architecture, highlights an enduring connection between traditional Japanese wood construction and modern architecture.

Founded in 1907, the Japan Society in New York presents sophisticated, topical, and accessible experiences of Japanese art and culture, and facilitates the exchange of ideas, knowledge, and innovation between the United States. and Japan. The Japan Society Gallery has been dedicated since 1971 in the United States to exhibiting and interpreting Japanese art and culture in a global context.

Selection of broad axes and felling/lumberjack axes, c. 20th century, and measuring tools. Photo courtesy of Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum.

Featuring a variety of hand tools and wooden models reflecting the carpentry techniques used for hundreds of years to construct Japan’s wooden architectural masterpieces (from temples and shrines to bridges), the exhibition unveils the intangible qualities of craftsmanship, such as the consummate experience, expertise, and honed skills of the master carpenters of Japanese architecture.

A diverse range of tools – planes, chisels, saws – played an important role in the development of architecture in Japan. Integrated into the processes of master carpenters (tōryō) is their in-depth knowledge of the local environment and of wood as a material. Using natural resources and learning from the practices of their predecessors, they construct buildings using a refined methodology. Their philosophy of sustainability – for example, the joinery can be restored or repaired according to the needs of future craftsmen – has been passed down from generation to generation.

This exhibition is organized by the Japan Society in collaboration with the Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum.

Sou Fujimoto Architects, is based in Tokyo and Paris, and was selected as the site design producer for the 2025 World Expo in Osaka, Japan. Fujimoto designed the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in London (2013) among other internationally recognized projects. For this exhibition, Fujimoto worked with Popular Architecture, as a local partner to explore the coexistence of nature and architecture.

“Japanese society has been a hotbed of cultural exchange and a meeting place of past and present. In this exhibition, traditional Japanese craftsmanship is revealed in a new light through the design of contemporary architect Sou Fujimoto, and it becomes a valuable educational opportunity to learn from this history,” said Yukie Kamiya, Director of the Japan Society Gallery.

The exhibition runs from March 11 to July 11 and also coincides with a variety of special events and online demonstrations. There will be free woodworking tool demonstrations in April and May, a fee-based online woodworking tool workshop in April, and an online Sou Fujimoto lecture on June 24.

For more information, please visit www.japansociety.org.

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