Woodworking exhibit highlights reopening of Japan Society in NYC
Detailed wood joinery like this assembly of a bracket complex will be included in the Japan Society exhibit, “When Practice Becomes Form: Carpentry Tools from Japan.” Photo courtesy of Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum.

As its first exhibition upon reopening to the public, Japan Society will present “When Practice Becomes Form: Carpentry Tools from Japan.”

Opening 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 patterns, and models.

The site-specific exhibition design, conceived by the esteemed architect Sou Fujimoto in collaboration with Brooklyn-based Popular Architecture, highlights an enduring connection between traditional Japanese wooden construction and modern architecture.

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

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

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

A diverse array of tools—planes, chisels, saws—have played an important role in the development of architecture in Japan. Integral to the processes of master carpenters (tōryō) is their extensive knowledge of the local environment and of wood as a material. Using natural resources and learning from their predecessors’ practices, they construct buildings using a refined methodology. Their philosophy of sustainability—for example, joinery can be restored or repaired as needed by future craftspeople—has been handed down over generations.

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

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

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

The exhibition runs from March 11 to July 11 and also coincide with a variety of online special events and demonstrations. There will be free carpentry tool demonstrations in April and May, a paid carpentry tool workshop online in April, and a lecture by Sou Fujimoto online on June 24.

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



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William Sampson

William Sampson is a lifelong woodworker, and he has been an advocate for small-scale entrepreneurs and lean manufacturing since the 1980s. He was the editor of Fine Woodworking magazine in the early 1990s and founded WoodshopBusiness magazine, which he eventually sold and merged with CabinetMaker magazine. He helped found the Cabinet Makers Association in 1998 and was its first executive director. Today, as editorial director of Woodworking Network and FDMC magazine he has more than 20 years experience covering the professional woodworking industry. His popular "In the Shop" tool reviews and videos appear monthly in FDMC.